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by miya-neta

Gulf in perceptions over Tibet

FT.com / World


By Jamil Anderlini and Richard McGregor

Published: March 20 2008 02:00 | Last updated: March 20 2008 02:00

Outside China, especially in western countries, the violent unrest in Tibet has been seen as a people spontaneously rising up after years of religious and cultural oppression by a ruthless ruling party.

Inside China, the contrast could not be more stark. The protesters have been portrayed as a thuggish mob, ungrateful for years of support from Beijing and manipulated by the exiled Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, to split the country.

The gulf in perceptions has created deep resentment in China, and anger about how the issue threatens to overshadow and taint the 2008 Olympics, which open in August in Beijing.

Shi Yinhong, of Renmin University, said China had made great efforts to develop Tibet and guarantee religious freedom after mishandling the region in the early years of communist rule. Western countries ignored such developments, he claimed, in favour of a simple focus on a "romantic" view of the remote Himalayan kingdom.

"I don't think what was happening in Tibet in the last week was very romantic," he said. "Every government has to be able to provide a minimum of law and order and safety for its citizens."

The government propaganda, which can seem staggeringly crude to foreigners - Zhang Qingli, China's party chief in Tibet called the Dalai Lama "a monster with human face and animal's heart" - does not appear out of place at home.

Mr Zhang's tirade is at one with comments permitted on internet bulletin boards, such as the one hosted by sina.com, China's largest portal. "Add countries supporting Dalai Lama to the blacklist of terrorism!" said one of the milder postings yesterday.

Calibrating public opinion is difficult in China because of strict controls on the media and internet - especially on topics deemed sensitive - and the absence of public polling and elections.

But a group of Chinese citizens, all well-educated, well-off Beijing artists and businesspeople, who gathered to discuss the issue with the Financial Times this week were uniformly unsympathetic to the Tibetan cause. Sending in the army was "the only response" possible, they said.

The group admitted all the news they had seen was on state television, which showed graphic images of Tibetan protesters, including scarlet-clad monks, looting, burning and beating ethnic Chinese people in Lhasa. There were no pictures of the Chinese response.

"America and foreigners always want to hurt China," was a typical response from this group after watching a live broadcast of premier Wen Jiabao's annual press conference this week.

Almost every foreign reporter allowed to ask a question raised Tibet, drawing an audible groan from the large audience of mostly Chinese journalists and officials at the press conference.

One intellectual from Beijing, usually vehemently opposed to the party, said Tibetans had been "slaves" before China "liberated" them, an act repaid with ingratitude and violence. "How could Tibet be a country without China?" this person said.

"They didn't have anything to eat before they were liberated."

The issue of sovereignty goes beyond support for the party and touches the core of national identity. To suggest to most Chinese that Tibet should be independent from China is like telling an American that Texas should secede from the Union.

A profanity-laced video posted on YouTube, the video-sharing website, entitled "Tibet WAS, IS, and ALWAYS WILL BE a part of China" angrily tells viewers that China will not leave Tibet until all Europeans leave Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the United States and return it to "the natives".

Robert Barnett, a Tibet expert at Columbia University in New York, said the gap between Tibetan and Chinese perceptions had been narrowing in recent years because of the growing popularity of Buddhism, and religion in general in China.

"What is happening now is going to widen [that gap] again," he said, adding that it was a disaster for the Dalai Lama's own strategy

Mr Barnett added: "He has always said that the most important thing is support from the Chinese people. But he is now fighting a political wave in the other direction."


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Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008
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by miya-neta | 2008-03-30 11:39 | 国 際