The Math of Boycott Campaign
By Topden Tsering

One weakness inherent in the Tibetan freedom struggle today is the fact that our movement is more reactive than pro-active. Our activism has been relegated to a redundant ritual in symbolisms. From the 10th March demonstrations to other politically significant commemorations, even our noisy protests in the West against visiting Chinese leaders. While China's repression of Tibetan political, cultural and religious aspirations bears all the hallmarks of a draconian regime at its horrifying worst, the Tibetan freedom world, beyond the person of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his exile Tibetan government, remains a comic circus in all chatter and no bite.

Even the cracks in the mirror of our collective complacency points to the need for an action that is immediate, perpetual, creative, daring and do-able. Lying before us today is one such opportunity: the "Boycott Made In China" campaign being launched on December 7 (to honor the Int'l Human Rights Day three days later) by a coalition of most active organizations dedicated to Tibet's freedom. The groups are US Tibet Committee, Canada Tibet Committee, Rangzen Alliance, Students for a Free Tibet, Tibetan Rights Action Coalition, International Tibet Independence Movement and World Tibet Day Foundation. If the resolutions passed this year during the annual conferences of Tibetan Associations in the USA and Canada and the Northern America Tibetan Youth Congress Regional chapters is any indication, then the entire Tibetan population in USA and Canada becomes an enthusiastic party to this campaign as well.

Why the boycott campaign? Why Now?

The argument used to be against such campaign that free market and international trade would transform China into a democracy that respects freedom and human rights of its people as well as those of the suffering Tibetans. But China's worsening human rights record with each passing year of expanding international trade and investment has transformed the picture from grim to hopeless. Since the USA's de-linking of trade and human rights and such short-sighted policies by other developed nations, the few modest leverages there were in the past to restrain China have now been lost. Today, any case for economic engagement with China to achieve freedom for Tibet stands brutally crippled by the very weight of reality.

China's suppression of Tibetan people's freedoms remains not just a mechanism of Beijing brutality. It finds ill-disguised allies even in the free world. Hence, Asiana Airlines refuses to sell ticket to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Yahoo censors from its search links all mention about Tibet. A certain San Francisco law firm abandons its Tibetan asylum assistance to win legal representation bid for Beijing Olympics. The Bush administration or, for that matter, all US administrations willingly succumb to tantrums of Jiang Zemin and his like by erecting a "Great Wall" of buses to obstruct their view of "Free Tibet" protestors. Freedom and justice are but rotten corpses in the bustling market of today's free economy.

The dubious ambivalence of China's conjuring up a glimmer of hope for China-Exile Tibetan Government rapprochement is matched only by the brutal assuredness with which Beijing has intensified its annihilation of Tibetan identity. No sooner has the exile Tibetan government delegation returned to India in a somewhat triumphant note, China launches a huge military presence in Kanze in Tibet to sweepingly arrest Tibetans for praying for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. "Boycott Made in China" campaign is non-violent, peaceful and effective. Amongst all options available to us, this campaign most potently promises our integration into the very integrity of our freedom struggle. What Gandhi 's "Chakra" served as a symbolic reminder of Indian Independence movement for his followers, this campaign can do for us.

The Effectiveness of Boycott Campaign

Any case for a "Made in China boycott" campaign is threatened by counter-arguments about China's growing economy. But on a closer look, China 's economy is not so invincible as TIME and NEWSWEEK magazines would have you believe. As propaganda vehicles for US capitalistic interests, these premier news magazines and even TV channels like CNN oftentimes blur the facts behind pictures of rosy fiction. It only takes a deeper study into the myth - even a passing reading of such journals as Economist, Far Eastern Economic Review and other journals from Hong Kong as well as the more academic journals available within the US, or even a more accurate Wall Street Journal - to really get a sense of the predictions by most China experts that China's communism, even its economy, is on the verge of collapse. Today, China's financial system is in an utter chaos. In Beijing's desperation to resuscitate its money-squandering state-owned enterprises, China has forced its banking system into such staggering debt as $200 billion dollars in non-performing loans (NPL) alone. This means it won't be long before the confidence of savings-depositing public shatters, thereby sparking a full-blown financial crisis.

China's steel and auto industries, as well as agricultural business, are now falling obsolete victims to technologically advanced foreign investors in the growing atmosphere of free economy. This means the urban unemployment rate will more than double the present 25-30 million figure in just a year or two. "In the next 10 years, I predict 150 million farmers will move to cities looking for work," warns Chen Huai, a senior research fellow at Beijing-based Development Research Center (DRC), in a Far Eastern Economic Review edition recently. A Tibet Information Network report, a friend told me, estimated the figure at 250 million.

One doesn't read about it in the New York Times and San Francisco Chronicles, but Hong Kong newspapers carry almost daily news of angry protests throughout China by peasant and laid-off workers. A Time China Special recently reported that in 2000, the last year of its complete statistics, "labor disputes" of all kinds rose 12% to 135,000. "If the employment situation doesn't improve, there will be serious impact on social stability," Mo Rong, a researcher at China's Ministry of Labor and Social Security was quoted as saying. "When these people have nowhere to turn, they 'll defend their rights, even with violence."

China's growing crime rate, especially juvenile crime that has made its coastal cities the most explosive places, further endangers the country's economic future. Add to that the rampant prostitution, the gambling and the utter degeneration of moral values that comes from government-orchestrated clampdown on all religious beliefs.

Also, the endemic corruption in China has spread from the ordinary lives of Chinese to the uppermost echelon of its party leadership today. One most sensational case in the run-up to the 16th party Congress, according to a recent Far Eastern Economic Review edition, involved State Power Corporation Chief Gao Yan, the only corporate executive to sit on the party's powerful Central Committee and a protégé of Li Peng.

China economy experts such as Nicholas Lardy of the Brookings Institution in Washington have long argued that the conditions are ripe for a financial crisis in China. All that is lacking is a catalyst for what Lardy calls the "triggering event."

Today, when all aspects of China's economy are teetering on the brink, it is its export manufacturing that appears most secured. But this export manufacturing is an underbelly that is so invitingly exposed to our clenched fists, if only we see it as such. People might rattle off one figure after another about the invincibility of China's export manufacturing, but all one needs to do is look at the reality. There is India, there is Bangladesh, there is also Indonesia and Malaysia, and hordes of other developing countries that are jostling with each other to break into the foreign markets monopolized today by goods "Made in China."

The Moral and Strategic Urgency of the Campaign

Of course this is going to be a long and challenging journey. Of course, this campaign is going to demand of the Tibetans and their supporters our most unwavering commitment. Of course, paying a little more for an alternative product amounts to some sacrifice after all. But for a people embarked on a difficult journey for freedom - sans the real danger of arrest, imprisonment or even execution - these sacrifices are but the first rule of the game.

On a strategic level, the boycott campaign once again restores to our struggle the sanctity of our right to real political freedom. As the Dalai Lama's eldest brother, Thupten Jigme Norbu/Taktser Rinpoche, says in his message on the campaign flyer, "As in South Africa, this campaign must be, and clearly seen to be, fighting for definite political goals. The anti-apartheid campaign was never about saving the culture, religion or any other native African traditions. People worldwide joined the economic campaign because they opposed the injustice of white minority rule and supported the freedom of all South Africans. It is around similar clear-cut political issues that we need to galvanize our boycott campaign."

Of course there are still many arguments that threaten to hijack the moral and strategic urgency of this campaign, but none that doesn't hold an answer in itself. "Goods in Europe are not labeled and so it's hard to tell where they are made," goes one. "The campaign can be effective only if it spreads beyond just the community of exile Tibetans and Tibet supporters. Otherwise it'll fizzle out the way it did years ago," goes another. "It's okay with most products, but it's impossible to find replacement for cooking utensils," runs a more domestic version.

These are all valid concerns, but if Tibetans and Tibet supporters really wrapped their minds around these problems, there has to be a way out of these quagmires as well. After all, the ingenuity of human mind put to test in an atmosphere of true freedom does yield the most astounding achievements.

Gandhi said only two conditions were necessary for the eventual success of non-violence: truth and perseverance. Without doubt we have the first. We must not fail on the second.