Xi Jinping is still some two years away from taking over as President of China- but already he is playing up his xenophobic, colonialist credentials by publically threatening to “smash” separatism in Tibet. Of course, by separatism Hu Jintao’s heir apparent is referring to any vocal condemnation of the Chinese government or the occupation, as well as any attempt to preserve Tibetan culture or raise awareness of the systematic human rights abuses that have been committed consistently since the ironically named People’s Liberation Army entered in 1950. Tellingly, Mr. Xi’s statement came against the backdrop of two Tibetan teenage girls being savagely beaten, detained and denied medical treatment by the Chinese authorities – an illustration of the brutal suppression that fellow members of the political elite will expect him to maintain.
However, recent events have at the same time demonstrated that attempts to subdue Tibet will be met with strong resistance. Already one of the most inspiring, well known and long-lasting non-violent liberation movements in the world – the Tibetan struggle is continuing unrelentingly both inside Tibet and elsewhere in the world, often bearing hard-won results.
A single self immolation incident by a monk at Kirti Monastery in March triggered months of instability in the surrounding area – with the subsequent Chinese military crackdown strongly condemned on the international stage. Last week, despite a fierce outcry from the powers-that-be in Beijing, Barak Obama refused to bow to pressure, meeting with the Dalai Lama at the White House. And on his recent tour of Europe, outgoing Prime Minister Wen Jiabao was constantly dogged by protesters, grabbing headlines and debunking his lies at almost every stop. Of course few believe that the liberation of Tibet is imminent but events such as these have demonstrated that the Chinese government is not in control of the script and is failing in its attempts to portray Tibet as a harmonious part of China – a significant victory for the Tibet movement.
And this is before even considering the added impetus of the Arab Spring, which has clearly boosted the confidence of activists and rattled the nerves of the authorities. Perhaps the most important lesson from events in Tunisia and Egypt is that even the most entrenched and seemingly stable dictatorships can rapidly collapse – an optimistic note especially considering the internal and external resistance that Mr. Xi will inherit.
It is also important to take account of developments in other occupied and neighbouring nations. The protests that rocked Inner Mongolia during May and June were the largest for two decades and though now largely supressed, reflected the on-going ethos of resistance held by the Mongol people. Like so many other demonstrations across the world, they were sparked by isolated incidents, but unleashed years of resentment and determination with astonishing speed. This week’s violence in East Turkestan –spun by the Chinese propaganda machine as extremist terrorism but more likely a case of state brutality against unarmed (if riotous) protests, similarly illustrates Beijing’s somewhat fragile grasp of control. Meanwhile across the border in Burma, despite funding and arming their client military junta, the Chinese government is witnessing a growth in the actions of ethnic minority and democratic forces – a nightmare scenario for them considering Burma’s shared border with Tibet and Aung San Suu Kyi’s links to the Tibetan struggle as well as broader movements for democracy and human rights.
Again, none of this means that the Chinese government is on the verge of loosing control, ceding independence to the occupied territories or being forced into some kind of reform agenda- far from it. However, the continued unrest and resistance illustrates the difficulties Mr. Xi is going to face- difficulties only exacerbated by an array of other issues including rising discontent in Hong Kong and ever more troublesome handling of China’s illegal Christian churches.
Ultimately those working to oppose the Chinese government’s colonialism and tyranny have cause to be proud and to be hopeful. On the ground Beijing’s thugs are facing unyielding and ever changing pockets of resistance. Out across the world they are facing a network that is becoming stronger, more influential and more co-ordinated by the day – as illustrated by the growing links between various causes and their success in shaming those responsible for occupation and oppression.
Activists such as those gathering at the Students for a Free Tibet Action Camp in Germany this summer make up the newest generation to stand up for freedom and human rights in Tibet and across the region – and they have a huge momentum behind them. Xi Jinping says he is going to crush separatism…..not without a fight.