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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Friedman: Chinese Believe Tibetans, Other Ethnic Groups Should be Incorporated into One China

Council on Foreign Relations

Interviewee: Edward Friedman, Professor of Political Science, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Interviewer: Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor

April 23, 2008

Edward Friedman, an expert on Chinese nationalism at the University of Wisconsin, says there is tremendous difference of opinion among Chinese who are doing well economically and those that are not. However, there is consensus that “the people who are not Han, who live near the frontiers [such as Tibetans and Uighurs] should be seen as people who should be incorporated into the larger Chinese state.” According to him, “there is not very much sympathy among the dominant community for such people.” He also says the ruling party can direct nationalism towards its policy ends, citing as evidence the recent positive shift in relations with Japan.

The recent violence in Tibet has aroused considerable anti-Chinese protests, including some calls for a boycott of the Olympics. Most Chinese outside of China as well as in China seem very strongly opposed to the Tibetan protests and the anti-Olympics sentiments. Can you discuss the situation?

It’s actually very difficult to know what Chinese actually feel about any of these topics. It’s not a free society; people are not exposed to multiple points of view. There are consequences for every viewpoint and so it’s never easy to know what people really feel about any particular topic. On the issue of Tibet, among Chinese who are outside of China you have seen the loudest voices being the most chauvinistic and I would even say racist and intolerant. It’s not an atmosphere in which people with other viewpoints are going to express themselves because the dominant view imposed by the system is that to have another viewpoint is to be a traitor. Personally, I actually do not believe that all Chinese are racist and chauvinistic. I think that’s a slur on the Chinese people.

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Copyright 2008 by the Council on Foreign Relations. This material is republished on GlobalSecurity.org with specific permission from the cfr.org. Reprint and republication queries for this article should be directed to cfr.org.

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