A mural in a small American town and Chinese paranoia

Corvallis is a small town in Oregon,USA, with a population of 54,520 people. It is 5565 miles from Beijing, China, 6901 miles from Lhasa,Tibet and 6150 miles from Taipei,Taiwan.

And yet the town finds itself swept up by the Chinese paranoia over Tibetan and Taiwanese independence. So much so that two Chinese diplomats stationed in San Francisco undertook a ten-hour drive to Corvallis to convince the town’s mayor, Julie Manning, and others to take down a mural advocating independence for Taiwan and Tibet. The trip came after a letter from the Chinese mission in San Francisco failed to prevail on the town to prevail on David Lin, the owner of a building which displays the mural.

The August 8 letter’s content has been quoted by the media. It says, “There is only one China in the world, and both Tibet and Taiwan are parts of China. It is a fact recognized by the U.S. and most other countries in the world.”

“To avoid our precious friendship from being tainted by so-called ‘Tibet Independence’ and ‘Taiwan Independence,’ we sincerely hope you can understand our concerns and adopt effective measures to stop the activities advocating ‘Tibet Independence’ and ‘Taiwan Independence’ in Corvallis,” the letter said.

This amusing little caper is so symptomatic of the way the Chinese establishment deals with any suggestion of any dissent over any of its official positions anywhere in the world. Here is an unquestionably great civilization, not to mention the world’s second largest economy, feeling exercised over a mural in a town thousands of miles away in another country and whose population probably is as much as that of an apartment complex in Beijing. One could not make this one up.

As if all this was not enough the Chinese mission’s letter reportedly dangles a less than subtle combination of threat and reward. When it mentions “To void our precious friendship from being tainted” what it is implicitly referring to is an upcoming visit of an Oregonian trade delegation to China in October to be led by Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber. In case it is lost on anyone in the governor’s office the letter speaks of “mutually beneficial co-operation between us.” What I like about this is that it is not even finessed.

The larger point here is that Beijing remains so anally focused on Tibet that nothing that champions the cause is allowed to go unchallenged. It is not my case that the Chinese consulate in San Francisco was under active instruction from Beijing to lean on Corvallis to efface the mural. However, it is my case that doing whatever it takes when it comes to Tibet or Taiwan is so deeply built into the official Chinese mindset that it is almost like a reflex action now. At a purely cerebral level it is admirable that they just won’t let any assertions of Tibetan independence go unchallenged. That said, what it reveals is how insecure Beijing remains about its hold on Tibet.

Realistically, there is next to nothing that can push the Chinese out of Tibet. No major power, the least of all the United States, is particularly bothered about the Tibetan cause. I do not see any country of consequence to China telling China to vacate Tibet. The near total diminishment of the Tibetan cause in the consciousness of the international community notwithstanding, it is remarkable how China still feels compelled to challenge any display of a view that is counter to its official stand.

I just happen to think that a country professing to be as morally sure and legally certain of its historical territorial claims and actions as China should feel far less threatened by a mural.


About chutiumsulfate

South Asians can infer from my name what I am. View all posts by chutiumsulfate

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