China, Tibet and the West

One of the recurring subtexts of China’s relative opening to the world has been the tightrope the Chinese leadership is forced to walk between mobilizing nationalist sentiment to push back against Western human rights criticism, and actually keeping a lid on that nationalist sentiment to keep it from getting out in front of the official line of a peaceful rise.

Case in point: Over the weekend there were demonstrations in several Chinese cities converging on the French supermarket chain, Carrefour, in part to protest the French government’s very muted grumblings about the goings-on in Tibet, in part to respond to the public relations disaster surrounding the Olympic torch’s Paris promenade, but more generally (as illustrated by the banners condemning CNN as well) to tell the West to mind its own business. As one organizer of the protests put it:

We do not support a boycott of French companies because the economy is globalizing. We choose Carrefour only because we draw more attention there.

The protests led the government today to call for restraint, and the “rational” expression of patriotism. That they occurred on the same day that China’s peacekeeping contingent returned from Liberia decorated with UN International Peacekeeper medals illustrates the kind of bind China, but also the world, is in with regard to its integration into the global economic and political community.

Not surprisingly, the Chinese government’s official line has been to push back very hard on the Tibet issue with (what else?) a public diplomacy campaign! Insomuch as it calls attention to the feudal society, self-serving caste of ruling monks, and very opaque rules of succession that existed prior to Communist China’s rule, it’s actually somewhat effective. On the other hand, insomuch as the draft constitution ratified by the Tibetan government-in-exile is based on a democratically elected assembly, it’s also, like most public diplomacy campaigns, somewhat misleading. And insomuch as the Tibetan constitution maintains the position of Dalai Lama as the head of the executive branch of government, with any modification requiring not only a two-thirds vote in the assembly, but also the approval of the sitting Dalai Lama (or his regent in case of a minor), the question of how free a Free Tibet would be is somewhat unclear.

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