11.16.2009

China and Tibet: a few closing words

I'm almost ready to stop banging you on the head with Tibet and Buddhism, but because the monks asked me very directly over Saturday brunch to speak to other Americans about it, one more post:

Last night I stayed up to listen to President Obama speak to Chinese students on the first day of his four-day trip to China. The New York Times headline this morning reads, "Obama Pushes Rights With Chinese Students." But then the Times fails to mention that Obama failed to mention Tibet, and only half-heartedly alluded to the problem in almost metaphysical abstractions. I think he might have said something like, "In America, we believe that values like free press, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion are universal values," which is simply too weak when the problem is imposing modern cultural order on a group of traditional nomadic farmers and monks by persecuting (i.e., beating, jailing, executing... executing as recently as last week) those in Tibet who would maintain their religious values and beliefs.

So when, after landing a not-even-glancing blow concerning human rights, Obama got to the real point, I was disappointed:
And as I said, I think the commercial ties that are taking place -- there's something about when people think that they can do business and make money that makes them think very clearly and not worry as much about ideology. And I think that that's starting to happen in this region, and we are very supportive of that process. OK?
I'm not blaming Obama. He's doing what any Roman statesman would do... follow the money. But late last week when one of the visiting monks told one of my classes that he was very disheartened when President Obama became the first American President in forty years to refuse to meet with the Dalai Lama ("scheduling conflict"), I became disheartened with him. The monk said, "If we can't count on Americans to speak Truth, the situation will be terrible." I just don't want us to turn into this:

That image is borrowed from today's Times article by Niall Ferguson and some less-important guy. Read it.

If America is willing to sweep under the rug a persecution similar to its own persecution of Native Americans in the 16th-19th centuries for the sake of better GDP, I fail to see how we can maintain any position of moral authority on an international scale. I won't hold my breath for the kinds of trade restrictions that America imposed on Cuba for half a century, but I think it might be the right thing to do. We're still at a point where China needs us more than we need them -- but I worry that's not for long.

In a related story, China censored part of President Obama's Inauguration Speech back in January. And Amnesty International has no presence in China. And let's don't forget the Uighurs. And after promising to make great strides in human rights if they IOC granted them the 2008 Olympics, China just fucking reneged and lied their way into even worse oppression of "separatists" in Tibet.

Okay, I'm done for now. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. Mention it to your students next time the topic of China comes up -- they'll be stunned silent. All they've heard is good press for China over the past seven or eight years.

2 comments:

Kevin said...

You are surprised at Obama's 'stance' on Tibet? Given his morally ghastly performance vis-a-vis Iran, I'm lost--why the surprise?

Casey said...

No I'm not surprised. Just disappointed. Obama got my vote in '08 because I figured McCain had just as little an idea of principled economic theory as Obama, and I had hoped Obama might be less immoral... it's hard to say "why" I had hoped that way: maybe I was convinced by the media that Obama's "blackness" was really so revolutionary? I figured it would be like a barbarian taking over after Claudius when Rome was on the brink.

But at least Nero could play the fiddle and was wise enough to let Rome burn when it was in need of a good burning.

I'm just quietly pissed that all of that righteous indignation that I listened to during seven years of graduate school culminated in this nonsensically self-satisfied arms-folding approach to politics that's characterized the discourse concerning Obama's administration. Two wars? Still. Gitmo? Still. Gay marriage? Nope.... well, you've seen the SNL parodies.

Mya! Bleh! I'm done. Once again, I'm swearing off politics until I'm dumb enough to let mara-the-tempress drag me there again.