Thursday, October 18, 2007

China's Syndrome

By Michael J.W. Stickings

It's called Dalai Lama Derangement Syndrome. The Mahablog's Barbara O'Brien explains here. It's an thoughtful post that goes on to address the relationship between religion and politics.

President Bush ought to be credited for defying China and meeting with the Dalai Lama -- and also for attending the ceremony at which he was presented with the Congressional Gold Medal.

At his press conference yesterday, Bush said this:

I told the Chinese President, President Hu that I was going to go to the ceremony. In other words, I brought it up. And I said I'm going because I want to honor this man. I have consistently told the Chinese that religious freedom is in their nation's interest. I've also told them that I think it's in their interest to meet with the Dalai Lama, and will say so at the ceremony today in Congress. If they were to sit down with the Dalai Lama they would find him to be a man of peace and reconciliation. And I think it's in the country's interest to allow him to come to China and meet with him.

He is right about the Dalai Lama, of course, but he is overly optimistic about the Chinese. Meet the Dalai Lama and talk? How would that go? The U.S. should be pressing China to embrace liberal and democratic principles (human and civil rights, the rule of law, free and fair elections, etc.), but China is not about to embrace the Dalai Lama or to soften its fierce and brutal positions on Tibet just because he's "a man of peace and reconciliation," or just because Bush thinks it's in their "interest" to do so.

Besides, Bush can say what he wants about "religious freedom," his positions on China are soft and self-interested. And although he defied the Chinese here, he is not about to defy them when it really matters:

The White House softened the slight to Beijing by keeping today's meeting between the Dalai Lama and Mr Bush a distinctly private affair, and by previously assuring the president's attendance at the 2008 summer Olympics in China.

And he is not about to apply serious pressure on China to reform, either unilaterally or through international organizations like the U.N.

As always, the gulf between Bush's words and actions is immense.

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