A casual reading of the ‘China Daily’ today, reveals that Beijing is a wee bit upset at Sarkozy meeting the Dalai Lama. In a sense you can understand the Chinese and their Foreign Ministry spokesman, Qin Gang, who says, “The Tibet issue is related to China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and touches on China’s core interests.”(1) How would the French feel if the Chinese were to cultivate contacts to Corsican separatists?
What is almost funny, however, is how the Chinese media sets about “mobilising” public opinion as if it were public opinion, that was almost forcing the government to postpone the 11th China-EU Summit, which had been scheduled for this week in France and then we are confronted with the old theme of , “The West still plans to divide and conquer China”.(2) Of course, the reality is very different; Sarkozy made a decision that I and many other in the West will find, at best, tactless, nevertheless, in the West, where the culture flourishes on differences, there is normally no conscious attempt to divide. People sometimes just do what they want or what they think to be right and disregard the consequences. Moreover, while that is not always a positive thing, it can bring millions onto the streets to protest the actions of their or other governments.
In the West consent is invariably manufactured. However, from time to time, public opinion is formed through sources away from the mainstream media and that opinion might refuse to accept decisions made by a government at home or abroad. It might not always have the desired effect but, at least, it will make itself heard and that is something the Chinese lack. It means, of course, feedom of speech, a freedom to be different and, while it might divide our society we live in, it ultimately unites it around that basic principle. It is something that is worth fighting for even if I do fail to see why Sarkozy finds it necessary to meet the Dalai Lama.
The picture shows Sarkozy with the Dalai Lama in Gdansk, Poland on the 6th December