Yesterday I posted a piece about Tibet, criticizing China and saying the West should stand up for Tibetans. Within an hour of the piece going online, my normally reliable laptop began to play up: programs seized, and weird error massages kept coming up. Microsoft Word went crazy. My computer then stopped functioning completely for the first time in the three years I've had it. A friend, an IT security consultant, said this could have been a due to hacking or cyber attacks.
Now, in my case, I'm sure it's just a coincidence. I'd actually be quite flattered if the Chinese authorities took such an interest in my humble scribblings. But cyber-attacks emanating from China are a very real phenomenon for people, especially in the run up sensitive events like the yesterday's meeting between President Obama and the Dalai Lama. In fact, it is now almost routine for China to launch cyber attacks on journalists and news agencies: They have recently attacked the computer systems of Reuters, Dow Jones and Agence Presse. They focus these attacks just before major news events involving China. In the wake of recent attacks on Google, Hillary Clinton condemned cyber-attacks saying that they contravene the human right to free speech. Well, if the Chinese can cyber attack Google, they can surely get in to my beat-up old laptop if they want.
We almost take cyber-snooping for granted these days, but we shouldn't. Let's imagine if the same thing happened with 1980s technology: I write a piece criticizing China on my electronic typewriter (while listening to Wham.) I then post it to the United States where it is published. I come home the next day to find a Chinese man rooting around in my filing cabinet.
If that happened in your own home, you might be tempted to take the 12 bore to the intruder. We should be equally belligerent about the modern version of this sort of intrusion. Nor should we cooperate with a regime that behaves in this way: the Chinese are forever spying on Western individuals, corporations and governments. Well done to Google for pulling out of China. Full credit also to the Huffington Post for featuring my piece on their front page. They are not cowed by Chinese cyber threats.
Before posting the piece yesterday, I said to my wife, "Hey, you know how we've always dreamed of going to Tibet? I'm just about to post a piece about it. If I do, we'll probably never be allowed in."
"Small price to pay," she said.
Why care about Tibet? If you watch this video you will see one very good reason why:
In September 2006, 75 young Tibetans tried to flee across the border to Nepal. They were attempting to cross the high mountain passes near Everest. Only 43 made it to Nepal. Of the others, some were shot in the back by Chinese soldiers and many were captured. Some are now missing, presumed dead. The group included children and Buddhist nuns. As the bullets rained down, they could not even run, because they were waist deep in snow. The first to be shot dead was a 17 year old Buddhist nun named Kelsang Namtso. Western mountaineers at China's Everest base camp videoed the shootings: Chinese snipers calmly aimed across the cavernous Himalayan valley and shot dead these defenseless civilians, fleeing for a better life. Such incidents happen all the time. This one was only unusual because it was videoed by Westerners: one of the Western climbers can be heard saying incredulously: "they are shooting them, like dogs."
When these Tibetans were attacked they had already been walking for seventeen days. They had gone without food or sleep. A few years ago, I trekked to Nepal's Everest base camp: even with our modern gear and the help of porters, the conditions at 18,000 feet were harsh beyond belief. There is hardly even any oxygen. Why did these impoverished and ill-equipped people risk their lives crossing the Himalayas, one of the most forbidding environments on earth? Because of a Chinese oppression that the world no longer cares about. Here is a list of those said to be still missing since the September 2006 attack. They are presumed imprisoned or dead:
· Tenwang, age 7
· Lhakpa Tsering, age 8
· Dhondup Lhamo, age 9
· Dechen Dolma, age 10
· Wangchen, age 11
· Tsedon, age 12
· Sonam Wangdue, age 12
· Ming Shomo, age 13
· Lodoe Nyima, age 15
· Jamyang Tsetan, age 16
· Karma Tsetan, age 16
· Lodoe Namkha, age 16
· Karma, age 19
· Samten, age 19
· Sonam Palzom, age 20
· Dhondup Palden, age 21
· Kusang, age 22
· Lobsang Paljor, age 35
Every day that we trade with China, we make it wealthier and more powerful. Yet in Tienneman Square and elsewhere we have seen how China treats it own people, and the people of Tibet. China is also using its growing power to prop up dictators in Africa, such as Robert Mugabe.
Why do we continue to trade with China? For the sake of our "economic interests." Just for the life of Tenwang, age 7, I'd happily live a life of poverty. But if the West did invoke principled sanctions against China, we wouldn't all suddenly collapse in to poverty. We might have a slightly modified standard of living. It might even be good if the West again manufactured its own things. Why not reopen our factories and give ordinary working people jobs again?
The idea that trade and engagement with China will make it become democratic is as dead as 17-year-old Kelsang Namtso, the Buddhist nun killed on that mountain pass. Ordinary Chinese people are wonderful, and are the inheritors of an amazing civilization, but their government is increasingly tyrannical; and it's trying to go global. The West must now choose between money and the principles that made it great. We are sacrificing the lives and liberty of innocent people for an addiction to consumer goods that don't make us any happier.
If we choose money now, you'd better teach your children the Mandarin for "yes sir".
Me, I just want to know the Mandarin for "get the hell out of my laptop."