Pope Francis’s first failure

On Thursday, December 18, 2014, in A Free Tibet in a Free World, by Matteo Mecacci
[caption id="attachment_5584" align="alignright" width="300"]The Dalai Lama with Pope John Paul II The Dalai Lama with Pope John Paul II, Vatican City,
June 14, 1988. (Photo: www.dalailama.com)[/caption]Last week His Holiness the Dalai Lama participated in the Nobel Peace Prize Summit in Rome, which had initially been scheduled to take place in South Africa. This plan was scrapped after the South African government failed to grant His Holiness a visa under Chinese pressure. His Holiness was very much welcomed in Rome where the audience gave him a standing ovation at the venue of the Summit. At the same time, in what was the biggest public relations failure by Papa Bergoglio since he ascended to the seat of San Pietro in Rome in 2013, the Vatican did not grant to His Holiness a meeting. Instead he issued a public statement saying that the Pope holds the Dalai Lama “in very high regard”, in a recognition of the high opinion that hundreds of millions of Catholics all over the world have for the Tibetan spiritual leader. So why not meet him? The answer is simple. The Chinese Government uses the “Dalai Lama card” to put pressure on all its international partners, both to put them on the defensive (typical behavior of aggressive negotiators) and most importantly because it fears that the moral authority and legitimacy that His Holiness has gained worldwide might be transformed in pressure to implement much-needed political reforms in China and Tibet. Contrary to China’s calculations - betting that isolating him politically will resolve the Tibetan question - the Dalai Lama anticipated China’s aggressive campaign by voluntarily and willingly choosing to abdicate his political authority in 2011. This, among other long-term factors, including China’s bullying, has not undermined, but rather increased the popularity in the west of the 14th Dalai Lama. With this decision and a step forward to dedicate himself to promote peace and interreligious dialogue, the Dalai Lama had hoped to facilitate a meaningful political dialogue between the Tibetan and the Chinese sides. Unfortunately, China continues to act aggressively, hoping that the problems in Tibet will be solved through their current policies. Certainly, as a Tibetan, the Dalai Lama remains concerned with the deterioration of human rights and individual freedoms in Tibet, but it must also be noted that the he tries all the time to highlight potential positive developments that are taking place in China. Furthermore, in regards to the foreign leaders who have stopped meeting him in Europe, he continues to repeat that he does not want to create any inconvenience to the countries that are eager to make business or have good relations with China. The problem is, clearly, what kind of long-term relations can be established with an authoritarian country that does not apply the rule of law and whose judicial system is highly corrupt? With this in mind, the way China continues to pressure everybody in the world not to meet His Holiness tells us a lot on how insecure Beijing is about its policies in Tibet, and shows its failure to grow as a responsible partner for democratic governments on the world scene. Getting away with bullying the Tibetans is only going to encourage the hardliners in Beijing to do this on other issues and to other peoples and countries. For Pope Francis, who has courageously challenged the Vatican bureaucracy on many fronts (from its shadowy finances to the cover up of sexual abuses within the Church, from a renewed dialogue with Muslims and the Russian Orthodox to recommit the Church to help the poor and shelve luxury living styles), to give up on the promotion of interreligious dialogue with the Dalai Lama is a striking contradiction with what he has been preaching from the pulpit. While tactically this move might bring some benefits to the Vatican in its dealing with China – the Vatican has been trying hard for decades to establish diplomatic relations with Beijing and the Chinese Foreign Ministry had a positive comment regarding the Vatican's attitude – this choice makes clear that the promotion of religious freedom for all in China is not a priority for this papacy. This is a stain that will not fade until urgent remedial measures are taken. Matteo
Matteo
Over the last few days President Obama was in China to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit and to participate in a bilateral meeting with the leader of China’s Communist Party, Xi Jinping. While China was hosting these very important political events, it must be noted that it did not make any effort to diminish its anti-US and anti-western rhetoric. To the contrary, right after the US mid-term elections the Global Times, a state run Newspaper, mocked President Obama on the eve of his trip to China. For a country that has been run for over 60 years as a dictatorship as a one-party system without competitive elections, the rule of law, or democracy, it was certainly a bold statement. And yet it was not surprising, since it is in line with the increasingly aggressive behavior that China is assuming overall internationally. As reported by the New York Times, China’s rhetoric against the “West” is increasing, as are the sizes of its economy and of its military, which, in the Chinese Communist Party’s strategy, are used as tools to gain more political leverage around the world. The nationalistic and oppressive policies implemented in Tibet, coupled with huge infrastructural investments (on which ICT just today issued a very important report), show that China is using Tibet to strengthen its position in Asia, both through the control of natural resources and an enlarged military. This is why ICT asked our members to urge President Obama to raise the issue of Tibet while meeting Xi Jinping. I want to thank the thousands of ICT members who took the time to take this action. The President did respond to this call and in the public press conference he reiterated the US position that China needs “to take steps to preserve the unique cultural, religious and linguistic identity of the Tibetan people.” More coordinated action among governments will be needed internationally to counter these very dangerous policies. If our governments would fail to do so, it will endanger not just Tibet, but world peace itself. Matteo
Matteo

Is China’s political system better than democracy?

On Thursday, October 23, 2014, in A Free Tibet in a Free World, by Matteo Mecacci
At different times over the last decades there have been a number of authors, professors, politicians, and intellectuals who have supported the view that the “West” should be more considerate and respectful of the “different” political systems existing or emerging in the world, and to not assume that democracy would be the best deal for other peoples and even our own. This was certainly true at the time of the Soviet Union, when a huge number of intellectuals supported the view that "The Soviet Union is going to remain a stable state, with a very stable, conservative, immobile government," as stated in 1983 in an interview by Indiana University historian Robert F. Byrnes, summing up a book titled After Brezhnev, in which he collected essays from 35 experts on the Soviet Union. Nowadays the ranks of China’s supporters (or apologists) are rapidly rising, and we might see more coming. But what is their reasoning today? Although the Chinese Communist party has lost the appeal of its communist ideology, it is praised nonetheless for its “pivotal status, competence, meritocracy, legitimacy and efficacy.” These are the words used by Mr. Martin Jacques in an op-ed published in the Financial Times on October 23, 2014, which in essence states that the Chinese government is developing a more efficient social political system than democracy. I don’t claim that democracy is a perfect political system, and I strongly believe that all democracies (including the more established) must be constantly monitored to make sure that the laws that exist on paper are effectively implemented in the real life of citizens. But, I also believe that claiming, as Mr. Jacques does, that the Chinese Government “has presided over rapidly rising living standards and enjoys a great deal of popular support” is a highly misleading statement. While nobody can deny that China has been able to hugely increase the size of its economy and also the general living standards of the people, how can anybody credibly claim that the Chinese people support the Communist party? Are there any reliable opinion polls to which Mr. Jacques can refer us? Is Mr. Jacques aware that the Communist party cannot be publicly criticized in China, and if that happens, the offending individuals are punished? (It’s very similar to happened during the fascist regime in my country of birth). Does Mr. Jacques know that China ranks number 175 out of 180 countries in the 2014 World Press Freedom Index? Does Mr. Jacques know that in order for the public to be able express its view on a system of government, a space for public and free debate must be created? Finally, does Mr. Jacques know that the images of the dozens of thousands of Hong Kongers who are demonstrating for democracy (yes, just democracy, capitalism is already present there) cannot reach mainland China because they are censored? It is in the interest of the Chinese people to ensure that intellectuals, writers and politicians are able to freely criticize a government, and since those living in China are not allowed to do so, it is even a bigger responsibility for those who live abroad and have access to major news outlets. No government can last forever without the genuine support of its people. They can try to break the spirit of people by jailing those who try to defend their fundamental rights, as they do in Tibet and in China, but the aspiration to freedom and to express opinions cannot be silenced indefinitely. Matteo
Matteo
Since you’re reading this blog, you already know my answer. No, this cannot be allowed and we, as citizens of the so-called “free world,” have a clear responsibility to call on our governments to expose the Chinese government’s policies in Tibet, and not to shy away from doing it. On Wednesday, we at ICT issued a new report, which documents the actions taken by China to further militarize the Tibetan plateau, as part of an extensive counterterrorism drive undertaken by China over the last months. Large military drills have been organized in Tibet to combat “self-immolation, vehicle collision, arson attacks, and mobs”, to make an “exercise of anti-terrorism and stability maintenance combat” and to combat “thugs”. If it were not tragic, it would be ironic to see this mobilization of force by the Chinese government, despite the absence of any incidents taking place in the region, neither against civilians nor against Chinese authorities. Counterterrorism trainings continue inside Buddhist monasteries in Tibet to have police “combat ready”; the teachings of the Dalai Lama have been defined as incitement to ‘hatred’ and ‘extremist action’, and self-immolations are equated to “terrorism” and “acts of significant evil”. It is not the first time that an authoritarian government has labeled any dissenting opinion about its policies as “terrorism”. What is striking is how quiet the democratic countries seems to have become when it comes to reacting and denouncing such outrageous statements like those that we have documented. Labeling a Tibetan self-immolator as a “terrorist” is the ultimate offense to people who have sacrificed their life, harming no one except themselves, to raise the attention of the international community on the plight of the Tibetan people. We at ICT will never forget that and we will never stop demanding justice. Matteo
Matteo