Despite progress, China remains political tyrant

The ongoing unrest in Tibet demonstrates once again that while mainland China has liberalized its economic system considerably and taken steps toward relatively responsible behavior internationally, politically it is still a one-party tyranny without even minimal respect for the human rights of its citizens.

Reprisals against China may not be wise or practical just now, but the regime has certainly lost a great deal of whatever minimal respect it may once have had.

The stubborn insistence by the Chinese government that it should rule over Tibet is a demonstration of a certain irrationality that can enter into human thinking and behavior when leaders start “thinking like a state.”

What does it really profit China to rule Tibet? To be sure, in medieval times some Chinese emperors extracted tribute from Tibet and claimed to rule it, but in fact that rule was tolerated only because it was loose and lightly exercised.

Because of upheavals in China, Tibet was effectively independent for the first half of the 20th century. Tibetans are ethnically distinct from the Han Chinese, and Tibetan culture has its own ancient and distinctive roots.

Since the Chinese forcibly annexed Tibet by military force in 1951, ethnic Tibetans (95 percent of the population despite subsidies and favoritism for Chinese who move there) have come to resent China and the Chinese more than they did before.

An independence move was quashed with much bloodshed in 1959 (when the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, was forced to flee). Protests in 1989 led to another brutal crackdown, followed by forcible campaigns to suppress Tibetan culture and religion and bring more Chinese people into the country.

Crazy. Nation-states seek to have control over as much territory as feasible, even when the people in some parts of that territory give the central rulers nothing but trouble and damage the image of the central government in the world at large, and even though the territory offers little if any economic or geopolitical advantages.

It’s yet another reason to remember that statism in a concentrated form is an enemy of constructive human endeavor and peaceful human interaction — let alone human liberty.

The uprising in Tibet could have ramifications we won’t know about for weeks and months.

Does it mean the Dalai Lama, who has always stressed strictly peaceful protests, is losing control of the Tibetan independence movement? Will it have an impact on elections in Taiwan, slated for Saturday, in which a move toward formal independence, which would inflame Beijing, will be an issue? If Beijing cracks down brutally, will more individual athletes, companies or countries think about boycotting the Olympics in August?

It’s too soon — protestors will have more leverage later — to call for boycotting the Olympics or Chinese goods. But Beijing should be on notice that the whole world is watching.