Sunday, February 14, 2010

Obama and the Lama

Alita Edelman: Here’s a post to catch you up on some U.S.-international relations drama that’s been getting China’s panties all up in a bunch.

Let’s start with a little bit of brief, oversimplified background info. China is a humongous country. Within its ridiculous borders are to be found, believe it or not, many ethnic groups. One of these is the Tibetans. The area called Tibet from where said Tibetans hail is actually a large region of Western China that snuggles with India, Bhutan, Myanmar/Burma and Nepal. The majority of Chinese people feel that Tibet is solidly part of China that happens to house a substantial population of relatively poor, uneducated, minority people. As a result of the negative feelings toward Tibetans, the majority Chinese go into Tibet and basically force majority Chinese culture onto the people. When I say force majority culture, I’m not just talking about making them learn Chinese, I’m talking the Chinese want to wipe out the Tibetans and there are corroborated reports of forced IUDs. Also, most famously, the Chinese government basically put the Chinese version of a fatwah on the Tibetan social and religious leader, the Dalai Lama, sending him into exile. Tibetans are obviously not into this. They feel that their ethic, cultural and historical differences qualify them for a separate country altogether. Hence, Free Tibet.

Also, if you don’t already know this, the Dalai Lama is the most important social and religious leader in the Buddhist, Tibetan community. Regardless of your political or religious background, it’s hard to argue against the facts: the Dalai Lama is the man. He’s well-spoken, well-educated, and has traveled the world engaging in humanitarian work and constantly speaking out on behalf of his troubled people.
Anyway, let’s tie this all back to Obama. Obviously for the United States to have a strong relationship with China, at least with regard to trade, is of mondo importance. Before heading over to China last year, Obama very publically snubbed a meeting with the Lama, sending a message that the U.S. relationship with China trumped its concerns over human rights abuses in Tibet. However, during his trip to China, good ol’ Barack gave it to them good, railing on the Chinese government for its forced censorship, its human rights abuses, and giving the final kick in the groin by saying that he intended to meet with the Dalai Lama.

So in any case, the date has been set for February 18th and China is going nuts. Just today, Ma Zhouxu, the Chinese Foreign Minister, demanded that Obama immediately withdraw from the meeting threatening unspecified sanctions. All of this is made extra spicy by the fact that China is already majorly P.O.ed at the States for selling arms to Taiwan, disagreements between the countries over the Chinese currency exchange rate, and more recent criticism over Internet censorship.

In sum, we’ll see how this plays out. My call is that Obama is going to meet with the Lama and they’re going to have a grand ol’ time and leave the summit with friendship bracelets and it’s going to send China into a tizzy like a jealous ex-girlfriend.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What to do with a problem like... Iran?

Exciting news! Obama has finally set a date to meet with the Dalai Lama at the White House on February 18th. The bad news: more protests continue in Iran as the Islamic Republic of Iran celebrates its 31st anniversary today.

Accordingly, in regard to President Obama’s engagement strategy, it is interesting to note that Iran wants two things: 1) it wants to avoid any more Security Council sanctions and, 2) it wants demonstrate to its own people that it can sit with the major powers as an equal and avoid any concessions on its part.

Ironically however, the Islamic Republic is choosing to play “hard ball” when it could be enjoying the fruits of Obama’s ‘incentives package.’ (Which, in my opinion, would naturally satisfy its citizens much more, especially considering that most of its citizens favor the opposition party over the Islamic Republic). Indeed, every sign is pointing to the fact that Iran will not be willing to make any concessions. Iran announced Tuesday it was beginning the process of enriching its uranium stockpile to a higher level. To which, the international community had to react by discussing the imposition of new U.N. sanctions.

Now comes the big question, could this stupidity [on the part of Ahmadinejad] dent the credibility of Obama's approach to foreign policy? Yes and no. Domestically, Obama has a lot riding on the Iran issue. Obama has already been under attack by our Republican opponents who disliked his offer of engagement to begin with -- not to mention the fact that he has gotten nothing in return for this 'open hand.' So, if Iran doesn't give anything in these next talks, then yes, I think it will be damaging politically to Obama, and he will have to impose strict sanctions after all. But as for international credibility, I think enough people [internationally] know that the ‘Iran issue’ encompasses much more institutional cooperation than just one figure alone.