Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Today is Tibetan Freedom Day, also marking the 50th anniversary of the 1959 Tibet Uprising and the Dali Lama’s flight to exile. Chinese riot police are out in force on the streets of Tibet’s cities to deter the kind of widespread civil disorder that broke out in the country a year ago. Beijing has imposed a news blackout, locked-down Tibetan monasteries, and even closed the northern approach to Mt. Everest to keep out random hikers.

Today is also Losar, the Tibetan New Year, traditionally a day of festivities and celebration. But this year many Tibetans are observing a day of silent reflection, to remember the thousands who have died during the Chinese occupation and to pray that one day Tibet may again be free.

Showing typical communist thoroughness, Beijing has ordered the Tibetans to make merry. State television will broadcast a four-hour extravaganza, and the foreign ministry has stated definitively, “Tibetans go ahead with celebrations.” Given the clamp-down on news, we will no doubt be treated to state-controlled media reports of supposedly happy Tibetans.

We have always deplored China’s ongoing, brutal occupation of Tibet. The Tibetan people have suffered three-score years of Chinese communist rule, and the chronicle of barbarities and indignities that have been visited on them is long and well documented.

Yet Chas Freeman, now undergoing vetting for the position of chair of the National Intelligence Council, thinks - rather astoundingly - that what is going on in Tibet is the fault of the United States. In remarks made last April, in which he infamously referred to the March 2008 Tibetan uprisings as “race riots,” Freeman stated that “the level of patriotic indignation in China against posturing by American and European politicians over Tibet is already so high that a long-term clamp-down in Tibet seems inevitable.”

Freeman is employing a classic “blame America” formula, saying the Chinese repression in Tibet is caused by the fact that concerned humanitarians in the West have drawn attention to it. He took a similar line in assessing the cause of the 9/11 attacks, as he stated in 2005: “What 9/11 showed is that if we bomb people, they bomb back.” Freeman seems to have a problem with the law of cause and effect. Perhaps he believes that “American posturing” caused the invasion of Tibet 60 years ago.

In Freeman’s world, those who protest against such human rights tragedies simply have over-active imaginations. In remarks made in March 2007 he noted that “those who wish America to go abroad in search of monsters to destroy can always find one worthy of our attention there. China has become a screen on which Americans can project both our reveries and our nightmares.” And those who speak out in support of the rights of the Tibetan minority are wasting their time because “Chinese proponents of Tibetan independence are rarer than British advocates of discarding Wales.”

We have taken a strong stand against the appointment of Chas Freeman to the post of chairman of the National Intelligence Council, in particular because of his worrisome financial ties to foreign governments, particularly China and Saudi Arabia. His persistent failure to even acknowledge the incontestable human rights calamity in Tibet reconfirms our conviction that he is the wrong man for the job. Human rights advocates, oppressed minorities and other suffering peoples around the world may well ask what other tragedies he may dismiss as irrelevant, or as the justifiable response of authoritarian regimes to Western meddling.

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