By Ikram Sehgal
A section of the international media went into overdrive, seeing demons where there were none. Having been on the receiving end of many motivated media campaigns, Pakistanis should be quite aware of this. Violence was labelled as “peaceful demonstrations” while efforts of law enforcers to maintain social order was maligned as “crackdown on protestors.” The gung-ho attitude of the media, especially in the captioning and cropping of images, is not only unethical, it definitely had ulterior motives. The Washington Post used pictures of baton-wielding Nepalese police in clashes with Tibetan protestors in Kathmandu, claiming the officers were Chinese police. A German station, N-tv, admitted it had “mistakenly” aired footage from Nepal during a story on Chinese riots. On March 24, 2008, the German TV news channel RTL disclosed that one photograph depicting rioters had been erroneously captioned. Even the prestigious BBC released a picture on its website showing Chinese Armed Police officers helping medical staff move a wounded person into an ambulance, but the caption read, “there is a heavy military presence in Lhasa,” neglecting the First Aid and Red Cross signs on the ambulance.
The most fundamental journalistic principle of “truth” was violated at will. Spreading rumours to tarnish China’s image and undermine the Olympics is certainly motivated, a section of the media chose not to verify facts before publication. How come the media ignored the grim statistics that rioters in Lhasa had set fires at more than 300 locations, including residential houses and 215 shops, smashed or burned 56 vehicles killed 18 civilians and one police officer and wounded another 620 people? Peaceful demonstrations very deliberately? During the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident in Beijing, similar misreporting was resorted to. To quote my article on June 27, 1989, entitled CHINA: HANDLE WITH CARE, “The actual military operation to restore order has been reported in various ways but some facts are hard to digest by those familiar with street fighting and the firepower available to combat troops. If the PLA was really bloody-minded, how come so many military vehicles were burned, some still lined up in convoys, if the demonstrators were peaceful and the troops relatively brutal? How come so many armoured personnel carriers were set on fire (along with their crews in full view of western TV) without the machine-gunning of people in droves? If tanks were trampling bodies, how was a complete column of tanks stopped in broad daylight for over 30 minutes (as recorded by the international media for the world) by a single unarmed man (who also clambered onto the leading tank before being escorted away by friends)? If the repression was so complete, why did the Chinese leadership allow the international media to function in virtual freedom and suffer their criticism day after day?”
Tony Gleason, Field Director of Tibet Poverty Alleviation Fund, an American organisation helping Tibetans through skill training, has also confirmed that the many reports of a violent crackdown were not accurate. He recalled seeing protestors throwing bricks and rocks at cars on the street and smoke spiralling out from different areas but he did not see police open fire. Eyewitness accounts from other foreigners living in Lhasa corroborate Gleason’s version.
Given the fact that only two weeks before the March riot, over 200 Dalai Lama supporters took off from his HQ in Dharmsala on a “Long March” to Lhasa, there is prima facie evidence that the riots were organised, masterminded and incited by the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama’s role since his exile has always been questionable. While constantly refusing to recognise the current political system in Tibet, he has been attempting to establish a so-called “Greater Tibet Area” covering nearly a quarter of Chinese territory, something that has never really existed in history. Claiming that Tibet is a nation occupied by China, the Tibetan “government in exile” has also proposed a “Charter of Tibetans in Exile” to establish a so-called “Federal Democratic Self-governing Republic” in the Tibetan region. Such activity is meant to destroy China’s national unity and are obviously supported by those who have their own axes to grind with China.
But why is the Dalai Lama stirring up conflict between the Han and Tibetan people? The central government is pouring huge amounts of funds and manpower into the region. In the past five years, it has given 95 billion Yuan ($13.5 billion) as aid and subsidies. Since 2001, government enterprises and ministries have initiated 2,876 projects towards Tibet’s development. People of all ethnicity live in peace and harmony in Tibet, this worries the Dalai Lama because in the long run it means public support for secession will diminish. Ever since Beijing won the chance to host the 29th Summer Olympiad, efforts have been underway to use the event to boycott China under whatever rationale serving opponents’ interests, be it Darfur or a domestic issue. The immediate aim of the China-haters is clear, sabotage the Olympic Games in Beijing. While no government has yet announced a boycott of the Olympics, some leaders are toying with the idea of staying away from the opening ceremony; this will be unfortunate. The international community must, stand united against any attempts to undermine the Olympics, this is a solemn international event that should never be spoiled by politics.
To quote my article entitled SOLIDARITY WITH CHINA published on Sept 26, 1989, “The great economic reforms carried out over the last decade have been unbelievable, the hundred flowers have now symbolically bloomed; even the Soviets have turned themselves to the emerging Chinese model. The entire coastal belt has seen a radical change in direction as regional managers have benefited by economic devolution. Small farm-unit ownerships has given astounding results, the agricultural production has multiplied manifold, lessening the burden on imported food grains. The change manifest in the entire agricultural spectrum has been nothing short of spectacular.” The motivation behind the calculated and pre-planned move designed to malign China should not be too surprising. China is an economic powerhouse of some reckoning, racing away from others China’s ascendancy has taken many by surprise and disbelief. It is not surprising that it is perceived to be the major economic threat by many. Actually what worries many is how much stronger will China become?
The writer is a defence and political analyst.Email: firstname.lastname@example.org