Golmud, Tibet
How US retaliation could ravage Tibetan hopes
by Renato Palmi South Africa

The Tibet delegation to the NGO Forum of the World Conference Against Racism in Durban had much to celebrate when they left our shores earlier this month. For the first time, and much to the People’s Republic of China’s dismay, Tibetan NGOs were given full accreditation to attend a United Nations conference despite the PRC’s vigorous objections. In an historical statement, the Tibetan delegation was able to highlight the racist oppression being perpetrated on the "roof of the world". Mr Lobsang Nyandak, Executive Director of the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, appealed to delegates at the WCAR to recognise Tibet as a "de facto colony of China", stating that: ".. Institutionalised and cultural discrimination implemented and encouraged by the Chinese government against the Tibetan people is both a cause and a consequence of the occupation of Tibet by a foreign power, the continuing implantation of Chinese settlers into Tibet; coerced birth control against Tibetan women, discrimination in education and health, and the perceived need to assimilate Tibetans culturally in order to control them politically."

Mr Nyandak explained that China has now gone as far as to implement a campaign to transform Tibet into an atheist region, to propagate their so-called "spiritual communist civilization". In concluding his statement, he said: "Racism exists in all countries, and China is no exception. The Chinese government often denies that racism exists in China, but evidence shows that racism is a significant and widespread problem in China that is receiving scant attention by the Chinese government. Chinese racism is not limited to Tibetans, however. Uighurs, Mongolians and other non-Chinese Asians (especially South Asians) and blacks from Africa, experience extreme forms of racism. "

The final NGO Declaration presented at the closing of the WCAR stated the following on Tibet: "Recognising that the people of Tibet continue to suffer institutionalised forms of discrimination under the Chinese regime". The Declaration proposed that a referendum be held in Tibet under the protection of international monitors to enable the people of Tibet to express their own desire for sovereignty and any other political options. The declaration further urged, ".. an end to the targeting and executions of human rights defenders and the ceasing of continued violations of human rights in Tibet."

Regrettably, the Tibetans’ small victory at the WCAR was short-lived. Amidst the wide-ranging media opinion and analysis surrounding the tragic events of September 11th 2001 in the US, few have addressed the very precarious position in which these developments have placed Chinese-occupied Tibet. President Bush's call for an international coalition against terrorism has presented Beijing with an ideal opportunity to justify its crushing of any and all dissident elements inside Tibet without restraint.

For Tibet this a crucial moment, as China sees an opportunity its strategists never thought would present itself. In a recent press statement, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Zhu Bangzao, said that China is willing to discuss proposals to combat terrorism around the world, but only in the context of the UN Security Council, where it has voting rights. One notes with irony that he added: "Any US military retaliation for the September11th terrorist attacks would need to be based on concrete evidence, should adhere to international law and should not hurt innocent civilians."

In effect, China hopes to wrest policy changes from the US in exchange for its support. Specifically, China seeks the cessation of America's arms sales deal with Taiwan and its moral support for Tibet's spiritual and temporal leader, the Dalai Lama. "The United States has asked China to provide assistance in the fight against terrorism," Zhu said. "China, by the same token, has reason to ask the United States to give its support and understanding in the fight against terrorism and separatists. We should not have double standards." Because there is no internationally recognised definition of terrorism, Chinese interpretations of the term can differ markedly from those of the United States. To Beijing, the Dalai Lama is a "terrorist-separatist" for advocating Tibetan independence. Yet, around the world, China's occupation of Tibet and its relentless human rights abuses inside Tibet would also be classified as a form of terrorism.

Said Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch: "If an American-led counter-terrorism effort becomes associated with attacks on peaceful dissent and religious expression, it will undermine everything the United States is trying to achieve. Many countries are sensing that the US will condone actions committed in the name of anti-terrorism that it would have condemned a short time ago."

According to the "Chinese Reform Monitor", an American foreign policy paper, Tibet is a strategic priority for China. China's annexation of East Turkistan and its invasion of Tibet doubled the land-mass of the People's Republic of China. Tibet alone comprises one-fourth of PRC territory. China’s programme of transferring masses of Han Chinese into Tibet continues unabated, resulting in Tibetans being a minority in their own country. In Tibet, China has secured itself a land border with India, Burma, Kashmir, Bhutan and a narrow strip of land bordering Afghanistan. The high mountains of Tibet serve as a base for China's strategic weapons deployment and development. Tibet has one of the world's largest uranium deposits in the world, a vital component in China's production plan for nuclear weaponry. China has invested heavily in telecommunications inside Tibet, laying fibre-optic cables capable of carrying huge amounts of data, and has deployed rapid reaction forces inside Tibet, a necessary step given both Pakistan’s and India’s nuclear capacity in the event of a border war. In the mid 1990's, these forces numbered some 258 000, facilitating the observation and conduct of military exercises along both the Indian and Pakistan borders, but also securing access to the border regions of Northern Afghanistan and some Central Asian republics.

In a further report from the "China Reform Monitor" dated 1999, it is disclosed that: "Diplomatic sources in Pakistan say a Chinese military intelligence team is en route to Afghanistan to extract an unexploded American cruise missile, near Khost, the Far Eastern Economic Review reports. China, which recently established ties with the extremist Taliban militia that rules most of Afghanistan, sent an earlier team to the Kandahar area to unearth an intact US cruise missile used in the August 1998 attack on terrorist Osama bin Laden. The visits were facilitated by Pakistan, a close ally and benefactor of the Taliban." This report poses some compelling questions: do the Chinese have intelligence of Osama bin Laden that could be valuable to the US and does China still maintain communications with the Taliban and Osama bin Laden?

Human Rights Watch has called on the US administration to continue denying US security assistance to those who might use it to commit human rights abuses, to avoid co-operative activities that will be read by abusive governments as condoning their practices, and to publicly condemn efforts by repressive governments to take advantage of the recent attack.

China’s actions inside Tibet in the coming weeks should be tracked very closely. It is already clear that China intends exploiting America’s predicament to further its own agenda under the guise of combating terrorism. In this guise, the Chinese occupying forces will identify Tibetan monasteries and their inhabitants as "terrorist cells harboring subversive material such as photographs of the Dalai Lama.. " In the wake of any military action taken by the US against Afghanistan, Tibetans inside Tibet could be rounded up in thousands and executed, with the full knowledge of America. Since 1950 some 1,2 million Tibetans have died due to China’s occupation of Tibet, and no doubt the Chinese government will be especially aggrieved with the Tibetan "separatist movement" for having staked a claim at the WCAR.

by Renato Palmi - South Africa