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Contentions

Tempest over Tibet

Today, Beijing issued a warning to Washington over the planned award of the Congressional Gold Medal to the Dalai Lama. “The move will seriously damage China-U.S. relations,” said Liu Jianchao, a Foreign Ministry spokesman. He also noted that his country hoped that the United States would “correct its mistakes” and cancel the “relevant arrangements.” Those arrangements include President Bush’s receiving His Holiness at the White House today and House Speaker Pelosi’s presenting the award tomorrow at the Capitol. The increasingly visible Laura Bush will attend tomorrow’s ceremony. And so will her husband, who will be speaking at the event. He will be the first sitting President to appear publicly with the 1989 Nobel laureate.

The Chinese government has already shown its displeasure at American defiance of its wishes. Beijing diplomats have raised the issue a number of times at the ambassadorial level. Furthermore, earlier this month Beijing put off a visit by Wu Bangguo, the second-ranked Communist Party leader, to the United States. Beijing has also pulled out of a meeting, scheduled for tomorrow in Berlin, to talk about Iran.

On Sunday, the German government announced that China had canceled upcoming human rights talks (supposed to take place in December) with Chancellor Angela Merkel. The German foreign ministry refused to give any reason for the change in plans, yet an explanation was unnecessary. Beijing’s diplomats have been complaining publicly for weeks that Merkel had met with the world’s most famous refugee last month. In fact, they had been protesting the visit before she received His Holiness, and the cancellation announced Sunday is only the latest in a series of meetings the Chinese have aborted with their German counterparts since last month.

Unfortunately for the Chinese, they’re rapidly losing their ability to intimidate Western leaders over Tibet. All of them recognize Beijing’s sovereignty over Tibetan homelands, but increasingly few of them are willing to shun the Dalai Lama. In addition to Merkel, Australia’s John Howard and Austria’s Alfred Gusenbauer met with him over the course of the last few months. Canada’s Stephen Harper will receive the famous Tibetan this month.

Chinese diplomats are ramping up their threats, but few are listening. Nobody believes that human rights dialogues with Beijing are effective, and Wu’s trip to the United States was more for China’s benefit than ours. It’s a shame that China won’t attend the Berlin meeting on Iran, but that will be rescheduled—and in any event Chinese attendance would only complicate matters.

Who cares if the Chinese authoritarians huff and puff? They need the West more than the West needs them. So let them threaten all they want. Why should we prevent the Chinese from creating a diplomatic disaster for themselves?



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