Reacting to the Tibet unrest

Written By: - Date published: 12:14 pm, March 17th, 2008 - 22 comments
Categories: International - Tags:

The clashes between rioters and police in Tibet that have left up to 100 dead are a particularly tough issue for New Zealand to address. Our principles tell us we should support human rights, the Prime Minister has said that New Zealand supports the right to peaceful protest and condemns any disproportionate violence against even violent protestors. However, the Government argues not enough is known about what has happened in Tibet (was it the protestors or the police that turned to violence first?  Was the police reaction proportionate?) and, so, there has been no official criticism of the Chinese Government’s actions so far.

Would any level of New Zealand criticism of the Chinese Government’s human rights record change the Chinese Government’s behaviour? No. Could it jeopardise the China-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement? Possible, but not likely. So, in realpolitick terms, the FTA gives New Zealand a good reason to look the other way. That’s not a good look; it appears that we have been bought off by the FTA, even though the Government’s measured reaction is the correct one for now.

New Zealand needs to show we have not sold our souls for trade. At the least, the Government should state that it supports the right of the Tibetan people to self-determination and greater autonomy as guaranteed by the United Nations Charter, and call upon the Chinese Government to ensure Tibetan culture is protected.

[Update: video of the PM’s initial reaction here, and  stronger statement here]

22 comments on “Reacting to the Tibet unrest”

  1. ghostwhowalks 1

    Helen could do what Shipley did.
    Park a bus in front of the peaceful protestors and that way they cant be seen and then dont exist.

    I guess jenny spends a lot of her time these days promoting trade with China, for a fee of course

  2. Steve says that ‘the Government’s measured reaction is the correct one for now’. That this sort of thing can be said on a so-called leftwing blog says a lot. The Standard is giving its stamp of approval to Helen Clark’s empty words on Tibet and human rights. Maybe you should change your name to The Business Standard.

    Steve also claims that ‘the Prime Minister has said that New Zealand supports the right to peaceful protest and condemns any disproportionate violence against even violent protestors’. Can you please provide a quote for this? The text that I saw from the Government says that it ‘calls on all sides to exercise restraint.’ This is total weasel words that Steve and The Standard are endorsing. Helen Clark’s rhetoric indicates that she is only prepared to speak out if peaceful protestors have been killed. It’s hard to disagree with those critics who say she’s giving the green light to shoot violent protestors.

    Furthermore, It seems that Clark now supports business over human rights. What does The Standard have to say about this. Nothing.

    Clark is a PM obsessed with power regardless of the cost of principle. She’s not so different to John Key in this regard. Both believe in nothing.

    In the 1990s Clark was very critical of the National Government not speaking out on human rights abuses. But now she’s proved that she’s no different. In the late 1990s PM Jenny Shipley complained that human rights advocates (and the Labour Party) were calling for ‘Megaphone Diplomacy’, and that such an approach was unhelpful. Clark isn’t much different to Shipley in this regard. Labour and National always fall into a foreign policy approach that is about following the ‘national interest’ above anything else.

    It’s be interesting to see how party-hack blogs like The Standard deal with issues like this. When it come to the crunch sites like The Standard will throw away any principles to protect their unprincipled leader. Meanwhile, the leftwing Against the Current blog has come out firmly, saying “HELEN CLARK: EMPTY WORDS ON TIBET’. A couple of snippets:
    * Prime Minister Clark’s response to the current Tibetan uprising is political and moral cowardice on a grand scale.
    * While the New Zealand government is quick to criticise oppressive government regimes in countries like Zimbabwe or Fiji, its an entirely different story when it comes to China.
    * Last year PM Clark described the Zimbabwe regime as ‘appalling’ and in 2005 she commented she ‘would not be seen dead’ in that country.



  3. No Right Turn labels your approach as “Mealy-Mouthed Bullshit”

    Mealy-mouthed bullshit
    * our human rights supporting Prime Minister is still refusing to condemn the Chinese government’s crackdown in Tibet.
    * Instead she’s waiting for “more accurate information” and calling on both sides “to exercise restraint”. This is the sort of mealy-mouthed bullshit issued by the US when their Israeli proxies show their usual disregard for civilian lives


  4. Matthew Pilott 4

    Agree with you, Bryce Edwards, in what you are advocating, but can’t tie it in with the article above.

    If you’re lambasting the Standard for not being critical enough then good on you, you’re free to demand action from bloggers if you wish (although most see it as farly smug and arrogant – they can blog as the have the time and inclination. Why you see fit to demand and determine this is beyond me, usually only the trolls use this approach).

    However Steve’s article isn’t consistent with anything you’ve said – New Zealand needs to show we have not sold our souls for trade.

    versus your

    The Standard is giving its stamp of approval to Helen Clark’s empty words on Tibet and human rights.

    Not your most coherent contribution. Calling the Standard’s view as “your approach” when discussing NRT’s piece on CLARK is also plain tripe – this is the Standard’s (well one author thereof) “approach”: At the least, the Government should state that it supports the right of the Tibetan people to self-determination and greater autonomy as guaranteed by the United Nations Charter, and call upon the Chinese Government to ensure Tibetan culture is protected. Poor form Bryce.

    However I agree the Government isn’t going far enough and expect far stronger words to be spoken ad the magnitude of China’s disgraceful actions become clear.

  5. Tane 5

    Hi Bryce, I actually take a harder line than Steve but I don’t see his post as suggesting “throwing away principles” – in fact it explicitly rejects a realist response.

    Personally I think the government would be quicker to condemn the violence and a little less willing to wait for the facts if it was Fiji or Zimbabwe, and I’m concerned that with the FTA on the way there’s more of this to come.

  6. Steve Pierson 6

    Bryce, grow up and for god’s sakes get informed before mouthing off. the PM said shooting rioters was not justified and any response to violent protestors has to be proportionate on Breakfast this morning and on Kiwi FM – there’s a link on scoop.

    If I knew what has happened in Tibet was an unprovoked and voilent crackdown by the state on peaceful protestors, I would be calling for the Government to voice it’s opposition. I don’t have that evidence and neither do you.

    we should criticise the Chinese government if there has been a violent crackdown. if, bryce, if. It is not a responsible response in the real world to jump to conclusons and accuse another nation carrying out masscares when you don’t have evidence.

    I made observations about the real world impact of New Zealand making such criticisms, ie none. That, obviously, does not mean that I don’t oppose such crackdowns or wish we lived in a world where our government taking a firm stand against them would have some real world impact; i do and we don’t.

    If the evidence comes out NZ should issue a condemnation. Such a condemnation would be a, effectively, meaningless response that might have a real world effect on New Zealanders if it affects the trade deal. No responsible government can be blind to that fact, but that would not be an excuse not to issue the condemnation.

  7. r0b 7

    This kind of situation is a nightmare for any government. It throws into sharp relief the conflicting requirements of pragmatism and ideology (a couple of us were discussing on another thread last night). No matter what the government does, they lose.

    My instinct is to join those calling for a stronger statement. We should speak out strongly for human rights. However, I have to admit that following this line to its logical conclusion, we should also be speaking out strongly against say, America (for obvious reasons), Australia (for its treatment of the aboriginal population), and any number of other countries. What would be the effect on NZ?

    Consider an example of the role of ideology in politics. Bryce, where is The Alliance now? Did they do their voters any service by being logically pure to the point of self-destruction? Or would they have done their voters greater service by being a bit more pragmatic? Perhaps they could still have been a force in Parliament today…

    As I get (even) older my balance shifts from ideology to pragmatism. But in this particular case, I think we should speak out more strongly against China, even if we lose a free-trade agreement.

  8. Steve – don’t bother with Edwards. He’s nothing but a class traitor.

    Bryce – I notice you always drop in, make a point and then don’t come back to answer people’s responses. That’s called driveby trolling and it’s a good sign you know your arguments don’t hold water. Try some intellectual honesty next time. And if you get the hang of that you might want to do something of some use rather than playing out your armchair fantasies from the sidelines.

  9. Daveo 9

    Reading Bryce’s comments it’s hard to believe the guy is an academic or a leftists. The way he keeps claiming to stand for the real left while pandering to the worst elements of the Kiwiblog right is hilarious.

  10. James Kearney 10

    And that’s probably the last we’ll see of Bryce on this thread. For a politics lecturer he’s surprisingly unwilling to stand by his arguments. Must be all that time he’s been spending hanging out at KB.

  11. Steve Pierson 11

    speaking of class traitors, anyone see Bryce’s old mate, Trotter with his piece on the Independent on the Govt’s intervention in the AIA sale? Poor guy has totally lost his political compass. About the third time this year I’ve seen him argue from the Right.

  12. Tane 12

    from the Right.

    Perhaps it’s time Trotter retitled his Dom Post column on Fridays? 🙂

  13. James Kearney 13

    And sure enough there’s nothing more from Bryce Edwards. What a jerk.

  14. IrishBill 14

    As much as I dislike Bryce’s way of doing things I’m not going to allow this to turn into a thread attacking the poor bloke. I would suggest that as Bryce chooses not to defend himself he may be getting pleasure from watching the disruption he causes with minimal effort. Please either make a simple argument against what he says and move on or ignore him.

    For the record (and to stay on thread), I agree with Steve that we should take a stand against the treatment of Tibet but that we should also take a stand against the US and its treatment of pretty much everyone.

    However, having seen the treatment Venezuela has had for taking such a principled stand I am unsure any government that did so wouldn’t be ensuring an election failure and the subsequent return to ANZUS-style puppet-state that would follow. I would love to think my opinion of the electorate was mistaken but sadly I don’t think New Zealanders have the political-fortitude of the Venezuelan populace. Yet.

  15. Phil 15

    He posted at 1.25… perhaps he’s doing a real job, James?

  16. Phil 16

    And sure enough there’s nothing more from James Kearney. What a tosser.

    (How does it feel?)

  17. James Kearney 17

    Fair call Phil. Only I’m happy to defend my positions. Bryce isn’t. As the Sod points out he’s a drive-by troll and his behavior does the Otago University politics department no credit.

  18. IrishBill 18

    Do you lot not listen? Look, get ‘Sod to write a “we hate bryce” thread over at his blog or something (he could do with writing there a bit more, and perhaps here a bit less) but try to stay on topic here.

  19. higherstandard 19


    “He’s a class traitor”

    I suspect you’re taking the piss if not check what century you’re living in.

    In relation to Helen’s comments so far let’s be under no illusion she is taking a pragmatic view with a free trade agreement on the horizon both the Nats and Labour would behave in the same way despite both parties detesting the behaviour of the Chinese authorities.

    It’s a shitty position for anyone to be in but that’s the nature of international politics – let’s hope that any Free Trade Agreement with China is worth suppressing one’s principles for – I suspect however the actual benefits if they do actually come to pass with be marginal at best.

  20. Pascal's bookie 20

    I wonder also what our PM cancelling the FTA or mouthing off in a more robust fashion would achieve for the people of Tibet.

    My question would be, “If we make more of a fuss, how far are we prepared to go if the Tibetans take us at our word.”

    It’s all very well shouting solidarity but it’s a bit of a farce when it’s just them that’s facing the PLA.

    I have all the sympathy in the world for them, but there is absolutely nothing the PM of NZ can do to help. China sees them as part of China. That is not about to change just becasue some trade gets lost or people call the Chinese nasty names. If change is to come to China and Tibet, it will be through engagement.

    If the west tries to force it, well China is holding a lot of cards, and has shown itself to be more than happy to retreat into isolation as a last or even first resort. That won’t help the Tibetans or anyone else.

    I think that western governments who have sympathy for the Tibetans have to think very carefully about how much encouragement they give to protests of this sort, unless they mean to loan the Lamas some divisions … but that aint gonna happen.

    Western citizens can make as much fuss as we have the freedom to do, but governments must take a cautious line or back it up with force. Otherwise it’ll be the Tibetans starring in ‘TianamenII: The Mountain Years.’

    Call it ‘realism’ if you like, and there is a bit of devil’s advocacy thrown in as well. But there you go.

  21. deemac 21

    I love the delusion that ANYTHING the NZ govt could say would have an effect on China. The only way to go is something jointly agreed with other govts eg Oz, UK etc. Even that is unlikely to do much good but the people demanding “action” know full well it would be empty posturing that won’t stop the Chinese doing what they feel they need to do to suppress dissent.

  22. I guess black South Africans and Chileans are more valuable than Tibetans, given the efforts the Labour Party went to to campaign, rightfully, against both their oppression.

    China murders political opponents daily, it arrests and tortures many who publish alternative points of view to its own, by any measure it should be part of any bilateral relationship that this is raised at every point.

    The truth is if the Nats were in power, this blog would be all over Don Brash saying the same thing – but it is also true that the Nats would probably be little better.

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