Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Burma: Tibetans are Watching

In an interesting bit of analysis on DNA India today, Venkatesan Vembu discusses the possibility of a Burma-like uprising in Tibet in the near future.

"... if there were protests in Lhasa today, hypothesises Dondup [a pseudonymous source within Tibet], Beijing would probably be constrained by the international focus on it in the context of the Olympics next year. “Would the Chinese government hesitate in cracking down?… Would this hesitation be enough to allow a few small protests to spiral into a challenge to Chinese rule?”
[full article here on Phayul]

Protesters wave Tibetan flags at the Oct. 6 Free Burma rally in London

Similarities between Burma and Tibet are at times striking, especially regarding the hand that Beijing plays in both.
But the differences may be more important. Note that the power in Tibet is essentially foreign. To this day native Tibetans are in most all cases barred from public service positions, including political and military roles, in their own country. The Burmese military, on the other hand is home-grown. And in fact, as one commentator noted, both military and monastic life draw from similar social groups meaning that soldiers and monks in Burma may well be brothers.

The Chinese power in Tibet is maintained by an iron fist, crushing uprisings first in 1959 and again in 1988. Since then many smaller protests have occurred, mostly met with apathy by the international press.
In 2004, more than 3,797 people were executed in 25 countries and at least 7,395 were sentenced to death according to Amnesty International. Out of 3,797 executions 3,400 were carried out in China, but sources inside the country have estimated the number to be nearly 10,000. (Amnesty International, Death sentences and executions in 2004, published in April 2005) - Friends of Tibet

The Burmese junta, on the other hand, has maintained power through the rhetoric of necessity. They advertise, and may well believe, that without such military rule, the country will dissolve into mass fighting amongst its various ethnic groups. So the 'price of democracy', many Burmese may think, is national insecurity (why do thoughts of G.W. Bush keep coming to mind?). In Burma, as in other countries to go unnamed, it seems that democracy has been abandoned in return for a belief in security.

Tibetans have little besides their lives to lose in opposing Chinese rule, and as you can see many do pay 'the ultimate price' to live by their conscience and countless others have disappeared to concentration and imposed labor camps throughout Tibet and China. The Burmese, however, pay the ideological price of a sense of security (and perhaps even ethnic/national pride) by opposing their authoritarian government. In both cases the international community has said little and done less, and who can blame them, China has become 'the elephant in the room' of international politics and economics.

But with things dying down in Burma (monks have again accepted donations from the military - re-establishing its authority) it seems that our eyes may need to return to Tibet where massive international focus will grow as next summer's Olympics near. However, it is still possible that the struggle in Burma will continue, as news of international political attention makes its way back into the country.

There is a presentation being held here at Goldsmiths today at 5pm (in two hours) so I'll post more after that.

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