Tuesday 11 April 2023

Chinese Whispers

Taiwan and the Dalai Lama are both in the news. As conventionally portrayed, you cannot support both Tibet and Taiwan. Ask them in Taipei, and they will tell you that they are the Republic of China, of which Tibet is an integral part.

The People’s Republic of China is what there is. There is nothing that we can possibly expect to do about that. Register our objections to its many, many failings. Then be on the bus, or be under it. Be on the Belt and Road, or starve. They understand that in the CPTPP. That is the only good thing that can be said about it.

For all our apparent determination to emulate China’s nightmare surveillance state, we tolerate and even indulge the far worse human rights records of, in one notable case, the state that has been setting off bombs on our streets, and which will now stop doing so, if it will, precisely because it was now allied to China, therefore making peace with Iran, making peace in Yemen, applying to join BRICS, and accepting yuan for oil. We shall see. We would rightly arrest and imprison in Bradford, Birmingham or Tower Hamlets those who have been arrested and imprisoned in Xinjiang. That there are a lot of them is just because there are a lot of people in that part of the world.

Before 1959, Tibet was not an independent state ruled benignly by the Dalai Lama and given over almost entirely to the pursuit of spirituality. But Tibet was certainly ruled by the Dalai Lama, by the lamas generally, and by the feudal landlord class from which the lamas were drawn. “Dalai” is a family name; only a member of the House of Dalai can become the Dalai Lama.

Well over 90 per cent of the population was made up of serfs, the background from which the present rulers of Tibet are drawn. That system was unique in China, and existed only because successive Emperors of China had granted the Tibetan ruling clique exactly the “autonomy” for which it still campaigns from “exile”. Life expectancy in Tibet was half what it is today.

There has never been an independent state of Tibet. Likewise, there is nothing remotely new about the presence in Tibet of large numbers of Han, who are ethnic Chinese in the ordinary sense, and of other Chinese ethnic groups. The one-child policy never applied in Tibet, so the Han majority there is the ethnic Tibetans’ own fault, if they even see it as a problem. It is totally false to describe the Dalai Lama baldly as “their spiritual leader”. Relatively few would view him as such. In particular, Google “Dorje Shugden” for, to put at its mildest, some balance to the media portrayal of the present Dalai Lama. Or read what remains the greatest hit of The Lanchester Review.

The Buryats, with the Chechens noted as exceptionally cruel Russian fighters in Ukraine, are followers of the Dalai Lama. Moreover, he has never condemned either the invasion of Afghanistan or the invasion of Iraq.  For more on Buddhism as no more a religion of peace than Islam is (no less so, but no more), then see Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Mongolia, Japan, Thailand, and beyond. In fact, an examination of the relevant texts shows that violence in general and war in particular are fundamental to Buddhism. Tibet is particularly striking for this. A rare balanced treatment of Buddhism and violence was broadcast in August 2013. The subject is also addressed in great detail here.

That lot holed up in Taiwan do not claim jurisdiction only over China as it now exists. Rejecting the authority of the present Chinese Government to resolve territorial disputes, they lay claim to all of Mongolia, as well as to parts of Russia, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bhutan and Myanmar. As for Taiwanese independence, the United States would never bring on a Third World War by recognising it, so that is just that. Satisfying no one, the present situation will still be in place long after we were all dead.

The founder of Taiwanese nationalism, Lee Teng-hui, was a volunteer Second Lieutenant in the Imperial Japanese Army until the very end of the War. He always regarded Japanese as his first language, and Tokyo as the cultural capital of his wider civilisation. The dictator of South Korea from 1961 to 1979, Park Chung-hee, had been an officer in the Japanese Manchukuo Army that had occupied Manchuria. These are the heroic Asian Tigers of successive generations of the same neoliberals who have always lionised Augusto Pinochet. Their economic system neither requires nor upholds democracy.

And whatever it is that those demonstrators periodically waving the old colonial flag want in Hong Kong, then it is not the democracy that they certainly never had in those days. The question is never quite asked of where those flags might have come from. Those demonstrations always last until they have quite clearly failed, even though they are barely repressed, or what have you, by the standards of Hong Kong under Harold Wilson. Unlike those uprisings against poverty and its consequences in the 1960s, these supposed uprisings obviously enjoy little or no wider public support. Under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, they would now be illegal in England and Wales.


  1. People who know this much aren't allowed in politics.