Hey, Bush: Silence is not an option

Gary Wang

Nobody will be surprised if President Bush keeps quiet about the recent human rights violations in Tibet. In fact, it would be surprising if he publicly condemned China for any human rights violation at all.

After all, the United States, along with much of the international community, has not done enough to stop the genocide in Darfur. If our government can let that slide and risk a repeat of the Rwandan genocide, then it is probably going to let the Chinese Communist Party systematically eradicate Tibet’s culture and identity. While most Western media members have been banned from Tibet, the information available suggests that largely Tibetan protests have been met with a military crackdown resulting in violence. The Chinese media, the same media that refuses to acknowledge the Tiananmen massacres, obviously tells a different story.

So far, the New York Times has reported that President Bush has merely urged China’s president Hu Jintao “in a telephone discussion to initiate talks with the Dalai Lama.” His phone call won’t stop the cultural oppression that is currently going on. It won’t prevent China’s military from destroying Buddhist monasteries and trampling upon the human right to religion. All it does is show the world that the United States is not serious about promoting human rights and self determination; too bad the world already believes that.

Keeping mum on Tibet will show the world, unfortunately, that human rights are merely political props for politicians to use whenever appropriate. The Bush administration inserted them into its rhetoric after it turned out that Saddam didn’t have WMDs. It did so for political cover, not to reflect a substantial change in policy. So the rationale for invading Iraq shifted from preventing an imminent attack to grandiose claims of universal democracy and human rights. Ever since then, the mantra has been freedom, justice and whatever empty platitude they can think of.

Well, now is a chance for the U.S. to live up to its commitment to freedom and prove that it is not a platitude. China’s attempt to destroy Tibet’s ethnic identity and culture by crushing Tibetans’ religious freedom underscores how vulnerable the regime is. Communism’s been discredited in China and so now its government, the Communist party, is left with no ideological reason for its own existence. Hence, it has to crush other ideologies, religious or not, that give Chinese citizens something to believe in, other than consumerism.

Finally, President Bush has a chance to finally stand up for a people who have struggled nonviolently for decades in the pursuit of freedom. Tibetans have not hijacked planes or launched suicide bombings like the Palestinians have for their independence. All they’ve done is mostly nonviolently protest against China’s attempt to destroy their religion’s institutions and to banish their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

I’m not demanding that President Bush skip the opening of the Olympics like Germany’s Angela Merkel has promised to. I’m not asking for President Bush to push for economic sanctions. I am asking for President Bush to tell the world that what China is doing is unequivocally wrong. Condi’s said it. Bush needs to.

China represents the limit of United States hegemony. It can use its veto power on the U.N. Security Council to frustrate our attempts to deal with North Korea and Darfur. It’s a growing economic power and owns up to $1 trillion of U.S. treasury bonds.

However, China’s power cannot and should not prevent us from speaking out when appropriate and criticize how it wields that power. Yes, there will be diplomatic blowback. Yes, China will complain about Western influence. Yes, China’s government will stoke the flames of nationalism much like it has in the past. None of these reasons justify President Bush’s silence. In international relations, silence is consent.

It will go a long way toward turning back the belief among people in other countries that the United States’ rhetoric of freedom is a ruse for imperialism if President Bush can publicly condemn the Chinese oppression of Tibet. We need the world on our side to fight anti-Americanism whether it be in Europe, East Asia, or the Middle East.

President Bush’s attempt to foster dialogue between China and the Dalai Lama is not enough. Not even close. His administration has surprised many with its brazen disregard for our allies, its systematic incompetence in governing and the disconnect between its rhetoric and action. For once, Bush has a chance to surprise the world by practicing what he’s preached.