Ian Buruma: China’s Burden

Ian Buruma writes in the Guardian about the various arguments on both sides of the TIbet issue, and brings in another perspective:

But the Chinese have another argument up their sleeve, which seems more plausible (and more modern). They are justly proud of the ethnic diversity of China. Why should nationality be defined by language or ethnicity? If Tibetans should be allowed to break away from China, why not the Welsh from Britain, the Basques from Spain, the Kurds from Turkey, or the Kashmiris from India?

In some cases, the answer might be: well, perhaps they should. But ethnicity as the main marker of nationality is a vague and dangerous concept, not least because it leaves all minorities out in the cold.

So are people wrong to support the Tibetan cause? Should we dismiss it as sentimental nonsense? Not necessarily. The issue is not so much Tibetan culture, or spirituality, or even national independence, but political consent.

In this respect, the Tibetans are no worse off than other citizens of the People’s Republic of China. Historic monuments are being bulldozed everywhere in China in the name of development. Culture is being sterilised, homogenised and deprived of independence and spontaneity in all Chinese cities, not just in Tibet. No Chinese citizen, regardless of whether he or she is Han, Tibetan, Uighur or Mongolian, can vote the ruling party out of power.

The problem, then, is not mainly one of nationality or discrimination, but of politics.

April 11, 2009 2:15 PM
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