China: Gillard dodges Tibet question

Monday, April 22, 2013

Chinese leaders are aware that visiting Western leaders will be under some pressure from their domestic constituencies to raise Tibet, human rights and other “sensitive” issues.

So a mechanism has been considerately created to cater for this need. It consists of a meaningless piece of theatre otherwise known as the “obligatory-behind-closed-doors-human-rights-discussion”.

According to the well-worn script, the elected foreign official heads to China on a trade mission, accompanied by a media circus and some high-level trough-snouting capitalists (like Andrew Forrest).

It is all about commercial priorities, but naggingly, annoyingly the official (Julia Gillard in this case) feels obliged to pay lip service to humanitarian concerns that pushy lobby groups like the Australia Tibet Council and bleeding heart Greens senators have put forward.

What are they playing at? Don’t they know a handful of mining billionaires’ hefty profit margins are at stake?

If only these Tibetans weren’t setting themselves alight by the score in protest against the brutal repression that is crushing the life out of their occupied country, it would easier to ignore them.

But don’t worry, the Tibet thing can be safely dealt with in a cosy private chat with the incoming Chinese Premier. The PM knows the rules. It’s only when you raise human rights concerns publicly that the Chinese leadership takes exception.

Without a hint of chagrin Xi Jinping fields Gillard’s politely-constructed queries about the situation. She knows she has to do it. He knows she has to do it.

And he also knows that her heart and that of her party is in the right place. After all, the ALP and the Liberals have been outdoing each other to victimise some of the world’s most impoverished and defenceless people for decades. Palestinians, Iraqis, Afghans, Tamils, indigenous Australians, to name a few.

So when it comes to criticising China over Tibet, does an Australian PM have a moral leg to stand on?

With a nod and a wink, the little conversation whose actual contents will never be made public draws to a close. He offers carefully-worded reassurances that something will be done.

And then, with a mental sigh of relief, the Australian PM ticks off the little human rights box and moves on to free trade, currency exchange deals and mining concessions.

The beauty of these private “human rights” discussions is no one is offended, and no lucrative business relationships between Australian corporations and the land-grabbing Chinese oligarchy are jeopardised.

They are polite, restrained, orchestrated affairs, nothing like the stench of burning flesh that is emanating from China’s western “house of riches”.