March 24, 2008 12:00am
WHICH country’s interests are best served by an uprising in Tibet on the eve of the Beijing Olympics?
The USA’s, of course.
The Bush administration has long been frightened of China’s burgeoning rival superpower status, and US stoking of the Tibetan fires to provide maximum international embarrassment to China cannot be ruled out.
Tibet is a cause celebre for the Hollywood glitterati, pop stars and celebrity politicians. They imagine it to be some sort of wondrous Shangri-la led by a beacon of peace and light, the Dalai Lama. The vast majority of the Western media is in love with the Dalai Lama and the Free Tibet movement. In fact, so blinkered are the Free Tibet and I-love-the-Dalai-Lama types that they will line up with their No. 1 enemy, the Bush administration, to throw darts at China for seeking to restore order in a land that China has occupied since 1951.
So what evidence do we have of US involvement in this latest round of Tibetan violence? History suggests it might be the case. The CIA gave the Tibetans and the Dalai Lama money and support through the 1950s and 1960s. On September 15, 1998, a Los Angeles Times investigation revealed that during “the 1960s, the CIA provided the Tibetan exile movement with $1.7 million ($1.83 million) a year for operations against China, including an annual subsidy of $180,000 ($193,500) for the Dalai Lama”. The CIA trained Tibetan guerrillas in Nepal and in Colorado during that period. This CIA support petered out in the 1970s.
So what is the situation today? Michael Barker, a PhD student at Griffith University in Brisbane who studies social and political movements, says much of the present international campaigning for a free Tibet is financed by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which is closely linked to the CIA.
Mr Barker, in a paper written in August last year, notes that the NED was established in 1984 by President Ronald Reagan. The role of the NED, which admits to receiving funds directly from the CIA, is to foster democracy throughout the world.
The NED has financed the work of the International Campaign for Tibet, the Tibet Fund and the Tibetan Information Network, the three leading anti-Chinese Tibetan advocacy organisations. In short, the CIA/NED directly bankrolls the apparatus that runs the Dalai Lama’s international campaign for a non-violent revolution in Tibet to overthrow the Chinese.
But is the CIA on the ground in Tibet and working with the locals to whip up riots against China? It cannot be ruled out altogether. As Time magazine revealed in a January 2003 report, the CIA under President George W. Bush has rebuilt its Special Operations Group, a paramilitary force. One cannot rule out the possibility, or indeed the probability, that this group and other CIA operatives have had some role in fuelling unrest in Tibet over the past few weeks.
But, you might ask, in any event aren’t the Chinese the oppressors here, and the Dalai Lama and the Free Tibet movement the good guys? Shouldn’t our Mandarin-speaking Prime Minister Kevin Rudd be berating the Chinese leadership about Tibet?
The answer to those questions is that things are not that simple.
The Dalai Lama heads an elite of families and religious figures that once ruled Tibet. And the Tibet they ruled was one of the most backward and inhumane societies in the world. Almost 90 per cent of Tibetans were slaves before the Chinese invaded the country.
As an Indian commentator, Aniket Alam, wrote last week: “Far from any democratic rights, for an overwhelming majority of Tibetans, the rule of the Dalai Lama was one of unending unpaid labour, cruelty and debt-bondage and not some spiritual Shangri-La. Some historians have even asserted that Tibetan feudal oppression was even worse than its Chinese counterpart, while one prisoner in the Dalai Lama’s prison in the 1950s called it hell on Earth.”
The Dalai Lama himself today supports some dubious causes. In 2000 he joined Pope John Paul, Margaret Thatcher and George Bush senior in pleading with the British government to let former serial human rights abuser and Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet go free. And while Catholic bishops and Muslim clergy are frequently castigated by the media for their eccentric views on sexuality, no one raises an eyebrow when the Dalai Lama says that “using one’s hand, that is sexual misconduct”.
It would be ironic if those who uncritically adore the Dalai Lama and support the Free Tibet campaign realised that their inherent enemies in the Bush administration and the CIA were bankrolling the cause, wouldn’t it? But it certainly looks that way.
China is not perfect, but nor are the Dalai Lama and the Free Tibet crowd, who are being used as pawns by the US.