Conservatively Speaking

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By John Barnhart

Last week China's government threw a hissy fit over our Congress' plan to honor the Dalai Lama.

Dalai Lama is the Tibetan Buddhist religious title. It is currently held by by a monk named Tenzin Gyatso. The Dalai Lama's official Web site lists him as both the head of state and the spiritual leader of Tibet. He has lived in exile since 1959.

The Chinese government does not like it when any government gives the Dalai Lama any recognition. Shortly before expressing its displeasure at us, it canceled a scheduled conference with German government officials on legal and patent issues after Angela Merkel met with the Dalai Lama.

Congress chose to ignore the Chinese government's pique and awarded the Dalai Lama the Gold Medal last Wednesday. He was cited for his efforts to "promote democracy, freedom, and peace for the Tibetan people through a negotiated settlement of the Tibet issue, based on autonomy within the People's Republic of China."

President Bush presented the medal.

The Tibetan issue has nothing to do with Tibetan independence. The Tibetan people simply want Beijing to leave their cultural and religious affairs alone.

The rivalry between the United States and China is not an ideological contest. That ended after Mao Tse Tung kicked the bucket. It's not a case of Americans thinking that we are right and the Chinese thinking that they are right.

Actually, if given the opportunity, most Chinese people would opt for a governmental system like ours, rather than what they live under. The Chinese Communist Party, however, is not about to let a multi-party democracy spring up in China. Remember what happened to peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in 1989?

It's not an issue of whether the Chinese Communist Party thinks it's right, either. What matters is that these fellows won't tolerate anything that threatens their power. There are 18 million people, out of a total Chinese population of 1.3 billion, in the Chinese Communist Party. Every five years, a little more than 2,000 of them meet in a party congress which, among other things, determines the membership of the 24-member Politburo and the eight-member Standing Committee as well as the party chairman who also serves as the country's president. The chairman, the Standing Committee and the Politburo are the ones who actually govern China.

They find it very threatening when other nations honor the Dalai Lama, or other national leaders even meet with the man. He represents dissent against their absolute rule. There are a lot of Chinese people who want a greater say in how their country is run. They want a government that is more responsive to the people and this would mean less power for, and political challenges to, the Chinese Communist Party.

This is also why China's leaders make sanctimonious pronouncements against interference in another nation's internal affairs when there is an international outcry over some government's thuggish treatment of their own people. While China's government isn't as bad as those of Sudan and Burma, it still comes open for criticism as a human rights abuser. The Chinese government doesn't like criticism from democracies, such as the United States, because of the fear that this will encourage China's domestic dissidents.

Of course, China also cozies up to these two ogreish governments because it's a net energy importer and needs Sudan's oil and Burma's natural gas. This, again, isn't a matter of China thinking it's right. It's a matter of a Chinese government, that has little regard for its own citizens' rights, not wanting to jeopardize its access to the natural resources that these countries have to offer.

Fortunately, in a rare burst of foreign policy understanding, Congress chose an action that both stood up for freedom and sent the message that Beijing can't dictate who we can and cannot honor. Maybe China's leaders should practice what they preach about not meddling in another country's internal affairs.