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|May 29-June 4, 2008
Oh, and that little problem with China
by Ben Corbett
I’ve always dug Sharon Stone, and I’m considering including her in the now-official Devil’s Dispatch bowling league (Motto: “You set ’em up, we knock ’em down”). Last Thursday at the Cannes Film Festival, Sharon tweaked Chinese authorities, calling the May 12 earthquake in the Sichuan province “karma” for the communist government’s continuous onslaught heaved against Tibetan liberationists.
Sharon’s words, to wit: “And then this earthquake and all this stuff happened, and then I thought, is that karma? When you’re not nice that the bad things happen to you?”
Well said, hon. Now they’re going to boycott all your films in China, and anyone caught with contraband tapes of Action Jackson and Catwoman will receive life imprisonment for subversive activities against the People’s Republic.
The Chinese just can’t get a break. If it’s not angry Americans complaining about job losses to the world’s last communist stronghold, they get pummeled with complaints of human rights, American children getting poisoned by Chinese-made toys (Did you know that 80 percent of all toys sold in the U.S. are now made in China?), and now this Sharon Stone business. With the upcoming Summer Olympics to be held in Beijing August 6-24, China has dominated the global news networks since late last year. And as always, when the international media is invited behind the curtain of once-closed countries to cover major events, the news becomes pasted with topical sidebars, human interest pieces and travel matter. Likewise, when the cameras are in town, dissidents cleverly seize these opportunities to pull the spotlight to their issues, which is exactly what happened on March 10, when marchers in Lhasa, Tibet, took to the streets to demonstrate and celebrate the 49th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule.
When the crackdown on Tibetan dissidents segued into rioting on March 14, China quickly got rid of the foreign media, reverted to brute military force and closed Tibet’s borders to visitors. Beijing has still not disclosed the number of Tibetans still being detained since the crackdown. Tibet’s demonstrations are a threat to China, not because, as Beijing trumpets in the media, Tibetan “separatists” jeopardize the unity of the People’s Republic, but because unchecked resistance in the Tibetan colony will inspire demonstrations and demands for rights in the fatherland. Communist dictatorships, all colonial governments for that matter, have historically dealt with dissidence harshly for this reason alone.
Likewise, communist governments are historically natural counter-propagandists, and with bad press about Tibet and human rights continuing throughout the month, on April 10, China swiftly and sensationally announced that a terrorist plot planned for execution during the Olympic games had been uncovered, netting 35 arrests of Muslim extremists in Xinjiang. Not only did the plot include bombings in several cities and at the games themselves but, lo and behold (and no doubt to increase the intimidation factor), the cell was planning on the “kidnapping of foreign journalists.”
While it may seem insipid, this shrewd media manipulation put foreign journalists in Beijing’s back pocket. Suddenly, rather than the bad guys, China poised itself as victims of an internationalist terrorist threat with (you guessed it), “links to al Qaeda.” The repression in Tibet quickly became page-three fare, with the big “TERRORISM PLOT REVEALED” story grabbing the headlines. Further, in a press statement, the chief of security for the games reported that the biggest threat came from Islamic extremists, with Tibetan separatists coming in at a close second. Regardless, the discovery of the plot spurred the initiation of opening talks with U.S representatives on mutual counter-terrorism efforts and human rights issues. These are the first human rights talks held between the U.S. and China since 2002, which were then abandoned after months of wheel-spinning and no progress, and would be something akin to getting Hitler and Stalin together for a friendly game of Ping Pong. China’s point of view? “Keep your nose out of our Tibetan problem, and we won’t mention anything about that dirty business down in Guantanamo.” At last report from the U.S. envoy, the talks have been “going well.”
That this kind of politicking could occur in the aftermath of one of the greatest earthquakes in history, with a death toll of 60,000 and counting, is a phenomenon beyond reason. But no more than the thought that China would shorten the Olympic torch relay through Tibet from three days to one, using this disaster as an excuse — when the real issue is one of keeping the foreign press out of Tibet, cheating Tibetans (or what few remain) of their last opportunity to get the truth out to the world. Besides the obvious, the other, very real tragedy of the earthquake is one of timing, as the focus on the issues of human rights will now be obscured with tears, sympathy and apologetic media.
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