Tibet protest keeps Jiang on edge in US

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Hundreds of angry human-rights protesters gathered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, yesterday, a short distance from the courthouse where Louise Woodward was sentenced to life imprisonment on Friday.

But the object of their rage was not the jury that found her guilty of murder. They were there to express their disgust at the President of China, Jiang Zemin, as he addressed a closed meeting of academics and specially invited guests at Harvard University.

If the scene was not quite as dramatic as had been initially expected, having been billed as the biggest and most heated demonstration Mr Jiang would face on his week-long US visit, it was perhaps because the lofty moral and intellectual certitude long cherished by citizens of this part of the world has been undermined by the grotesque judgement just meted out by one of its own courts.

Yet Mr Jiang, who had managed by and large to insulate himself from small crowds of demonstrators in Washington and New York, suffered a nasty surprise on Friday when the US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, appointed a "special co-ordinator" to press for the lifting of religious and cultural repression in Tibet.

In a speech in Washington on Thursday, the Chinese leader sought, somewhat ham-fistedly, to brush aside criticism of his country's enforced 47-year rule over Tibet. Comparing the Chinese army's crushing of a Tibetan rebellion in 1959 to the end of slavery in the US, he said that the people of Tibet were "living and working in happiness and contentment".

The creation the day after that speech of a diplomatic American post dedicated to Tibetan affairs came as something of a cold shower for Mr Jiang, who had otherwise been treated with extreme courtesy and warmth during his two-day stay in Washington.

Chinese officials had repeatedly warned that they would be very unhappy at the appointment of an unofficial Tibetan ambassadorship of this kind. It remains to be seen whether the elaborate exercise in confidence-building that the Clinton administration has been engaging in will now be undone.

One man who appears to have judged that Washington has adopted the correct approach with Mr Jiang is Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

In an indication of just how subtle and complex the issue of the West's relations with China is, the exiled Dalai Lama said through an aide in India on Friday that he believed President Clinton's summit with Mr Jiang had been a good idea.

No doubt to the consternation of actor Richard Gere and other protesters who demonstrated outside the White House on Wednesday as the summit was in progress, the Dalai Lama's spokesman, Tempa Tsering, said isolating China was "no help". "Once you bring them back to the community of nations, you expect them to act according to international standards," he said.

But Mr Tsering added that he hoped US trade with China would come with political strings attached - not good news for the big business leaders who, smelling huge profits in the years ahead, feted Mr Jiang on Wall Street on Friday and applauded his words at a lavish dinner at New York's Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

Mr Jiang's visit was boycotted by both the mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani, and the state governor, George Pataki, but Louis Gerstner, the chairman of IBM, greeted him at his company's Manhattan offices in Mandarin.

"Lao pengyou, ni hao," he said, which, according to the New York Times, means, "Old friend, how are you?"

Gere profile, Section 2, page 3