Beijing braces for `The Three T’s’
BEIJING–They are commonly referred to as "The Three T’s," a short list of sensitive subjects you’re never supposed to raise in polite conversation with the Chinese: Tibet, Taiwan and Tiananmen Square.
By BILL SCHILLERForeign Affairs Reporter
Fri., Jan. 4, 2008
BEIJING–They are commonly referred to as “The Three T’s,” a short list of sensitive subjects you’re never supposed to raise in polite conversation with the Chinese: Tibet, Taiwan and Tiananmen Square.
But in the coming year they’re likely to be raised more than ever – with vigour.
With billions of eyes on Beijing as it prepares to host the most spectacular Olympic Games ever, international activists and human rights campaigners have vowed not to miss the moment to press their cause.
Tibet, a region tightly controlled by the Chinese military; Taiwan, the island outpost trying to resist China’s grasp; and the democracy movement symbolized by events in Tiananmen Square in 1989 – all are expected to be amplified once the TV cameras of the world zoom in on China and its Olympic Games.
“People here are starting to realize the double-edged nature of the Olympic Games,” says Dr. Yan Xuetong, one of China’s top political analysts. “The negative side is starting to get stronger and stronger.”
The nation’s Olympic organizers have pleaded with the world not to mix politics with sport.
But the likelihood of activists heeding that call seems slim.
And, says Yan, director of the Institute of International Studies at Tsinghua University, China might also have to deal with nations using participation in the Games as a bargaining chip to extract political, trade or economic concessions from China.
“The government is preparing for that,” observes Yan. “How ready they are I don’t know. But one thing is clear: the pressure is increasing.”
The year 2008 will be a landmark in the history of China, a year of coming out, celebration and achievement, with an economy continuing to boom with double-digit growth.
But “The Three T’s” will remain.
In Tibet, for instance, sporadic riots and resistance continue. Just last month China’s state-run news agency reported that rioters destroyed government offices and shops in a remote town after a demonstration demanding the release of citizens jailed after an alleged dispute between monks and a shopkeeper.
While Xinhua News Agency did not give names and details, the clash seemed to signal continued tensions between local Tibetans and an ever-growing number of incoming Chinese migrants.
This month, Tibet’s government-in-exile in New Delhi criticized China for continuing to push rapid development in Tibet saying it threatens the region’s fragile environment and leaves most Tibetans behind.
Recent reports have also noted the Chinese government is now using its new high-speed rail system to transport soldiers into the area.
Chinese troops have controlled Tibet since 1951, sometimes with a heavy hand. China insists it has ruled Tibet for centuries, but Tibetans claim they were independent for most of that time.
But anyone in China who dares to call for the return of the Dalai Lama – Tibet’s traditional Buddhist leader – faces jail time, as one man learned at a horse-racing festival in Sichuan province in August. Leading a crowd chanting for the Dalai Lama’s return, he was immediately arrested. Such freedom of speech is not tolerated.
That issue, free speech, will also gain greater emphasis in this year of the Olympics.
PEN, an international organization of writers, launched a worldwide campaign Dec. 10 aimed at freeing 40 writers and journalists jailed in China before the Olympics. The organization countered the slogan used at Beijing’s one-year countdown festivities, “We Are Ready,” with their own: “We Are Ready for Freedom of Expression.”
“Without promoting human rights,” said leading Chinese literary critic Liu Xiaobo, “it is gratuitous to promote `One World’ (another Beijing Olympic slogan) or to claim `We Are Ready.'”
Said Canadian writer Margaret Atwood: “Let’s hope that China does not ruin the international reception of its Olympic Games by keeping 40 writers in prison simply because they’ve exercised their right to freedom of expression.”
Writer Salman Rushdie warned: “It will be an embarrassment for China if even one of them is still in prison when the Games begin next August. There’s only one good number: zero.”
The Taiwan issue will also come to a head in 2008. A presidential election in March, an inauguration in May and the possibility of a momentous and provocative announcement on complete independence from China, timed to coincide with the Olympics, could rock the region.
China has warned any such announcement would invite grave consequences, even a military response.
It insists Taiwan, just off its coast and to which the Nationalist forces fled after being defeated by Mao Zedong’s Communists in 1949, remains an integral part of China.
Such a scenario could drag the United States, seen as Taiwan’s protector, directly into the drama.
But America could also be part of the solution, says professor Sun Zhe, also of Tsinghua University.
“It’s a policy dilemma for China,” he says. “On the one hand the Chinese government feels that this is an internal affair, a domestic issue. It doesn’t want third parties to get involved. On the other hand, if you study the U.S.-Taiwan relationship, a lot of Taiwan leaders pay a lot of attention to the U.S.”
Just last month, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice issued an unusually sharp rebuke to Taiwan, pointedly calling its planned referendum on United Nations membership “provocative.”
“We think that Taiwan’s referendum to apply to the United Nations under the name `Taiwan’ is a provocative policy,” she said at a news conference.
“It unnecessarily raises tensions in the Taiwan Strait and it promises no real benefits for the people of Taiwan on the international stage.”
The sharp comments, addressing one of a handful of issues that she raised without prompting by reporters, were seen as a signal to both China and Taiwan.
The administration’s policy is that the U.S. “opposes any threat to use force and any unilateral move by either side to change the status quo.” The U.S. is on China’s side on the issue of Taiwan’s referendum.
Sun hopes a new Taiwanese president will be more “moderate.”
The Taiwanese leaders “totally understand” the high stakes involved, he says, and he downplays the potential for the “nightmare scenario” of a military clash.
“I don’t see it getting to that nightmare scenario,” he says.
But after seven years of leadership under Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian and his drive for a sovereign nation independent of Beijing, can the people’s aspirations be cooled?
Will 2008 be the year China’s “Taiwan question” is solved peacefully?
“It’s hard to say if there will be progress,” Sun says cautiously.
“History moves forward. But sometimes you have more crises than progress.”