The recent Pre-Olympics scuffles over Chinese actions in Tibet only served to obscure a much more serious problem in China’s foreign policy: their willingness to support and arm the worst dictators in Africa. Yesterday a courageous South African dock-workers union refused to unload a large shipment of Chinese guns, mortars, and shoulder-fired missiles bound for Mugabe’s Army in Zimbabwe. Before the Tibet issue came to dominate the debate, activists had managed to highlight China’s role in the repression in Darfur. The Chinese response to the hold up of the arms to Mugabe’s thugs was classic real-politik.
“China has always had a prudent and responsible attitude toward arm sales,” its Foreign Ministry told Reuters. “One of the most important principles is not to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.”
Because I teach a good number of Chinese graduate students, I am well aware of the sensitivity around the Tibet issue, which involves perceived meddling by the West in Chinese internal affairs. They ask, what if China started supporting the return of California to Mexico? We have had many spirited and engaging discussions in class over the role of press and Internet freedom, human rights of Chinese dissidents and I sense a new confidence on the part of the younger generation that freedom and progress go hand in hand. Needless to say, from the Chinese Government’s point of view the long history of CIA meddling in Tibet has put a bad taste in their mouth. It was the CIA that sneaked the Dalai Lama out of Lhasa and it was the CIA that armed the Tibetan rebels to harass the Chinese troops.
But this issue of China pretending that it is just a pragmatic supplier of arms to any regime that needs them–no matter how repressive they are–begs the question of China’s larger role in the world community. It seems to me they can no longer use this pragmatism trope to dodge their responsibility for aiding genocide and injustice.
Addendum:Obviously, as Ken pointed out, the Americans are equally guilty of holding their noses and send arms to tyrants, so it is virttually impossible for our government to object to the Chinese moves in Zimbabwe and Darfur. But as citizens we can call on both governments to stop this practice.