Dreams of Free Tibet Will Go Unrealized

Ted Koppel says the global efforts to draw attention to China's human rights record as the Olympic torch continues its rounds is working. But, he says, as far as bringing real change in Tibet is concerned, the protests surrounding the torch are doing little.

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TED KOPPEL: If the object of all these let's grab the Olympic torch demonstrations is to embarrass the Chinese government, it's working.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

NPR's senior news analyst Ted Koppel.

KOPPEL: If the intent is to bring about real change in Tibet, it's not. Two points. One, China does not respond well to public pressure. Two, there's more at stake than just a humiliation. The single most important issue on China's national agenda is economic growth. There are close to a billion Chinese still living in abject poverty and the government is fully committed to capitalism as the solution. Capitalism requires massive foreign investment which is well under way. Foreign investors demand stability.

No one's going to pour money into a nation that's trying to cope with half a dozen different national uprisings. To the extent that Beijing gives in to Tibetan demands, the government fears it will merely encourage other nationalities to follow suit.

Why won't the Chinese negotiate with the Dalai Lama? He, after all, insists he's not looking for Tibetan independence, just autonomy. Chinese diplomats here in Washington tell me that Beijing's representatives have met with the Dalai Lama's people six times over the past four years. The most recent meeting parenthetically was 10 months ago. Based on those meetings, say the Chinese, they're convinced that the Dalai Lama is just trying to achieve Tibetan independence through a backdoor.

The fact is that China has no current interest in doing anything anywhere in the country that might lead to genuine democracy. That is why despite the impending Olympic Games and the awkward publicity that each incident provokes, the government continues to harass and arrest prominent dissidents.

Over the past 61 years of its existence, the people's Republic of China has had all too much experience with chaos and anarchy. They're still hoping to bask in the world's admiration this summer for all they've achieved, which is considerable. The public demonstrations have certainly succeeded in putting the issues of Tibet on the front pages of Western newspapers and even on the front burners of Western politicians. But it's not likely to change the situation on the ground, not now.

Eventually, China may even respond to some quiet diplomatic pressure on issues like Tibet. But the emphasis will be on quiet and it's certainly not going to happen between now and the Olympic Games. To make any immediate concessions on the face of international pressure and public humiliation would convey all the wrong messages to the Chinese people at home. It would suggest that political dissent is not only acceptable but effective and that's the last place the Chinese government wants to go.

This is Ted Koppel.

Next month, ALL THINGS CONSIDERED plans to broadcast from Sichuan Province in southwestern China for a full week. My co-host, Melissa Block, is in the city Chengdu right now gathering material for that project. We'll bring you a series of stories that we think will illustrate a growing generational divide in China. To keep us up to date, Melissa has been writing a blog which you can follow at npr.org/chengdu, that's C-H-E-N-G-D-U.

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