While dropping into Britain to collect the Templeton Prize of £1.1m last month (and immediately giving it all away), Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama once again rattled the leaders of the People's Republic of China by having the audacity to hold a sneaky meeting in the basement of St Paul's Cathedral with David Cameron and Nick Clegg.
Right on cue came the Communist regime's threats of 'serious consequences' towards our 'conniving' government for consorting with their arch enemy. It kicked these off by placing the British Ambassador to Beijing on the naughty step and cancelling a visit to the UK by one of their senior leaders. Gosh, what a lot of bother Britain is having to put up with over this 76-year-old monk who has given Chinese government, the run around for the past 60 years or so, spouting off about compassion, tolerance, peace and all that.
|Determination: The Dalai Lama has continued his campaign for the religious and cultural freedoms of the people in Tibet, despite persistent hostility from the Chinese government
what really irks the Chinese government even more is the Tibetan spiritual leader having the gall to continue his solo campaign (insofar as assistance from major powers is concerned) for the religious and cultural freedoms of his countrymen in Tibet. In recent years there have been quite a few occasions of China throwing the weight of its wallet around, threatening 'consequences' against any nation who plays host to the spiritual leader.
And despite his receiving more individual honours than possibly any other man on the planet - not least the Nobel Peace Prize; Congressional Gold Medal and the Templeton Prize (awarded to 'outstanding individuals who have devoted their talents to expanding our vision of human purpose'), there are nations in the 'free world' who have succumbed to China's threats and refused entry to the Dalai Lama.
The Netherlands is one, and more famously South Africa, which dragged its heels in granting him an entry visa in order for the monk to attend his close friend, the Archbishop Desmond Tutu's 80th birthday celebrations last year. In the end, his fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner travelled to the Dalai Lama's home-in-exile in India in defiance of the ANC.
Perhaps for the sake of peace and quiet Britain should follow suit and refuse him an entry visa? After all, what do the six million remaining Tibetans (after the Chinese government wiped out over a million of them since invading in 1949) matter to the UK? Why should Britain suffer threats of 'seriously damaged relations' and potential economic loss on behalf of this Buddhist monk…or any other Tibetan?
After all, during his recent visit to the UK, when asked what faith he still had in the Western governments, who bestow so many medals and awards upon him, but never any meaningful help in his struggle for Tibetan autonomy, the Dalai Lama himself conceded that though 'the US, Great Britain and Germany are very concerned over the situation [in Tibet] and do try to talk to China about it', (for which he says he's 'very grateful'). He acknowledged that the country - although of global ecological and cultural importance thanks to the Tibetan plateau and the increasing spread of Tibetan Buddhism across the world (not least inside China) - holds 'no economic interest' for Western nations, adding, '...in this economic climate, what can they do?' Tibet, His Holiness concluded, was 'a moral issue'.
The West's weak stance on the China/Dalai Lama/Tibet issue only highlights the west's hypocrisy over human rights. Social commentators have long held fears that China's inevitable material and technological progress would impact upon the values that are said to govern the democratic nations. By ignoring the blatant human rights abuses within its regime and empowering and protecting dictators responsible the suffering of millions in Darfur and Burma as well as within its homeland and Tibet (notwithstanding its support of both Pakistan and North Korea's nuclear ambitions)
Instead of the 'free' nations standing together on their values for human freedoms, when China barks, we become apologists for or beliefs. We're all aware that in the last 20 or so years the technological advancement, cheap labour and volume of production in China have caused a major shift of global business and trade, giving the country the power it now wields over many Western nations. Yet to witness this still highly oppressive regime using its material muscle to pressure democratic nations into disowning the values they place upon human freedoms - even in our own backyard - is nothing less than an abomination. To see it actually working is sickening and should strike at the core of any citizen of this country and others in the 'free' world.
|Constant struggle: A Tibetan man runs engulfed in flames during a pro-Tibet protest directed against the Chinese government
While China's power and material wealth have expanded, it appears its conscience has not, and despite its best efforts to keep its astounding indifference to human and animal suffering behind closed doors, the evidence is well documented by many official global agencies - and it is overwhelming.
When challenged on human rights issues China's leaders resort to name-calling, childish actions of 'not talking' and pure spite. After almost 40 self-immolations of mostly young Tibetans in protest at the oppression they have to endure, it has been revealed that Chinese police actively seek out the families of those who set fire to themselves in order to claim 'compensation' from them for the damage caused to their clothes while extinguishing the flames.
Such an astounding lack of compassion and human decency coming from a burgeoning superpower beggars belief, and should be a concern to us all.
Indeed while this regime gives the appearance of being wholly unable to compromise, western governments bow, scrape and by all accounts attempts to veil their democratic values simply in order to keep the petulant and reactionary Chinese leaders at the table. Although this is likely being done in the hope that the bullying tactics will give way to meaningful dialogue, compromise and positive change between all sides, I fear that, for the time being, this is a too romantic notion of the Chinese government's psychological capabilities and will only result in our humiliation and further erosion of our values. The PRC have shown the world on enough occasions that they do not respond to soft approaches - they see doing so as a form of weakness. The bottom line here should be that when China threatens the democratic values of any free nation, like with the bully in the school playground, the west needs to show solidarity.
They should not stand by and watch other nations with the same principles on human expression be forced into a position of conceding them to appease a repressive regime.
Yes, ultimately, to have lasting peace and economic prosperity in this world the west must form a good relationship with China, and hopefully this time will not be too far off. Their nation is moving towards great, hopefully positive change - wages are increasing and productivity is lessening as the Chinese people fight for shorter working hours, better pay, and more personal freedoms. As this occurs their trade will surely become less economically viable - this is starting to happen already. Change is coming, and as the soon-to-step-down Chinese Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao, affirmed in his message in on 14th March, reform in China must come soon if another Cultural Revolution is to be averted.
But until that happens, until positive, meaningful change actually occurs, the west must not be driven by economic fears. They must not humiliate themselves any longer by kowtowing to what is a materially wealthy, but morally bankrupt regime. It's time to make a stand, because if the Tibet/China issue doesn't matter, then we need to ask why not.
© Daily Mail, London