'Butchers and monsters'
The brutality in Tibet is no surprise. Communist China will never change.
JOHN FRASER March 26, 2008 JOHN FRASER-->
It's always the same questions, whether it is about Tibetan protests, or democracy activists, or Falun Gong demonstrators, or whatever: why does China overreact so badly? Why does the government care so much about such small and insignificant groups? Why does China never get it, never seem to understand what our inevitable reaction in the West will be?
And the answer, too, is always the same, or at least it will be so long as the Chinese Communist party controls the country: China overreacts, cares so much, and never "gets it" because it can't do anything else. Because it lacks the confidence of its own people, the party's endurance is based on never underestimating the power of small but dedicated protest groups. Because the party knows from its own successful experience 60 years ago that a small but dedicated protest group can take over and control an entire country, it can never let its guard down. Not once. Not ever.
This reality never seems to penetrate over here. Over here, Falun Gong is just a weird group of exercise and "I-can-do-it" enthusiasts. Over there, it's different. Falun Gong, unchecked, could replace the Communist party. Over here, we wonder why no one in Beijing is negotiating with the pacifist Dalai Lama, who offers the best hope of a fair and workable compromise. Over there, it's different. Tibetan monks, unchecked, could replace party cadres as moral leaders in at least three major areas of China. Against such a threat, the bleatings of the West are merely ripples in an ocean. If it comes down to a choice of appearing "weak" to such groups or brutal to outsiders, the Communist authorities would not hesitate to choose resolute repression, regardless of the moral or economic costs, regardless of world opinion, regardless — if it comes to that — of the 2008 Olympics. Nothing will be allowed to diminish or otherwise threaten its power base.
If we never quite get all this straight in our heads in the West, it is partly because we hope for the best when it comes to China and the 1.3 billion Chinese. Our affection and concern for this vast population is sincere, albeit mixed with a dash of greed and a dollop of fear over what a China out of control would be like. The affection seems to be more profound for China and the Chinese than it ever has been for India and the Indians, the other population billionaire, and this despite the fact that India is a democracy and its people — for all the acknowledged inequities in their complicated and often tumultuous society — have a far greater moral call on our support.
I suppose the greed factor isn't just a dash. Today the Chinese economy — a nasty but happy union of the worst of rampant capitalism and Communist suppression of rights — is so hopelessly interlinked with ours that it is generally thought we cannot afford a major altercation. But that isn't really the case. The altercations will come regardless of interconnectedness, regardless of our naÃ¯veté. They came with the Tiananmen massacre and it didn't take all that long for economic reality to reassert itself. The Tibetan protests will be ruthlessly and efficiently eliminated for the moment, but — barring something on the scale of Tiananmen — it will not lead to a boycott of the Olympics.
Communist officials know this too. They have experience. They know exactly how long it took for the West's economic horizons to see beyond the massacre and get back to business. Even during the height of the xenophobic Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), with chaos reigning supreme throughout much of the country, the authorities of the day knew that the only real threats to their power were all homegrown. They worry about outside reaction only inasmuch as it affects the master plan, which — I'm sorry to report — we are not privy to.
I once experienced a stunningly emblematic lesson in the penchant of many perfectly decent people in the West to ignore the evidence before their eyes. My wife, Elizabeth MacCallum, and I, thanks to a posting in China at the end of the 1970s, occasionally get asked to tag along on tours of China in return for a few humble lectures about our experiences when we lived there (1976-79). Each time we go, either on a tour or on a private visit, we are assured that "everything has changed," and each time we leave, we agree that the sights and sounds are indeed much changed but that, actually, everything is still the same. Take for example what happened to the busload of happy Americans on their way to Beijing from the port city of Tianjin.