Imagine the following sequence of events: A large group of white separatists, tired of living side by side with people of color in multiracial America, decides to carve out a homeland reserved for white people. In an attempt to promote secession, thousands of white separatists destroy black and Latino homes, shops, and churches. Dozens of minorities are killed. After a few weeks of violence, the federal government finally uses force to stop the rioters. In the process, however, a few separatists get killed.
Be honest: Do you think the white separatist group would attract a lot of sympathy in the international community? Moreover, supposing America was trying to organize the Olympic Games that year, would any nation be tempted to boycott the Games in solidarity with the separatists?
In recent weeks, China, a multiracial nation of 56 ethnic groups and hundreds of religions, has been forced to deal with violent Tibetan separatists—separatists whose goal is the creation of an independent, ethnically homogenous Tibet united under a single religion, Tibetan Buddhism. In a March 14 article, The Economist referred to the separatist riots as “an eruption of ethnic hatred,” with Tibetan crowds “hurling chunks of concrete at the numerous small shops run by ethnic Chinese.” Reporter James Miles later told CNN that the Tibetan protestors targeted not only ethnic Han Chinese, but also against members of the Muslim Hui minority in Lhasa. As of this week, at least one mosque has been burnt down by rioters. Indeed, according to the New York Times, the violence was so extreme that even the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, has denounced the violent protests, calling them “suicidal.”
In response to the violence, Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Tibetan exile groups in India to commemorate the anniversary of their failed 1959 rebellion, and declared her desire to “honor the many brave Tibetans who sacrificed their lives fighting for freedom.” She then praised the fact that “Congress continues to be a bedrock of support for the Tibetan people.”
This brings to mind a question. Had the Tibetan separatists been white and Christian instead of dark-skinned and Buddhist, would Ms. Pelosi still have praised them as freedom fighters? Or would she have dismissed them as bigots and xenophobes? For the Tibetan riots are all about race and religion, not freedom and democracy. Does the racial and religious violence of Tibetan rioters have anything in common with the non-violent, pro-tolerance movements of Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, or Martin Luther King Jr.?
The biggest questions should be asked not in Asia, but in America, for our foreign policy on the Tibet issue needs to be re-evaluated in light of these new developments. Given the nature of the violence, how does Nancy Pelosi’s embracement of Tibetan exile groups—and the racist separatism that they advocate—reflect America’s values? How does insulting a nation of 1.3 billion people possibly advance America’s interests? What do the Tibetan separatists’ goals have in common with America’s goals?
America and China have enormous differences. However, on this issue, we should stand firmly on China’s side, if only because the Tibetan rioters’ beliefs do not reflect America’s values of racial diversity and religious tolerance. As a cosmopolitan nation of settlers, former slaves, and immigrants, the United States should support China, a nation that prides itself on its racial and religious diversity, and reject the xenophobic separatism for which the radical Tibetan protestors were fighting for when they destroyed innocent peoples’ homes, shops, and places of worship.