Thursday 19 Jul 2018 | 02:28 | SYDNEY
Thursday 19 Jul 2018 | 02:28 | SYDNEY

Tibet: the Kosovo connection


Raoul Heinrichs

27 March 2008 13:29

Greg Sheridan is right that China has been ‘brutal and clumsy’ in its ‘mismanagement of Tibet.’ What is especially puzzling about this latest overreaction is that it comes at a time when everything else seems to be going China’s way.

After all, Beijing is approaching the final stages in its preparation for the Olympics, an event widely seen as an international coming of age. Not only does the Chinese economy continue to steam along at an impressive rate, but new governments eager to assuage Beijing’s diplomatic sensitivities have emerged right across the region. Indeed, most countries, including Australia, have largely set aside concerns about China’s human rights in recent years, in the interest of cultivating broader relations with Asia’s rising power.

Why, then, has Beijing miscalculated so badly on Tibet, risking widespread international criticism and incurring the wrath of people like Nancy Pelosi? Two related explanations come to mind.

First, since Communist ideology has become almost irrelevant to Chinese society, the ongoing legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) depends very much on its ability to redeem China’s historical record and prevent the recurrence of past humiliations. It does this by seeking to preserve China’s national unity, territorial integrity, and absolute sovereignty at all costs. Given that regime perpetuation is the CCP’s highest priority, and that Tibetan separatism is perceived by the Chinese leadership to be a genuinely existential challenge, it is really no surprise that Beijing is prepared to accept what seems an intolerably high cost for its crackdown in Tibet.

Second, Chinese policy-makers are nothing if not keen observers of international affairs, and Kosovo’s recent declaration of independence may well have inspired fear among China’s leaders that its own ethnic minorities might be inspired to follow suit. While not wanting to put too fine a point on it, to the CCP, the symbolic significance of Kosovo’s independence would have been striking: a unilateral declaration of independence by a small, ethnically distinct enclave, with international sympathy and support, and in the face of great power opposition.

Tragically, when Tibetan monks started rioting last week, the temptation to read the situation in this broader context may have become irresistible.