On Wednesday, the Olympic torch passed through San Francisco and we went down to Embarcadero for lunch to see the festivities. Predictably, the well-to-do-but-willfully-modest lower-upper-middle-class yuppies were out in force, holding aloft signs emblazoned in magic marker fury. Free Tibet! Down With China! Free Burma! Free Darfur! Free Sudan!
Fights almost broke out if not for the meaningful police presence. In the distance, I saw a Free Tibet banner, floating above a sea of sight-seeing baseball caps, meet a giant red flag of China. They lowered quickly, disappearing into the mass, and then people erupted in a mix of cheering and jeering. It wasn’t as bad as earlier in the day when protesters shook a bus they thought contained the Olympic torch, but it really caught the feelings of the moment. I watched bemused as an old Chinese woman yelled at a Free Burma chick to “stop causing trah-bul” or when an elderly man argued with a kid who had no idea what his Free Darfur T-shirt really meant.
Then again, it’s not like the adults understood what it all meant either. I don’t want to get too contentious, but the Free Tibet people have to understand that since the Mongols conquered them, Tibet has never been considered a free nation by anyone except themselves. As unfair as it is, the world runs on established documents and treaties, and none exist declaring Tibetan sovereignty.
Instead, the international community recognizes the Succession of States principle that essentially says when one state takes over another, it assumes the former’s assets. In this view, Tibet was passed over from Mongols to the Qing, Qing to ROC, and finally ROC to PRC. Interestingly, Taiwan (the ROC) actually denies Tibet’s independence. Not one foreign government supports Tibetan independence despite criticizing the violence- the world would fall apart! States would be meaningless.
So what defines a state? The answer, sadly, is everyone else. Without international diplomatic recognition, no amount of desire for independence can *make* you a state, anymore than Hawaii’s islanders can declare themselves historically sovereign from the United States. Tibetans validly point out China colonized them by force, but that essentially validates they are a subjugated state. Are our southern states rightfully independent because the Civil War formed the Union by force?
One cannot go around earning freedom by demanding it. Knowing the Chinese people well, protests and shame are only going to reinforce their adamancy. If we want results, first take politics out of the Olympics, as it was always meant to be. Then treat China as a peer, don’t bring Western arrogance to the table. They will follow that lead far better than any empty threats. Or crazies yelling out “FREE CASINOS FOR TIBET!“