Saturday, April 19, 2008

Why the Tibet Protests Are Important

The Chinese leaders will not back down on Tibet. The Chinese people will not let them. The people of China are convinced that Tibet belongs to them. So it seems unlikely that protests on Tibet will make things better in Tibet. They may help, but they may also hurt. The protests are important because they provide a focal point for the world to treat China as a superpower. The sooner the people of the world become sensitized to the dangers that a superpower poses, the more likely they are to unite against it. It's not that people should just band together against a superpower for the hell of it. That's not the nature of the situation. People do, or should, band together against superpowers when they abuse their power. Power tends to corrupt. It seems almost inevitable that, when a country becomes strong, it begins to throw its weight around. "Appeasement" was the word used when, in 1938, the leaders of France, Britain, and Italy caved in to Hitler's demands to annex part of Czechoslovakia, claiming that it rightfully belonged to Germany. It took another year or so for those leaders to realize that, when you feed the tiger, the tiger becomes bigger. The world does not need any more Munichs. China has entered onto the world stage. It is taking superpower-level actions; it is stirring superpower-level irritation; and it is generating superpower-level unity, not only among its opponents, but also among those who were previously undecided about it. This process is healthy. The sooner the world can unite against China, the less likely China will be to commit the kind of costly mistake that, for instance, the U.S. made in Iraq. The world is going to continue to deal with China, and China is going to continue to grow. But, with luck, it will grow not only quickly, but well. The best that could happen, for these purposes, would be that the world would become truly outraged, and the Olympics would become a tremendous embarrassment for China. That way, ten or twenty years from now, the Tibetan incident will be remembered more clearly, and will be likely to have more influence, than the Tiananmen Square massacre has had. The bigger the problem, the harder it is to sweep under the rug. Ten or twenty years from now, China will be a superpower indeed. With luck, it will have the lessons from its "Wild West" period held up for reflection within living memory -- not just weakly resurrected from history books, like in the U.S. Let China take a very large, very visible fall on its face -- not because there is any joy in embarrassing anyone, but because the world does not need any more Tiananmens either.