14 April 2008

Speaking Mandarin

Australia has managed to elect a Prime Minister that speaks a foreign language. There have been others before him but most of their foreign language skills were restricted to the Queen's English...

You would think that speaking Mandarin would be an advantage for the PM as the issue of Tibet has recently re-exploded onto the world scene with some fierce crackdowns by the Chinese in Tibet as a means of suppressing dissent in the region. Well, it seems it is an advantage although so far the advantage has been limited to discussing the Tibet issue with Chinese students at Peking University.

It is refreshing that a foreign leader (even more so because the foreign leader is an Australian) has the testicular fortitude to go into China's own backyard and talk in the local lingo and suggest that Chinese has some issues to deal with, particularly some significant human rights issues in Tibet. Apparently, he is going to broach this subject in no uncertain terms with Chinese leaders in the future.

Australia recognizes China's sovereignty over Tibet. Okey dokey on that front as most other countries do to and so does the Dalai Lama. The issue is one of effective and substantial autonomy that allows Tibet to remain a part of China but perhaps a self-governing territory (the above map from Al Jazeera).

But this statement from Qiangba Puncog, the chairman of the Beijing-appointed Tibet Autonomous Region government, that the rioters were "an extremely tiny minority" of Tibetans and "do not, and cannot, represent Tibet and the Tibetan people" should be cause for concern as it implies that the Chinese government's response will continue to be ruthless in suppressing dissent against its rule (photo from AFP).

Australia has two competing realities here, the Olympics aside, actively promoting better human rights for Tibetans while simultaneously not alienating the Chinese government altogether as Australia's resource sector has found a large and increasingly demand friendly market for raw materials. Perhaps this is what is known as the "business of human rights"!

This is an issue that is set to continue right up until the opening ceremony in Beijing if the protesters coming out to greet the Olympic Torch in protest as it makes its way around the world on its four-yearly pilgrimage.

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