2008 04 12
China and Tibet

Posted by in: China, Political issues

Update: Go read Jamie instead (including his response to me in the comments), since unlike me he actually knows what he’s talking about.

I think that China’s conduct in Tibet (and elsewhere!) is awful, and that it’s been awful for a long time. But I’m not sure what to expect from China at this point, and therefore not sure what to protest for or against on those occasions when revulsion puts me in the mood to protest. That’s because I suspect that China is not faced with a choice, as many protesters seem to imply, between being a China that oppresses Tibet and being a China that doesn’t oppress Tibet. Rather, to put it too dramatically, I suspect that China is faced with a choice between being a China that oppresses Tibet and there not being a China for very long afterwards. Or to put it less dramatically, between being a China that oppresses Tibet and being a China under considerably increased internal strain. That’s because China contains not one restless minority group yearning to be free, but rather a number of such groups, all of whom are watching China’s handling of Tibet with considerable interest, and none of whom would stop their yearning if China granted Tibet the kind of freedom that its citizens would choose if they were given a choice.

That doesn’t excuse anything China does in Tibet, of course. And it doesn’t rule out all kinds of intelligent, constructive criticisms. It does mean, however, that a legacy of deep injustice has complicated matters past the point of easy resolution. This is one of the things that sucks about serious injustice. This is what it does. This is what it leaves behind in its wake. And I think it’s worth remembering that, whether I’m right in my understanding of the situation or not, the Chinese leadership may well believe something like (a more charitable version, presumably) what I’ve just suggested. They’re not just doing what they’re doing to Tibet to be evil, or because they’re bigoted (though many surely are). Some of their reasons, surely, have to do with the fact that, because they inherit a history marked with extreme injustice which has included conquest over other ethnic and religious groups, they now find themselves backed into a tight spot when dealing with any one group.

So here’s a tricky question: How do you recognize all that without proposing solutions that are complicit in the injustice? Or at any rate, that don’t concede too much to it? In an important sense I think Tibet ought to be granted real autonomy by China at the very least. But I also recognize that the consequences of doing so for China would extend far beyond Tibet. Criticisms of China that call for less than autonomy seem to me to risk being complicit in the original and ongoing injustice done to Tibet. Criticisms of China that call for actually just solutions require compromises on China’s part that have far-reaching implications for its long-term viability as a state.

I don’t really have a point in posting this, except perhaps to provoke a commenter to say something intelligent that helps me to see things more clearly.

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2008 01 26
System compatibility, writ large

The NYT had a little blip today about the new freight train service between China and Germany. It’s interesting in itself, and especially so because apparently Russia and Mongolia’s national railroads use a different gauge than the national railroads of China, Germany, Poland and whatever other country the route passes through. So a single train can’t make the journey. They have to unload the freight and re-load it, to transfer between trains that run on the relevant gauges. I love this for reasons I’m having a hard time articulating fully. Giant systems, huge investments of resources and labor and time for their respective countries, where the decisions about the basic specs have huge ramifications, and it would be just a nightmare to fix.

But here’s where the NYT story surpasses itself into infrastructure geek sublimity. Because a similar problem of incompatible gauges has cropped up at other times in history, and the article links to the amazing example of the US southern railroads, which in 1886 converted almost 12,000 miles of track (and all their working trains too) to a different gauge in two days.

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2005 07 17
Pig Sperm in spaaaaaaaaace

Posted by in: China

China is sending 40 grams.

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2004 09 25
China and the G7

Posted by in: China, Political issues, Sudan

This is exactly right. China’s meeting with the G7 next week is a perfect opportunity to pressure it on Sudan. China and Russia are the two most important outside players in all this mess, and along with the U.S. they probably have the greatest leverage with Sudan. Let’s see if anyone makes an issue of this. . .

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2004 09 01
Russia and China in Sudan

Both Russia and China are deeply involved in Sudan, as this piece in the CSM outlines.

I keep returning to the point that the name and shame campaign over Sudan needs to go beyond the Sudanese regime and the Janjaweed. It needs to target countries that are complicit, either actively or passively, in what is happening.

I think that a lot of what presents itself as anti-anti-Americanism is misguided. The U.S. has power and influence unrivalled in the world, is to a certain extent responsive to moral criticism, and is also engaged in some very shady behaviour. A lot of heated criticism is really in order here, especially considering how much good the U.S. also has within its power to bring about. But look, there are times when it is really important to broaden the targets of fierce criticism, and this seems to be one of them. I don’t say the left is silent on this issue, but I wouldn’t mind hearing a bit more noise all the same.

Russia and China are both deeply involved in Sudanese affairs, they both have a lot of leverage over the Sudanese regime, and they both appear ready to use their permanent positions on the Security Council to block serious international pressure on Sudan. They suck, and everyone should say so.

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2004 06 04
China: Stifling the Memory of Tiananmen

Posted by in: China, Human Rights

From Human Rights Watch:
Continue Reading »

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2004 04 13
Update on Martin

Well, bust my boots! Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin finally screwed up his courage and announced he would meet with the Dalai Lama.

The Chinese government is upset about it. They can go to hell, as far as I’m concerned.

Howls of outrage (3)

2004 04 09

I spend a lot of time on this site criticizing the U.S. It has been pointed out in the comments section, not unreasonably, that this can really end up giving a distorted picture of a) various global problems; and b) plausible solutions to them.

I promise to try to do better on this issue. As a first instalment, let me turn my attention to the cowardly Canadian government.

For fairly obvious reasons, the Canadian government lacks the flexibility in setting a foreign policy agenda that the United States enjoys. Sometimes, alas, we Canadians have to keep our heads down, waiting for the right occasion to pick this or that fight.

Fine. But there are a lot of things that Canada could do within these limitations which it doesn’t do. Moreover, the best explanations for inaction, or harmful action, usually involve some combination of avarice, lassitude and cowardice.

Today I’ll just name a modest example. The Prime Minister could meet with the Dalai Lama, something he has so far been too afraid to do.

This should be a no-brainer. Trade with China may be valuable, but so is holding on to our dignity. If the Chinese want to maintain the stupid lie that their conquest of Tibet was all for the good, let them do that in their own controlled press. Our Prime Minister should either stand up to the Chinese or resign.

The general point here is that smaller actors need to start taking responsibility for some of the things that we wish the U.S. would do, like promoting democratic values and so on. We’ve waited long enough for the U.S. to get its act together. It hasn’t, so it’s time to get to work.

Hat tip to Spaz.

Howls of outrage (3)

2003 04 10
China’s take on the U.S.

Perhaps the most refreshing yearly exercise undertaken by the U.S. government (and some years, nearly the only refreshing exercise) is an annual Human Rights Report put out by the State Department. The State Department began publishing the reports during the Carter years, and no one since – not even Reagan, and not even the younger Bush, at least so far – has had the courage to pull the plug on it.

The report is subject to all kinds of political pressure, and so is predictably harder on America’s foes than its friends. (For examples, Human Rights Watch provides a helpful critique of the report each year, shortly after it’s been released). But reality – with a little help from strenuous lobbying by groups like Human Right Watch – imposes real constraints on how far the report can stray from the truth. In the end, the report comes close enough to the truth to enrage allies, and that’s part of what makes refreshing, even if it receives scant attention from the U.S. media.

Even less heed is paid to international criticism of the report by countries angered by such attention from a country they often consider flawed itself. And so this counter-report by the Chinese government was predicably overlooked. I’ve only had a chance to skim it, but it makes for some interesting reading.

China, of course, has a disgusting record of human rights violations, and is itself in an awkward position to be throwing around criticism on the same matter. But this kind of mutual scrutiny is healthy for all.

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