Tag Archives: Tibet

The Dalai Lama Calculation

All Western leaders have to make a political calculation over the Dalai Lama: what is the value of showing support for human rights by meeting the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader minus infuriating China?

U.K. prime minister David Cameron seems to have got his reckoning wrong. Beijing cancelled a visit to Britain by Wu Bangguo, chairman of the National People’s Congress standing committee, after Cameron and Nick Clegg, deputy prime minister and leader of Cameron’s party’s coalition partner, met the Dalai Lama earlier this month when he was in London to receive the Templeton prize. The meeting was billed as private and held not on government premises but at St. Paul’s Cathedral during the award ceremony. Beijing still regarded this as an “affront to the Chinese people”, and launched “solemn representations” with London.

The symbolism of canceling a visit by Wu, who is second in the Politburo hierarchy, may be lost on many Britons outside diplomatic and Sino-centric circles, who likely won’t have heard of him and would be surprised to learn Wu outranks the prime minister they may have heard of, Wen Jiabao. Those in diplomatic and Sino-centric circles will be decoding where the cancellation ranks among rebukes. Wu is not only senior but also the most senior Chinese to travel to the UK in recent years, but his visit was going to be no more than a stopover en route to Europe. Nor was the cancellation officially announced. It only emerged after Wu’s trip had started.

France was given the cold shoulder after its then president, Nicolas Sarkozy, announced plans to meet the Dalai Lama in 2008. A China-EU summit he would have chaired was scuppered and new big-ticket commercial deals with France stopped for a couple of years, but then resumed. Smaller countries get harsher treatment. Norway, where the 2010 Nobel peace prize was presented to Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese dissident currently imprisoned for subversion, has yet to return to Beijing’s good books.

The U.K. may be commercially too important to China to be left standing in the corner for too long. London is making a great play to be the non-Asian trading hub for the yuan as Beijing pushes it towards a greater role in the international financial system. The only viable alternative to be London would be New York, a switch that would have officials in Beijing making a separate set of calculations of their own.

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Lesson Of Groupon’s Superbowl Parody Ad

There is only one lesson for any company wishing to do business in China from the debacle over Groupon’s parodic Tibet TV ad (see below) aired during America’s Superbowl on Sunday. When it comes to Tibet, Beijing doesn’t have a sense of humor. Period.

Perhaps, two lessons. Bad ads are bad ads anywhere.

Some links for further reading:

  • A post from Groupon’s corporate blog, written before the ad aired, explaining the company’s “peculiar sense of humor” and its thinking behind the ads;
  • Shanghaiist rounds up the true cost to Groupon’s ambitions in China;
  • The home page of Crispin, Porter + Bogusky, the creative agency that produced the ads and which is bravely/brazenly streaming a far-from complimentary Twitter feed about its work;
  • Update: Groupon CEO Andrew Mason’s defense of the ad.

Set aside the special edgy culture of Superbowl ads, CP+B’s lack of China experience and its background in viral marketing, where parody and reality often seem interchangeable, but did no one there or at Groupon really see this coming? Our first thought was to recall Brendan Behan’s much quoted adage, “There is no such thing as bad publicity”. Then we remembered his full quote, “There is no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary”.

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Olympic Torch Relay Reaches Lhasa

The Olympic torch has been taken to Lhasa in a firm demonstration of authority. Normal service has been resumed.

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Carrefour Searches Blocked By Censors

China’s Internet censors have blocked searches on the name Carrefour, China Tech News reports.

The French superstore chain that is one of the largest foreign retailers operating in China with sales of €3 billion ($4.6 billion) last year, was the target of anti-French demonstrations earlier this month in retaliation for pro-Tibet protests when the Olympic Torch was in Paris on April 7. China Tech News speculates the reason is that “there are many webpages in China recently that talk about Carrefour that contain subtle information about Sino-France relations, Tibet independence and other ‘illegal’ content”.

The chain has its staff in its Beijing stores don Beijing Olympics caps and T-shirts in a gesture of  goodwill, the China Daily reports. However, the games’ organising committee complained that the caps were for ‘commercial use’ and so infringed its copyright. The FT says that Carrefour is bracing for a further round of protests on May 1, though the authorities are likely to keep a firm lid on things getting out of hand.

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China To Meet Dalai Lama’s Envoys

China says it will meet the Dalai Lama’s envoys. It is a change of tactics in what has been a campaign to vilify the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader since the anti government protests started in March, though Xinhua claims the door of dialogue has remained open.

China has been under international pressure to talk to the Dalai Lama who, Beijing says, is the guiding hand behind the unrest. The two sides have held several rounds of inconclusive talks over the past five years.

No details yet of when these latest talks might take place. And as with Beijing’s similar public softening of its stance over Darfur in the face of international calls for it to do so, not much of substance is likely to change.

Another notable change of PR tactics by Beijing: when the Olympic torch passed through the Australian capital Canberra on Thursday pro-China supporters heavily outnumbered pro-Tibet ones as the large ex-pat community in Australia was mobilized.

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Paris Honors The Dalai Lama

After a weekend of intensifying anti-French protests in China in response to the pro-Tibet protests in the French capital on Apr. 7 when the Olympic torch was there, the Paris city council has bestowed the title of “honorary citizen” on the Dalai Lama. This may be taking Gallic insouciance a step too far.

Update: “The decision of the Paris city council to bestow ‘honorary citizen of Paris’ on Dalai will only be seen as another severe provocative act against 1.3 billion Chinese people… China urges France to take immediate and effective measures to eliminate the negative impact caused by its erroneous act… and stop interfering in China’s internal affairs, so as to safeguard China-France relations through concrete actions,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in a statement posted on the ministry’s web site on Tuesday.

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China’s PR Problem

Beijing is searching for a Western public relations company to buff its international image in the wake of the continuing Tibet protests, according to PR Week. This would, Bystander assumes, be over and above Hill & Knowlton’s engagement by the Beijing Organizing Committee.

Beijing’s usual way of dealing with public criticism by foreigners is a combination of ignoring it, demonizing the critics and claiming they are no better/just as bad as China on the issue in question while all the time working with stick and carrot behind the scenes, and making sure there is a single patriotic message relentlessly being pushed domestically.

Those tactics worked well enough to deflect Darfur from dinging the Games, but Tibet is proving a different matter. The pro-Tibet movement has a well established, well dispersed international network. It lacks the limited number of critical choke points to which to apply pressure.

One easy way to end the protests against the Olympic torch is to stop its international tour, as is being considered. If the torch only travels around inside China its progress will assuredly be glorious and trouble free. No embarrassing TV footage or protest-generated editorials.

China has found is that it doesn’t have the wherewithal to deal with the foreign press on its home turf. Not only can it not control access, it lacks in its own. One of the things the PR agency has to do is provide media training for Chinese officials so they can work reporters and editors like any other interest group.

Beijing has also failed to appreciate that there are two Wests that it has to deal with: the commercial West and the human rights West. The commercial West has been in the ascendency, especially in the U.S., ever since the arguments over most favored trading status for China were fought out in the 1990s when the commercial West vowed never to play second fiddle again. That is also the West that Beijing has come adept at dealing with. But events still have the power to disrupt the balance, even if only temporarily.


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New Reports Of Tibetan Protests In Western China

New reports of continuing Tibetan unrest despite the crackdown following mid-March’s Lhasa protests.

Police fired on hundreds of protesters in Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan, killing eight people, according to the London-based Free Tibet Campaign and the International Campaign for Tibet. The protesters were demanding the release of two monks who were detained after 3,000 armed police  searched their monastery and found photographs of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled Buddhist leader, the groups said.

Xinhua reported only that one government official was seriously injured in what it called a riot that took place in Garze on Thursday, but said that “police were forced to fire warning shots”.

In part of its propaganda barrage against the Dalai Lama, Xinhua separately noted that what it called “Tibetan separatists and members of so-called international ‘Tibet Support’ groups” have staged violent attacks on 18 Chinese overseas diplomatic missions since March 10, concluding with no apparent hint of irony that “As a Chinese saying goes, those who commit unrighteous acts bring ruin on themselves”.

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Olympic Flame Comes With Tibetan Protests

Despite unprecedented attempts to ensure a protest-free hand over of the Olympic flame to the organizers of the Beijing Olympics, Greek police scuffled with pro-Tibet demonstrators gathered outside the Athens stadium where the ceremonial transfer was due to take place.

On Tuesday the flame formally sets off from Beijing for the Kazakhstan capital, Almaty, the first stop on an 85,000 mile relay through 19 countries that is followed by a three-month tour of China, including a controversial and highly symbolic leg that will see the flame carried up Mount Everest.

This Olympic flame will be carried further than any before it. Every step of the way, inside and outside China, will be taken in the shadow of Tibet.

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Tearing Up The Script In Tibet

The best laid plans…

The tightly scripted official tour of Tibet for a group of foreign journalists ran amok for 5 mins in Jokhang, Tibet’s holiest temple. Thirty young monks surrounded the tour party and shouted that there was no religious freedom in the region, that the government was lying about who was responsible for the riots that had broken out on March 10., that so-called worshipers in the temple had been shipped in and that paramilitary forces that had surrounded the monastery since the riots that started had withdrawn only shortly before the foreign journalists arrived.

The visiting journalists were then escorted away as security forces surrounded the monks, many distressed and weeping, according to this report by the FT’s Geoff Dyer, one of the journalists on the trip.

By any measure, it was a remarkable act of defiance, as effective as it was courageous.

Xinhua reported it thus:

A tour by overseas reporters to cover the aftermath of the Lhasa riot was interrupted by a group of lamas at the Jokhang Temple on Thursday morning. The tour, however, soon resumed.

More than a dozen lamas stormed into a briefing by a temple administrator to cause chaos.

An officer with the Information Office of China’s State Council, the organizer of the media tour, said the coverage of the reporters went on as scheduled.


Xinhua subsequently reported that Chinese officials said none of the monks involved would face reprisals. It also quoted Tibet’s second ranking official Baema Chilain as saying: “What [the monks] said is not true. They were attempting to mislead the world’s opinion. The facts shouldn’t be distorted.”

This Bystander is reminded of a Polish proverb he once heard in the old Soviet Union: Only the future is certain; the past is always changing.

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