Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
April 7, 2008
Chastise China, but build bridges too
Pope Benedict's only significant statement to date on the turmoil in Tibet over the past few weeks has been a generic condemnation of violence. "With violence, problems are not solved, only aggravated," he said March 19.
The pope has his own experience with Chinese intolerance and no doubt is wary of saying anything that would rebound negatively on the Church in China. Last June, he issued a letter calling for full religious freedom in China. The letter was followed by the arrests of a handful of priests and one bishop in China. The Chinese government tolerates no criticism of its policies - either from domestic dissidents or from Western-based governments, agencies or Church leaders.
The West has a sorry history of trying to exercise hegemony over China and the Chinese are seeing Western protests against its crackdown in Tibet in that light. The worst episodes of that history, while now more than 100 years old, are still a bitter memory in China. Our protests are giving new momentum to Chinese ultra-nationalism.
Yet, the world cannot ignore China's human rights abuses, one-party rule, environmental recklessness, suppression of press freedom or the treatment of minorities. It should not ignore China's anti-life one-child per couple policy. And it should not ignore the crackdown in Tibet.
Western protests are not likely to spur sorrowful repentance and political change. They may incite charges of hypocrisy because Western nations' record on the treatment of minorities is far from pure. But protest we must.
We must protest the crackdown on what were at first peaceful protests in Tibet. We must protest the ongoing erosion of Tibetan culture. And we must protest the slanderous attacks on the Dalai Lama, one of the world's great witnesses to the power of non-violence.
Such protest need not involve a full boycott of the Beijing Olympics this summer or an attempt at a total trade embargo. But a boycott of the Olympics' opening and closing ceremonies and an embargo on select Chinese products would drive home the message.
The continued willingness of Western leaders to meet with the Dalai Lama is another step that will make our views known to the Chinese leadership.
Western nations have pussyfooted around Chinese human rights abuses for far too long, condemning those of other nations, but happy to turn a blind eye to Chinese authoritarianism in the interests of making a dollar.
But if there are Western protests of Chinese actions, bridges must also be built between China and the world. Other countries need to help their citizens to understand Chinese history and culture and to help China understand our way of life, tainted as it is by our own forms of godlessness. Actions such as student and professional exchanges are building bridges rather than erecting walls.
Ultimately, however, the force for changing a society must come from within. The greatest force for positive political change is always the temple of human conscience, something no government, no matter how repressive, can eradicate.
In the former Soviet bloc, it was the spark of Pope John Paul II's 1979 visit to Poland that helped people to see that freedom of conscience could never be killed. Their solidarity in that realization led to the collapse of a mighty, but morally empty, empire.
Freedom can come to China when a similar spark lights an unshakeable solidarity among the Chinese people to stand for human dignity. Meanwhile, our main contribution from a distance must be to protest the abuses of human rights while at the same time building bridges.
- Glen Argan
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