Black helicopters and the Fairfax press

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.

13 thoughts on “Black helicopters and the Fairfax press

  1. Indeed. More recently, Hong Kong book seller with the “wrong” books disappears, is beaten, turns up on Chinese state TV some weeks later to “apologize” for crimes against the state… Not an usual story. And very contemporary. There was an artist recently on the internet singing happy birthday to his daughter as the state police were knocking on his door to take him away, wish I had the link to hand.

    I live in Taiwan. I don’t know what the real threat of Chinese invasion is, however it is always high in the news – e.g. recently their air force circled our island, naval drills, etc. But this is a wonderful, free society. If China takes us over it will be a tragedy exceeding words. For the first time in my life I look positively on US projection of power that seems to have historically helped our independence. I hope people beyond Taiwan can understand our situation, and support us in any way possible.

  2. “China has claimed Tibet as its territory for centuries.” I thought the claim was suzerainty not integration. The upshot of the Younghusband expedition in 1903-4, prompted by Tsarists-under-the-bed paranoia, was to reinforce this old Chinese claim. Better a weak China in Lhasa than a strong Russia, they thought in Simla.

    The problem with Chinese policy in Tibet is not political control but cultural assimilation and Han Chinese immigration. The roads and railway are instrumental to this colonialisation.

  3. James: The extent of control claimed and exercised varied over time as I said in the post. In any case, it long predated the Communists.

    As you say, cultural assimilation is the big problem, as is almost invariably true when a central government extends control over ethnic minority regions (eg Russia, Indonesia).

    And of course roads and railways work to promote integration for both good and ill. But the history is still backwards. The invasion came first and the highway was built to support it.

  4. Commenting as an Australian with Chinese heritage.

    The territorial claims of the regions surrounding China is always complicated and this is also true for Tibet. While I’m also not an expert of Tibetan history, Tibet has throughout the past 1,000 years been subject to rules of either Chinese Dynasties and Mongolians. This further complicates the matter as Mongolia and China have ruled over each other in different periods of time as well. Currently Chinese refer to Mongolia as two separate regions, one as the Inner Mongolia which is a Chinese region with Mongolian ethnics living there calling themselves Chinese; and the other as Outer Mongolia which obviously refers to the Mongolia region that is a separate legal country.

    Unfortunately debates surrounding such territorial matters are hard to settle because if even Inner Mongolians, along with various regions with non-Han population calling themselves Chinese. It’s difficult to say what is and what isn’t Chinese.

    Generally, I leave all such matters to legal definition e.g. even though Taiwan is much more “Chinese” than Inner Mongolia or Tibet etc., it is a separate legal country and therefore I refer to Taiwan as a separate country, however I refer to Hong Kong as China. This also allows me to get out of these sort of conversations for Spain/Catalonia or Scotland/England etc.

  5. You’d think the Chinese hordes would over-run somewhere a bit closer to home, like Vietnam or North Korea, before deviously plotting to invade the dozens of Belt and Road participants.

  6. Ken_L, Communist China tried invading Vietnam a while back in 1979, but withdrew again. If you are willing to overlook the 100,000 or so lives brutally snuffed out and the vast number of crippling injuries, it was one of the more positive wars in history as both sides claimed victory.

  7. I’ll mention that it’s a bit weird for China to be investing so much money in other nations. And not just lesser developed countries with natural resources that may need to be developed to keep Chinese industry supplied, but rich developed countries such as France and Norway. Now that the Chinese currency is set at a reasonable level I don’t think they should be running such large trade surpluses. The idea that it’s because rich Chinese want as much of their money outside the country as possible to make it difficult to confiscate in corruption crackdowns seems reasonable, but if anyone has thoughts on this I’d be glad to hear them.

  8. That was more an exercise in adjusting borders than an attempted invasion. It was also of course a very long time ago.

  9. I see in today’s Fairfax press our Foreign Affairs Minister has just warned our little brown neighbours in the Pacific against buying into the BRI, saying that it is the thin end of the wedge and the inscrutable orientals have a cunning plan to make their countries rich through trade and then blackmail them into granting military bases by threatening a financial crisis.

    Apart from the breathtaking hypocrisy of this coming from the deputy sheriff of the US (they of the 250 overseas military bases) which has always been so respectful of their sovereignty (not), were I in one of these poor states I would certainly be willing to run the risk of such enrichment. And I’d be asking why it was left to China to build these ports anyway, when their self-styled big brothers have failed to.

  10. Keb L: “You’d think the Chinese hordes would over-run somewhere a bit closer to home, like Vietnam or North Korea, before deviously plotting to invade the dozens of Belt and Road participants.”

    ” China’s potential control over economic zones leads to more protests in Vietnam…” ***

    The Vietnamese community has always taken the Yellow Peril seriously.

  11. Prof Q, is there a reason why China could or should be expected to behave differently from other emerging ‘great powers’ in the past?

    Why does China, like other emerging great powers of the past, not use its financial resources to improve the material welfare of large segments of her population?

  12. can vaguely remember reading somewhere of Tibet actually claiming sovereignty over of parts of China.

    if not quite pre-dynasty, then pretty close, so quite a while ago.

    irrelevant,except given the obsession with who owned what, when,
    and if we had it once,it’s ours for evahh.

  13. Hartcher’s old enough to know better. He wouldn’t have needed to do external fact-checking unless he’s going senile.

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