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Freedom of debate could lead to solutions for China's issues

Publication Date : 25-02-2014

 

US President Barack Obama met Friday with the 14th Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet. The White House meeting was greeted by the usual protests in China, claiming the visit was a gross violation of China's internal affairs.

China should rethink its stance on Tibet. Denying there is a problem is a big problem for the Chinese government and the media, both of which have come a long way over the last few decades of modernization but still have a rigid stance on issues such as constitutionalism and minority rights.

If they make no sincere efforts to address ethnic tensions, hatred will continue to fester, further poisoning the stability and welfare of people's livelihoods. Xinjiang and Tibet both have their own grievances against Beijing, which has insisted on an ossified dogma of national unity in answer to longstanding complaints.

The inadequacy of China's current minority policies stems from tensions that arise from its firm adherence to nationalism. Their nationalistic exhortations need to be examined for their dangerous lack of tolerance for dissent. A moral black hole grows from limitless amplification of an overarching dogma.

Using an equitable moral standard, the interaction between parties with different positions and sometimes conflicting interests needs to be resolved by correctly assigning responsibilities and duties, as well as by recognising the mitigating and exacerbating issues in designating blame.

In China, nationalism has become the biggest obstacle to both its governance of minority areas and cross-strait relations. In this column, we pointed out on February 16 that if Taiwan's National Unification Guidelines were followed strictly to the letter, it would have been much more difficult for Taipei and Beijing to improve relations to the current standard. The primary step of recognising each other's international standing is yet to be fulfilled, whereas direct links in transportation, mail and trade have become a reality.

Denying formal recognition to its adversaries has become the most confounding problem for China. The claim that the ROC no longer exists is the source of a critical impasse with Taiwan. Denying that mistakes have been made and wrongs inflicted on the Tibetan people is yet another hurdle.

The “one-China principle” is an existential question for Taiwan because its acceptance means the surrender of ultimate authority to a central government on the mainland. Even while Beijing keeps throwing out reassurances that “everything can be discussed,” what is missing is a healthy environment for unrestricted debate on these issues.

A lack of press freedom denies the people of the mainland the ability to peruse information and access debates outside the official versions, and that denial is fatal to the development of mechanisms and ideas that can prompt the satisfactory resolution of conflicts like Tibet and cross-strait ties.

Fundamentally, nationalism is an anemic excuse and no replacement for a robust and convincing rights framework that involves a give and take approach and encompasses the past, present and future. Catharsis requires giving voice to dissent and accounting for abuses. Only then can mutual agreement be made to last.

The same critique can be applied to China's spoon feeding of one of the world's most repressive and torturous regimes in Pyongyang. On Monday, a four-hundred page UN report based on extensive testimonies from survivors and defectors who escaped North Korea tell of grotesque and extreme forms of brutality that were inflicted upon them.

In the wake of the damning report, the world is also forced to confront issues of encouraging trade without insisting that China stop providing for its client state. For China, the question is whether it has the courage to admit that it fought for the side in the Korean War that turned out to be a monster.

If voices were given equally to those whose lives suffered on both sides of the divide, in a forum for reconciliation, catharsis could occur and old hatreds might ease. That can be applied to the cross-strait relationship as well as enduring conflicts in Xinjiang, Tibet and even the Koreas.

 

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