I’ve mostly given up talking about the nonsense published on a daily basis in the Murdoch press. There are more reliable alternatives, after all. At least so I thought until I looked at today’s Fairfax papers, which ran, as the lead, a piece from Peter Hartcher headlined Beijing uses infrastructure as friendly forerunner of political power. It’s as obviously loopy as anything Maurice Newman has written on Agenda 21, or Graeme Lloyd on Climategate
Here are the opening paras
The Chinese Communist Party built a road into Tibet and the Tibetans were excited – it was their first highway: “We were promised peace and prosperity with the highway, and our parents and grandparents joined in building the road,” as the president of Tibet’s government in exile, Lobsang Sangay, tells the story.
“In fact, they were paid silver coins to help them build the road. So there was a popular song during those days, it goes like this: Chinese are like our parents; when they come, they shower you with silver coins,” the Harvard-educated lawyer recounted at the National Press Club in Canberra last year.
The Chinese soldiers were patient with the local kids and bore their taunts with smiles, he said.
“Then they built the road. Once the road reached Lhasa – the capital city of Tibet – first trucks came, then guns came, then tanks came. Soon, Tibet was occupied. So it started with the road.”
I’m not an expert on Chinese or Tibetan history, but anyone who’s paid the slightest attention knows that China has claimed Tibet as its territory for centuries, and asserted that claim with varying degrees of success over that time. Tibet managed to achieve a fair bit of autonomy during the chaotic first half of the 20th century but once the Communists defeated the Kuomintang in 1949, they established their control over Tibet. For the details, I went to Wikipedia which gives the following chronology
September 1949: KMT defeated, People’s Republic of China declared
March 1950: Tibetan government opens negotiatons with PRC, seeking to maintain de facto independence
October 1950, Chinese troops enter Tibet, defeat Tibetan forces
March 1951: Seventeen point agreement imposed, establishing Chinese rule.
Infrastructure projects, silver coins and popular songs are conspicuous by their absence from this account, which is consistent with everything else I’ve read. Having established control, the Chinese government cemented it by building a road, which was completed in 1954.
Until recently, the construction of the highway was of no political importance, and played no role in accounts of the Chinese takeover. But now that the Chinese government wants to construct road and rail links to the West, the suggestion that this will be the prelude to an invasion is useful to its opponents.
Perhaps Lobsang Sangay (born in 1968 in Darjeeling, India to Tibetan exile parents) has access to records that contradict all the published evidence. More plausibly, as you would expect from the leader of a government-in-exile, he is telling gullible audiences what they want to hear. But Hartcher is supposed to be a professional journalist and the Sydney Morning Herald is supposed to be a serious paper. I would have thought some kind of elementary fact checking would be employed before retailing such obviously dubious anecdotes as fact.
What makes this worse is that there is no need to make stuff up in order to show the Chinese Communist Party in a bad light. It’s a one-party dictatorship which is the way to permanent one-man rule, and the takeover of Tibet was a brutal exercise which cost up to a million lives. But roads had nothing to do with it, and it’s absurd to suggest that China’s attempts to build more of them represent a devious plot for world domination.