Monday 17 March 2008

Tibet's challenge to Bush-Cheney (UPIASIA)

M.D. Nalapat

Manipal, India — Just as any CEO would, George W. Bush and his CFO Dick Cheney have focused on ensuring as high a monetary return as possible to those who invested in their campaigns. Whether it is the oil companies based out of Houston, Texas, or corporations like Halliburton, those who put their dollars behind the Bush-Cheney ticket have been rewarded beyond their most optimistic calculations.

The downside has been a recession caused by the financial cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined with the higher oil prices generated by the geopolitical experiments of the current U.S. administration and the get-rich-anyhow outlook of financial institutions. Had the U.S. economy not been faced with these multiple shocks, stock and housing prices would most likely have continued to rise, thereby bailing out those institutions that advanced funds to subprime borrowers.

However, while individual corporations have benefitted exponentially from 2001 to 2008, the bulk of U.S. consumers have had to be content with modest or negative gains, thereby leading to the present loss of confidence in the future of what will, for another generation at least, be the primary economic engine of the globe.

After witnessing the colonial-style scramble for profits from the oil sector in Iraq -- which in its transparent rapacity most resembles Belgian policy in the Congo during much of the past century -- as well as the manner in which some corporate and other entities have leveraged their political connections to secure monopolies in Iraq and Afghanistan, savers in East and South Asia as well as Russia have steadily lost confidence in the integrity of the U.S. dollar and shifted to the euro. This has contributed to a slide in the greenback's value that may wipe away any gains in the anemic anti-inflation measures taken by the U.S. Federal Reserve thus far, and exacerbate the decline in both business as well as consumer confidence.

Now that their joint term is heading to a close, the Bush-Cheney team is shutting down the party, while hoping that raw emotion -- as well as the atavistic negativism in many U.S. voters toward the attractive but perhaps too driven Billary Clintons -- could place an understanding John McCain in the White House, and thereby avoid an accounting of just what went wrong during the Bush-Cheney terms and why.

The nightmare scenario for Bush-Cheney would be the victory of Barack Obama, a prospect that appears to be receding in the racial-patriotic soup being brewed and served up by foes within and without the Democratic Party of the junior senator from Illinois. Obama's successes have managed to a visible degree to change perceptions of the United States within countries that were at the business end of European colonialism, although his recent setbacks are again reinforcing stereotypes that paint the United States as indistinguishable from Europe on the issue of colonization.

In a calculus where profits are everything, it is small wonder that the latest U.S. State Department litany of international human rights abuses -- excluding those caused within Afghanistan and Iraq by collateral damage -- gave China a pass while rounding heavily on Myanmar, which is in effect a colony of the People's Liberation Army. Unfortunately for George W. Bush and the financial interests that caused this Nelsonian gaze on China's record, the indigenous population of Tibet and the neighboring provinces seem finally to have lost hope that the galloping takeover of what was once their exclusive religious, social, geographical and economic space by Han Chinese will slow down or be reversed.

In "autonomous Tibet," almost all significant business entities are controlled by Han Chinese, as are the administration and the military. Any "Tibetan" components are usually diluted in their commitment to protect indigenous rights by intermarriage with Hans or by way of financial and authority transfers in exchange for subordination to the wishes of a Chinese Communist Party that has placed Han nationalism together with Get Rich Anyhow policies at the core of the "new" communist ideology.

Whether it is a mullah in Xinjiang, a bishop in Shanghai or a Buddhist elder in Lhasa, none can aspire to be even the titular head of a religious entity such as a mosque, church or temple unless he fully subordinates himself to the Chinese Communist Party, a group not known for its spirituality or devotion to any power higher than itself.

The shackles placed on religious observance in Tibet -- especially the mindless prohibition of even a photograph of the Dalai Lama -- have finally led one of the most nonviolent populations on earth, the Tibetans, to vent their feelings against what they perceive as Han colonization.

Although forecasts are risky and usually inaccurate, the odds are that the protests that have erupted in Tibet this past week will flare again, perhaps after a repression-induced lull. They may lead to copycat actions in the northwest province of Xinjiang, where too the predominantly Muslim population is deprived of the freedom to conduct its religious observances even in the moderate manner witnessed in the past.

The Bush-Cheney genuflection toward Beijing in matters concerning Tibet, Taiwan and other issues that may reduce the flow of profits into the treasuries of favored corporations has created a cynicism about U.S. policy in East Asia that is reaching the levels of that in the Middle East. However, even the current U.S. administration, together with other China-friendly governments such as those in Ottawa and Canberra, may find it difficult to ignore their own public opinion.

White U.S. voters, by backing Barack Obama in large numbers, have shown that the world's First Civilization is transforming itself from within, from exclusivism to inclusivism, from racial values to human values. This transformation may in time even affect the present Mugabist -- frankly racist -- policies of the European Union.

Had China been a democracy, it might have designed a system of governance that would coopt the Tibetan people into a Greater China without forcing them to abandon their culture, traditions and religious beliefs. However, the Han-driven nationalist ideology of the CCP leaves President Hu Jintao scant room for maneuver. His own stint in Tibet in 1988-89 marked a departure from some of the more culturally sensitive views expressed by Mao Zedong.

Even if many in Xinjiang follow the example of indigenous Tibetans and go out into the streets to protest Han domination, the authorities in Beijing will still be able to damp the situation down to a "safe" level. The real nightmare scenario for Beijing would be if Christians in the rest of China, perhaps also other groups such as the Falun Gong, decided to follow the Tibet example and convert the streets of China's urban centers to the present chaos of Lhasa. Such a spread of indigenous unrest into the Han population might prove uncontrollable, unless economic growth expanded beyond even the present impressive levels.

By failing to fashion political institutions that can accommodate the needs of people of faith, the CCP may have created the conditions for a Bamboo Revolution that could lead to a repeat of what happened to the Communist Party in the Soviet Union. It may seem a far cry from the current triumphalism in Beijing to the meltdown that occurred in Moscow or Bucharest -- but the gongs in Tibet may have begun sounding that dirge.

As for Bush-Cheney, after repeatedly certifying Pakistan's dictator Pervez Musharraf as the First Democrat of his country, it should not pose much of a problem to claim similar qualities in Hu Jintao -- who in Tibet may be facing a challenge that will make the protests of 1989 look like a schoolyard drill.

-(Professor M.D. Nalapat is vice-chair of the Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair, and professor of geopolitics at Manipal University. ©Copyright M.D. Nalapat.)

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