Sunday, March 8, 2009

You Can't Kill an Idea

As we approach the fiftieth anniversary of the failed uprising in Tibet and the one year anniversary of the crackdown on Buddhist Monk demonstrators, tensions are running high in the region. It is amazing that despite China having one of the largest armies in the world, they are utterly afraid of a relatively small group of monks. The fact that all foreign journalists and international tourists are being kept out of the region at this team speaks to their ongoing concern about what more protests could bring. Though I was extremely disappointed by Hillary Clinton's lack of providing either carrots or sticks for improved Chinese treatment of Tibet, I was sadly not surprised. This unwillingness to press for Tibet's independence (or autonomy, or even well-being) is one (of many) of America's major foreign policy failings. 

Many apologists for the policy argue that due to our need for China to buy up our debt and help stabilize the region, we cannot denounce their policy for fear of backlash. As any student of international relations can tell you, this simple dichotomy of do nothing or incur the full wrath of China is a false one. There are many gradations in policy that could be used to thaw relations and tie Tibet to other issues where there is mutual interest between the U.S. and China. One of China's biggest fears is international perception of the Tibet issue. Having closed door conversations on the matter that lead to an actual softening of China's position could be an advantageous option for all sides. 

One thing is for sure, we must not fall into the same malaise and inertia that has kept our human rights policy so anemic. We have a president that believes in the rule of law and inspires people around the world. America has the obligation to continue to provide hope to those in duress. We must not turn our backs on causes we know are just. We can no longer sustain regimes like Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Myanmar, North Korea, and many more to continue on the path they are on. Increased diplomatic efforts must be used to forge consensus on shared goals and to facilitate slow, positive changes to happen in these countries. By sustaining these regimes, we only increase the difficulties we will face when we are forced to deal with them eventually and further the suffering that those oppressed by these regimes experience. 

The Dalai Lama puts it well:

If you can, help others; if you cannot do that, at least do not harm them.

Our callous disregard for the consequences of our actions cannot continue. Though change won't happen overnight, we must act in positive ways to increase the well-being of those least capable of doing so themselves. 

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