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Asia

Southeast Asia Soft on China's Tibet Policy

Western governments have been extremely carefully in voicing their concerns about China's response to the ongoing Tibet crisis. Southeast Asian nations however have been even more than reluctant to criticise Beijing.

Not the official line: Pro-Tibet protest in front of the Chinese Embassy in Bangkok

Not the official line: Pro-Tibet protest in front of the Chinese Embassy in Bangkok

China doesn't need to worry about its neighbours, they will neither criticise China's Tibet policy nor threaten to boycott the Summer Olympics. On the contrary, some governments in the Asia Pacific region support China's position and the crackdown on protesters.

According to Xinhua, the Chinese news agency and publicity arm, Vietnam's vice foreign secretary Vu Dong believes the situation in Tibet is an internal Chinese affair and Vietnam endorses what it calls China's stabilizing efforts in Tibet. Singapore and Thailand have both said they oppose politicising the Olympic Games.

Xinhua reports that a representative of Cambodia's foreign ministry even believes in a conspiracy of a small group staging the protests. It says biased reports by Western media were just trying to undermine China's reputation especially in regard of organizing the Olympic Games in Beijing. A boycott of the Games was thus out of question for Cambodia.

Cautious Australia

Australia is not considering boycotting the Olympics either. But Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, a former diplomat who speaks fluently Mandarin, urges open discussion of the violent events in Tibet:

"I would call upon the Chinese authorities to exercise restraint. Australia has always recognized from the beginning the Chinese sovereignty over Tibet. But these are significant developments and therefore have already been a subject of diplomatic communication between our governments."

Michael McKinley, political analyst of the Australian National University, regards this as an effort by the Australian government to protect its national interests:

"Australia is concerned about reassuring China that it is not trying to contain it or in any way punish it. China is very important politically in the region and also China is very, very important economically for Australia."

China and ASEAN

Australia is not the only country in the region which entertains close relations with China. For the Association of Southeast Asian Nations -- or ASEAN -- China is the most important trading partner. Thus for Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar -- prominent members of the ASEAN -- criticising China's internal and external policies is a taboo. However, their record on human rights is not exactly strong.

Myanmar's standpoint is clear: Tibet is China's internal affair. The junta clearly fully trusts the Chinese authorities to overcome what it describes as a "provocation" and to successfully restore peace. This is hardly surprising as Myanmar was strongly criticised by the international community for its crackdown of the pro-democracy movement -- led by Buddhist monks -- last September. China then firmly backed Myanmar's generals. Naturally activists in and outside of Myanmar have been discussing the possibility of calling for a boycott of the Olympic Games in China. But Lian Sakhong, secretary general of the Council of Ethnic Nationalities -- an exile group in Thailand -- dismisses those calls:

"I wouldn't say that we should boycott but China should realize that change in Burma is for their own benefit as well. I think they don't want the Olympics to be seen as a bloody thing. I hope they would avoid this and by doing that they would put pressure on the Burmese government to do more and thus change. China can play an important role."

But until now this pressure has not been applied. The Chinese authorities are too busy dealing with their own problems. And the neighboring countries in the Asia Pacific are doing everything they can to avoid annoying their mighty neighbor China.

  • Date 07.04.2008
  • Author DW Staff 07/04/08
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  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/LsCo
  • Date 07.04.2008
  • Author DW Staff 07/04/08
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/LsCo