There seems a lot of heated argument these days for and against the idea of self-determination in Tibet; I can agree in part with both sides.
- Some people say that China is denying self-determination to Tibet, oppressing Tibetans, and trying to settle Tibet with Chinese people in order to outnumber the Tibetans.
- Other people (mostly Chinese) say that Tibet has been part of China for a long time, that Chinese rule in Tibet is improving the living standards of Tibetans, and that foreigners have no right to criticize because their own countries have denied self-determination to other peoples in the past.
All of these claims by both sides may be true simultaneously. But both sides seem to have blind spots:
- The Free Tibet crowd seem to be forgetting that the issue of self-determination is world-wide. I support the right to self-determination myself, but I support it for all peoples everywhere, not just for Tibetans. The Chechens and the Palestinians and various peoples of ex-Yugoslavia, for instance, have surely suffered worse than the Tibetans. The Basques are not suffering (except from the excesses of their own extremists), but their position is in principle similar to that of the Tibetans. Spain doesn't accept self-determination for Gibraltar either. Argentina doesn't accept self-determination for the Falkland Islands.
- The Chinese nationalist crowd seem to rely on the argument that self-determination is a modern right that was never observed in the past. If what we're doing in Tibet is bad, they say, then what your countries have done in the past was even worse. This is true, but irrelevant. By the same argument, China could practise slavery and point out that other countries have done it too. If you're a good person, you act in a good way. If you act in a bad way and try to justify yourself by saying that other people have done it too, the fact remains that you're still a bad person.