Tag Archives: China

Free Tibet and the West’s Struggle with China’s Growing Influence

For more than thirty years Free Tibet have been at the forefront of the West’s scrutiny of China’s human rights record.

The organisation gained widespread international support in the 1990s, with governments and celebrities alike speaking out in support of Tibetan rights and independence.

There are signs however that as Chinese influence and power grows on the world stage, high profile support for organisations like Free Tibet is getting harder to come by, as economic and strategic interests take precedence.

“It was everywhere in popular culture.” said John Jones, Campaigns and Advocacy Manager for Free Tibet.

“I think a lot of Hollywood stars are reluctant to speak out about it now. I think some films in Hollywood would be considered a flop if they didn’t break into the Chinese market, and the Chinese government has a say on what films get in.”

In a 2002 episode of The Simpsons, Lisa Simpson shouted “Free Tibet” after winning a spelling bee. A series of concerts in support of Tibet were held from 1996 through to 2008 throughout the west.

By 2018, London’s Royal Court theatre was pulling a play about Tibet after the British Council advised it would coincide with “significant political meetings” in China, and could stop the company from working there in the future.

This change within a decade coincides with an explosion in China’s economic prowess and global influence.

In 2018, the UK received $4.8bn in foreign direct investment from Beijing. China is also being earmarked as a vital post-Brexit trading partner, and the UK’s reluctance to outright oppose China has been displayed this year in its tentative approach to Huawei’s implementation of 5G networks throughout the country.

While Britain’s traditional allies the US, Australia, and New Zealand have banned the Chinese company from implementing its 5G networks, citing national security concerns, the UK has sat on the fence.

Both the US and China have threatened the UK over the issue.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested that the US may not trade diplomatic secrets with the UK if it had a Huawei-operated network.

Meanwhile Chinese diplomat Chen Wen alluded to “substantial” repercussions for Chinese investment into Britain should the network’s implementation be hindered.

What the Huawei issue shows is that the UK is desperate not to antagonise China, even at the expense of its traditional diplomatic relationships.

As Britain and the world struggles to come to terms within China’s ascent into superpower status, Beijing’s grasp on Tibet continues to tighten.

2011_China's_Violence_Force_on_streets_in_Ngaba,_Tibet_中國武力部隊在西藏_-_圖博阿壩市街
The Chinese military on the streets of Ngaba, Tibet, in 2011.

Mr Jones said: “Its hard for us to know just how bad Tibet is because its so closed. The information we get is sent in very convoluted ways. Its hard to get information out and it takes a while.”

Restrictions on the flow of information in and out of Tibet increased following strong western condemnation of the Chinese response to the 2008 Tibetan Uprising, during which the Tibetan government-in-exile claim that 203 people were killed.

Beijing subsequently invested in increased security forces, surveillance, internet monitoring, and border checks. Journalists are restricted, and the UN must be accompanied by government minders.

In 2014, hundreds of fake Twitter accounts which were found to be circulating Tibet-related pro-Chinese propaganda were shut down.

While exploiting western social media for their own gains, Beijing strictly regulates use of the internet within its own borders.

These restrictions extend to giants such as Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Wikipedia. Desperate to break into the Chinese market, Google began developing a Beijing-compliant search engine, Dragonfly. After heavy criticism, including a campaign led by Free Tibet, the programme was ostensibly pulled.

The information that does filter out typically tells of Beijing’s efforts to water-down Tibetan identity and autonomy.

This is done by suppressing the use of the Tibetan language, and the practice of Tibetan Buddhism.

Mr Jones said: ‘In order for [the Chinese] to cement this this state of affairs they want to eradicate or compromise aspects of Tibetan culture, you see that in the taking over of monasteries, in schools in Tibet which now revolve around the teaching of Mandarin Chinese, with Tibetan relegated to the status of just one class in the way that we might do French classes in a school in the UK.’

China has recently moved to demolish Larung Gar, a town famous for having the world’s largest Tibetan monastery, in an act some brandish cultural whitewashing.

Mandarin Chinese is now the standard language used in Tibetan secondary schools, and use of the language is increasingly common in the region’s cities, which are populated by a growing number of ethnic Han Chinese incentivised to move into the area.

The geopolitical significance of Tibet is undeniable, and Beijing’s desire for control of the reason is understandable given its provided access to the Himalayas, water supplies, and rich mineral wealth.

In turn, the Communist Party is keen to silence any pro-secessionist discourse, partly to protect these interests, as well as to protect Chinese soft-power on the international stage.

‘When Tibet is brought up, there is this real, defensiveness, probably because the government knows that some of the things its doing are reprehensible’ added Mr Jones.

Free Tibet continue to lobby governments and raise international awareness over these issues.

One notable such campaign is on the disappearance of the Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima.

The Panchen Lama is the second highest authority in Tibetan Buddhism. Gedhun disappeared aged 6, and six months later the Tibetan child of two Communist party members was named his replacement.   

This Beijing-based Lama is still in place, and the whereabouts of Gedhun remain unknown.

There are also some concerns that Beijing plans to appoint the successor to the Dalai Lama, the most influential figure in the region.

Free Tibet campaign to locate the whereabouts of Gedhun, and the freedom of Tibetan Buddhism from Chinese influence.

The organisation also works with the Tibetan diaspora , which stands at around 150,000 spread across 40 countries.

In February 2019, Tibetan-Canadian student Chemi Lhamo recieved a wave of online abuse and death threats after being elected president of the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus Student Union.

A petition to prevent her from becoming president gained over 10,000 signatures, part of which stated that “she is very deep into a group called Free Tibet. We think she is irrational about this.”

The petition appears to have been set up and signed primarily by Chinese students. This supports claims that members of Confucius Institutes and Chinese student associations throughout the west report to the Communist Party.

2019 has also seen Uyghur activist Rukiye Turdush filmed and shouted at while speaking at McMaster University in Ontario, also primarily by Chinese students.

The increasing difficulty with which Tibetan activists operate, both at home and abroad, is symptomatic of China’s growing power and influence.

Without organisations like Free Tibet, it is hard to know who, if anyone, would hold the Communist Party to account for his actions in Tibet, Xinjiang, and beyond.

For more information about Free Tibet and the Tibetan cause in general visit www.freetibet.org 

Pax Sinica: China Goes Global

We are living in the Chinese century. This is what economic forecasters would have you believe. With economic pre-eminence often comes cultural hegemony, evidenced by the overpowering Americanisation of global society. Jeans, burgers, hip hop – America is everywhere. Conservative forecasters estimate that the Chinese Economy will pass that of the US by 1930 – suggesting that the coming decades could see a penetration of Chinese influence around the world, akin to that enjoyed by the States in the years subsequent to the Second World War. Despite the historical isolationism prevalent in Chinese culture, evidence of such an emergence is already apparent. Originally manifest in Han encroachment into traditional Tibetan, Uyghur and Mongol lands within the boundary of what we would now define as China, Beijing’s reach is now going global.

One area in which Chinese influence is flexing is in the vast and sparsely populated lands which lay to the north in Siberia. The Asian part of Russia accounts for three quarters of the countries’ land mass, yet is home to just forty million people. The Chinese, who number some 90 million in the borderlands, have a long association with the area, which the Russians captured from them in 1860 during their ‘century of humiliation’. Importation of raw materials from Siberia-based Russian companies has formed a significant portion of Chinese manufacturing sector in recent decades. More recently however these have been supplanted by Siberia-based Chinese companies, harnessing these materials from their source and churning out finished products within Russian territory. With this has come a steady in-flow of ethnic Han workers, and with them Chinese oriented facilities.

While the traditionally Russian ethnic groups of Siberia are declining in population size, the Chinese are steadily increasing their presence. Aside from the stronghold in Vladivostok, Moscow’s influence east of the Ural’s is waning, something which some might expect would endear a response from the usually hard-line Vladimir Putin. Such a response has however not been made by the Kremlin, and instead efforts have been made to facilitate the Chinese population. The most striking testament to this is the development of multiple casinos in the area, all heavily targeted at Chinese clientele. Such a facilitation suggests that Moscow is willing to accommodate the slowly increasing Chinese foothold in Siberia, possibly in order to coerce the soon-to-be economically dominant Beijing into a closer trading partnership. It may also be the case that the Chinese reclamation of Siberia is considered an inevitability, and Moscow considers it best to accommodate a friendly Beijing to its east while focusing on the steadily increasing NATO presence to its west.

As Beijing’s influence is spreading to the north, a similar affect is occurring to the south. Across the all but subdued Tibetan Plateau – remember those guys? – China is heavily investing in Pakistan. Known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor or CPEC, the project focuses heavily on the modernisation of Pakistani transport links in a deal valued at 62 billion dollars. While revolutionising the Pakistani economy, the deal also facilitates Chinese trade by shortening cargo ship routes in and out of Europe and Africa substantially. To this end, plans for a Chinese naval base in the Pakistani port of Balochistan have been announced. The announcement of such a deal demonstrates Beijing’s independence in international and military affairs, particularly when given the recent anti-Pakistan stance employed by Donald Trump’s US administration. The strengthening ties between China and Pakistan will also serve to frustrate Pakistan’s eternal enemy, India. While any strengthening of it’s north-western neighbour, with whom they have been in a perpetual state of war with since British partition in 1947, Beijing’s presence in Lahore will get alarm bells ringing in Delhi. Territorial disputes in Askai Chin and Doklam have left Sino-Indian relations frosty. Moreover, the growing Chinese presence in Myanmar and Bangladesh also leaves India at risk of being isolated within its own backyard. It remains to be seen whether these two ever-expanding economic powerhouses can facilitate each other in the same neighbourhood. The ancient division provided by the mighty Himalayan mountains grows smaller every day.

china madagascar
Agricultural workers protest the presence of a Chinese gold mine in rural Madagascar.

Beyond its territorial borders, Beijing is also leading development projects in Africa and Indian Ocean nations. Through carefully planned ‘special economic zones’, which establish China-friendly financial stipulations unrepresentative of that of the host nation, Chinese business is thriving in nations like Kenya, Mauritius and Madagascar. Such nations governments are more than willing to do business with China, having grown weary and suspicious of western governments following centuries of colonial exploitation. In Kenya, the steady increasing in Chinese businesses in sectors such as infrastructure and mineral extraction has seen an explosion in Nairobi’s Chinese population. With this has come restaurants, hotels and casinos advertising exclusively in Mandarin and tailored specifically for Chinese personnel. This has proven controversial, particularly during a scandal during which black African patrons were turned away from a Chinese restaurant. Anti-Chinese protests have also gathered strength in Madagascar, where demonstrations have taken place against gold-mining companies as a result of their encroachment into traditionally rural communities. Nonetheless, Chinese investment is the backbone of many African economies. This is no more visible than in Mauritius, where many China-led development projects have emerged, including renovation of the island nations airport terminal. Such projects have led to the emergence of Chinese enclaves on the island, with Chinese-oriented facilities emerging akin to those now found in Nairobi. Such a growth of influence in a continent with which the Chinese have such little historical ties to beyond the voyages of Zheng He demonstrates that as the Chinese economy grows so does its international influence.

Beijing’s growth is not only being felt within ‘developing’ nations or sparsely populated lands, but also within advanced western nations. Take Britain for example, who as they turn away from the EU are beginning to court the soon-to-be largest world economy as a potential future trade partner. The foundations of the modern UK-China relationship were laid as the Union Jack lowered for the final time in Hong Kong, signalling London’s acceptance that China’s will could no longer be ignored and should be adhered to in the national interest. Before the EU referendum, Chinese investment in the UK had been heavily focused on during Xi Jinping’s 2015 British state visit, during which the President dined with the Queen, as well as David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn. The visit resulted in business agreements worth 40 billion pounds and an extension of Chinese visitor visas from six months to two years. Post-Brexit, it is likely that China will be seen as an avenue for British trade, as well as a source for the international students upon which its Universities so heavily depend. The impact the increased Chinese presence within Britain will have both economically and socially remains to be seen.

The rise of China and its increasing economic footprint worldwide bears a striking resemblance to that of the post-WWII rise of the United States. Such a rise to economic hegemony often leads to an increased military presence to defend those interests, and this has already manifest itself with the construction of Chinese Naval Bases in Djibouti and Pakistan. The third wave of hegemony usually comes in the form of social exportation. The seeming inevitability of such a development may seem intimidating, however is such a universal dominance detrimental to world society? Many nations have benefited from the US-led new world order, particularly those in Eastern Europe, in economic, military and social terms. People broadly like burgers, or rather their accessibility to US-style fast food, they like jeans, they like hip-hop. This would evidently be contested in other areas of the world, something which would likely be reflected with regards to an equally encompassing Chinese hegemon. China is already preparing itself for dominance of the international order, facilitated by a westernisation of its own culture. Chinese youth are learning English, studying abroad, and travelling the world. Football, the world’s game, is seeing heavy Chinese investment, with the Chinese Super League signing some of the biggest names in the sport.  Shanghai recently saw the opening of a Disney Park. As the world opens itself up to China economically, the Chinese are opening themselves up to the world socially, facilitating the steady incorporation of a dominant Beijing into international society as the soon-to-be hegemon of the twenty-first century.

J G Middleton