Monday, March 31, 2008

Be pragmatic in China dealings

Op-Ed piece by me published in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle today (March 31, 2008).

Be pragmatic in China dealings

Talk of a boycott of the Beijing Olympics by President Bush in my opinion is ill-advised. There is much at stake in a long-term Sino-U.S. relationship. A knee-jerk reaction to recent happenings in Tibet is therefore undesirable.

It is time both countries started viewing each other as strategic business partners (which they are) rather than foes/rivals in the traditional Cold War mindset.

Business leaders in corporate America show great acumen in managing their strategic relationships with long-term vendors/partners/financiers. A similar approach should be used in managing the relationship with China. Contentious issues should be dealt with in a businesslike fashion with very little saber rattling in public.

It is presumptuous to assume that China will grant autonomy or freedom to Tibet as a result of a boycott of the Olympics. The Beijing Olympics have been showcased as a matter of national prestige, not only for the government but for the people of China, too. Any incident that causes loss of face at what has been deemed to be a big coming-out party for the New China will lead to lasting rancor. Rather than improvement in the situation in Tibet, it is most likely to lead to a hardening of attitudes, as the Chinese would view the Tibetan leaders and people as a cause of national shame.

I would suggest that:
  • President Bush attend the Olympics and share American concerns about Tibet in discussions with the Chinese leadership. He would also then need to be prepared to hear the Chinese opinion on various United States policies (Iraq, human rights, etc.).
  • The Dalai Lama should continue to exhort his followers to use peaceful means of protest rather than violent confrontations with the Chinese establishment. Younger factions within the Tibetan diaspora are proposing alternate paths, as they have not perceived any concrete results from his approach.
  • Chinese leaders had been pragmatic enough to establish a "One China, two economic systems'' policy when China reintegrated Hong Kong. A similar approach is needed as they deal with Tibet. An out-of-the-box idea: Invite the Dalai Lama as a guest of honor at the Olympics Opening Ceremony. China needs to soften its stance toward the Dalai Lama.

While the Dalai Lama has dropped the demand for independence and is willing to accept an autonomous status like that of Hong Kong within China, he and many others are wary of losing their distinct cultural and spiritual heritage for which special safeguards may be needed.

The United States should continue to pragmatically engage China as a strategic partner — in the boardrooms of the corporate world, in the staterooms of government offices and on the playing fields of the Olympics.

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