Oregon, Tibet, and the China Trade

Who is Meddling With Whom?  Oregon, Tibet, and the China Trade

I am a few weeks late in posting the piece I promised myself, “Why some Chinese don’t like the United States.” Good I delayed, though, because in the meantime my very own Portand, Oregon, has created an epically silly and typically confused example of what many Chinese see as our standard behavior. I hope eventually to pull it all together and write an objective piece. However, this is not that piece; this is a rant. Readers are hereby warned.

Let me first engage in some prolepsis:  I am, on alternate days, a Buddhist—and on the alternate days a Methodist, which thankfully is quite irrelevant to this piece.

I have not only talked the Buddhist talk in forty years of teaching Asian Studies, but also walked the walk, chanted the chant, sat quietly until my knees screamed and held a short (but enlightening) conversation with a Buddhist image after a week of meditating and eating nothing but tofu. I spent a week in retreat at the Bo Lin (Precious Lotus) Temple on Lan Tau Island in Hong Kong.  I have visited Buddhist temples in Taiwan, China, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Thailand, Japan, Korea, and the United States—oh, and in Cambodia, too.  I have smuggled out messages from and donated to temples in some of these countries. I have defended in print the right of Zen Buddhists to build a retreat along the Columbia river, worked an entire summer on a project to build a huge interactive web site teaching the core beliefs of Buddhism and…and…well hopefully you get the point: Om Mani Padme Hum, and all that. This piece is not about Buddish Self-hatred. Awful pun there, but that is what this issue has done to me.

Oregon has done a pretty good job of walking a tight line in dealing with China for quite some time. There was a point when the U.S. still formally recognized Taiwan as the government of all of China, and yet many local businesspeople saw clearly where the really big market was going to be. Our then Governor, Vic Atiyeh, managed to open negotiations with China while formally observing the niceties with Taiwan. We have since sent dozens if not hundred of trade delegations and received dozens if not hundreds more.

China is, as a result, now Oregon’s largest trading partner (See: http://oregonecon.blogspot.com/2009/10/oregon-trade-is-chinas-economy-helping.html where China is given credit for helping the local economy rebound after the disasters of 1908-09) It recently passed Canada as the largest recipient of our exports. (See http://www.oregonlive.com/business/index.ssf/2010/02/oregon_exports_down_sharply_–.html)

In addition, our ties with China have proven very advantageous to Oregon in many other ways. Portland’s Chinese sister city, Suzhou, has given substantial help in the construction of our local Chinese Gardens, now one of our biggest draws. The museum regularly hosts exhibits from China, Chinese are far the largest group of overseas students, at many local colleges and universities (at least one Oregon state college gives Chinese students credit for keeping it afloat) etc., etc.

Now comes blundering forth Randy Leonard and Sam Adams, city commissioner and embattled mayor of Portland respectively, to proclaim that today, March 10, 2010 is:


Whereas on March 10, 2010, Tibetans throughout the world will be observing the Tibetan National Day to honor the Tibetans who died in their struggle for freedom and to reaffirm the independence of Tibet; and

Whereas: the suppression of unique and ancient culture, human rights and freedom of Tibet continues to be viewed with concern by all freedom-laving people everywhere; and

Whereas the Northwest Tibetan Cultural Association is a non-profit organization to preserve, promote and continue Tibetan culture and traditions throughout Oregon and southwest Washington; and

Whereas today we join the Tibetan community in Oregon to commemorate the 51st anniversary of Tibetan National Day and to show solidarity with the people of Tibet; and ‘

Whereas on March 10, 2010, there will be a celebration in partnership with the Northwest Tibetan Cultural Association at Portland City Hall to observe Tibetan National Day; and

Therefore, I, Sam Adams, Mayor of the City of Portland, Oregon, the “City of Roses,” do hereby proclaim Wednesday, March 10,2010 to be

Tibetan Awareness Day

Well, you might ask, what is wrong with a harmless cultural observance such as this?  And I answer: it amounts to a support of Tibetan independence from China.

The Tibetan community itself celebrates this date as “Uprising Day” (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tibetan_Uprising_Day) to commemorate the 1959 uprising against the Chinese government. The entire Portland event, as well as the complex of ideas under-girding it, amounts to a belief that the fact that Tibet is politically and culturally a part of China and has been so for a very long time, is not only illicit but also reversible.

This is no place to try to persuade supporters of these two positions that they are each untrue. For now I will simply assert that China’s claims to Tibet are as justifiable as are American claims to Hawaii. Both, of course, are disputed. (Doubt that? Check out a few of the 2,160,000 entries for the search string “Hawaiian Independence” at: http://www.google.com/search?q=hawaiian+independence&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a)

Both claims of independence are also, alas for the romanticists among us, quite irreversible. To my knowledge, no nation in the world recognizes Tibet as independent. The current Tibetan independence movement is an artifact of American pop culture and the consequence of a history of CIA involvement resulting from the Cold War.

It is this last fact which most disturbs the Chinese. In the 19th and 20th century China, weakened by internal turmoil and foreign imperialism, lost direct control of Tibet, principally to the British, coming ultimately out of India. Then in 1949 China began slowly under the new People’s Republic to reassert its traditional influence. Then, in 1956 it sent in military forces to reclaim direct control.  The Chinese control was violent and brutal and the United States used unrest in Tibet as a weapon in the Cold War, then at its height. Knowing that this analysis will seem to many like leftist cant, I cite a variety of sources below.

The uprising of 1959, in particular, came after several years of CIA involvement including the training and arming of Tibetan rebels, not only in India, but also from 1959-1964 in Colorado as well. The CIA continued to supply funding for the Dalai Lama, to the tune of 1.7 million a year at least through the 1960’s. (See http://www.nytimes.com/1998/10/02/world/world-news-briefs-dalai-lama-group-says-it-got-money-from-cia.html?pagewanted=1)

I am not arguing here that the Chinese governance of Tibet has been a bed of lotuses for Tibet, especially for organized religion. Particularly during the madness of the Cultural Revolution (1958-68) the Chinese treated the Tibetans at least as badly as they treated their own people, attempting to break down traditional culture and ethnic identification to create a “socialist man.” However, overall, the positive consequences for health, longevity, productivity, women’s rights, education—all the measures of well-being in a modernizing society, are clear.

Neither am I arguing that all CIA involvement at any times or even at that time was necessarily evil. Rather, my position is that times have changed, and to now celebrate the earlier uprising reopens old wounds, in a context which is quite different than that of the Cold War.

The Chinese then, have their reasons for seeing foreign involvement in the Tibetan independence movement as a true cause for alarm. It is nothing less than a reminder of the worst attempts at interference on the part of the United States in Chinese internal affairs during the entire Cold War.

This past week, the Chinese government, acting through its consulate in San Francisco has been, I believe, quite rational in trying to minimize the impact of the Portland Proclamation on relations with Oregon. They asked that it not be done, that it not be a city function, that it not be treated as a civic act. Councilman Leonard, was repeatedly told by representatives of the local Chinese-American community, the Suzhou Sister City Association and the Northwest China Council—a group I helped found and of which I am currently a member, but for which I do not speak here—that these events were bound to hurt Oregon-China trade.

Leonard then in essence accused the Chinese of interfering in the internal affairs of Portland. He then told the local Willamette Week, “If it means selling out our city’s principles, I don’t want that business, frankly…” (http://wweek.com/popup/print.php?index=13783 3/10/2010)

What could explain Leonard and Adams’ attitudes? Partly it is sheer ignorance of the long-term history of Tibet and of China. For them, as for nearly all Americans, the history of Tibet begins with the Chinese re-entry in 1956. Until then Tibet was Shangri-la, a highly mythologized and romanticized kingdom of sage kings. Accompanying this image is a romantic notion of Tibetan Buddhism. Never mind that Tibetan Buddhism is heavily mixed with a very primitive Bon shamanism, that the monastic life depended upon the literal enslavement of the surrounding peasantry; it all comes down to the smiling visage of the Dalai Lama, friend of rock bands and Hollywood stars with his splendid designer glasses and Western dental work and, through his Hollywood contacts, access to the best flacks in the world.

Probably most important is explaining our local ignorance, however, is a total lack of awareness that history happens, that things not only change, but have changed. We now live in a global world and China has been hustling for decades now to adapt itself to that fact; never as fast as the idealists among us would like, but their progress is undeniable. But for us, America still reigns supreme, or as Leonard repeatedly stated to some of the local groups who spoke with him, words to the effect that he would not be told what to do, especially by foreigners.

And the Chinese are not just any foreigners. If the Tibetans are the idealized whooping primitives against whom we measure our own weary march on the treadmill of modernization, the Chinese are for many still Fu Manchu and Ming the Merciless, the “Other.” Never mind that most of the world sees us as far more dangerous than China, they are, after all, foreigners too. It is likely that no local American politician can go wrong by “standing up” to China. It is only national politicians who have to worry about trade balances and treaties. Randy and Sam are the 21st century equivalent of George Wallace, standing in the door of globalization, telling the colored folk to settle down and listen to Daddy.

It is hard to see how all this might come out well for all of us, though it has certainly worked out well for the Tibetan community. Tibetan refugee propaganda organs in Dharamsala reported on the Portland events as they happened (See: Kalsang Rinchen “China meddles in Portland’s proclamation of March 10 as Tibet Awareness day” Phayul Dharamsala, March 9 as reported in Randy Leonard’s WWW page at: http://www.portlandonline.com/leonard/)

Word will be circulating wildly in Tibet that the Americans are back in the Great Game. We have to hope that the result is not more violence there, at the cost, of course, of Tibetan lives.  But, as I have written many times, we Americans are particularly good at letting others pay the costs of our romantic gestures before we get bored and go home to sit down to a nice dinner.

I have to assume that the Chinese will respond, and suppose that the logical soft spot is the trade which we so badly need.  The most recent more or less open conflict with China was the early November, 2009, decision of the Obama administration to sell Taiwan 6 billions of arms.  China quickly announced that it would buy 17.4 billion dollars worth not of Boeing planes as it was widely assumed they would, but European Airbuses. The potential total of sales of planes for the Chinese markets is worth 400 billion to Boeing. Or was, anyway.

Any problems involving the China trade will quickly cascade through a surprising number of Oregon businesses. There is already plenty of reason to believe that relationships which have taken decades to build are being shattered. I cannot cite sources on these, because part of my information is confidential sorts of stuff received from members of the local Chinese-American and business communities.  But take it from me, the damage is snowballing rapidly. And it will expand far outside of Portland, to affect Oregon in general.

Take, again, for example, the Boeing issue. Recently Boeing cancelled a large contract with a local McMinnville firm, Evergreen International Aviation. The contract was shifted to an east coast firm, Atlas. This cancellation will affect directly the jobs of some 75 pilots, mechanics and ground handlers and potentially another 200 or so employees who are also involved. (See Nicole Montesano, “Boeing yanks big Evergreen contract” The Yamhill Valley News-Register, 03/08/2010)

The timing of the cancellation strongly suggests connections to the earlier China sales Boeing lost due to the Taiwan arms debacle. (See Dominic Gates “Boeing drops Oregon operator for its Dreamlifter fleet” The Seattle Times, http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/businesstechnology/2011259198_dreamlifter03.html?syndication where it is made clear that “One factor may be Atlas’ pending order for 12 new 747-8 cargo planes. Because of a severe contraction in the air-cargo market over the last couple of years, Boeing has been negotiating intensely with the initial customers, including Atlas, to reschedule 747-8 deliveries.”) When the Taiwan issue provoked the Chinese to substitute Airbusses for the 747 orders, Boeing had to reconsider the contract with Evergreen, and moved it to Atlas, thus buffering the lost China sales, or so the timing suggests.

Moreover, living as we are in a globalized world, there are additional factors involving the China trade which may impact Evergreen. As a spokesman for Evergreen explained: “We take military freight outbound, to the Middle East primarily, to Iraq and Afghanistan, and then position ourselves into China,” he said. “We bring cargo from China to the U.S., primarily to Chicago and the New York area.”

Any diminution in China trade into Oregon will surely hurt Evergreen, in effect, both coming and going. I assume we have to recognize that if the Chinese don’t want to buy our exports, they don’t have to, anymore than we have to buy theirs. Though, of course, we can always accuse them of coercion by not wanting our trade.

So perhaps we will soon have a Leonard-Adams downturn in the Oregon economy. If so, I hope that those who lose their jobs over Randy’s ethical stand remember that these are our “city’s principals.”  We hope that the knowledge of having been sacrificed for higher principles will be a great comfort. Hopefully Richard Gere, Paris Hilton, Sharon Stone, and many popular singers will pitch in. Maybe his Holiness the Dalai Lama will spin a few prayer wheels. Maybe even the CIA will come out of retirement to support them?

Sources on CIA involvement in Tibet:

http://www.historynet.com/cias-secret-war-in-tibet.htm http://www.naderlibrary.com/cia.secret.war.whale.htm entire book found at: http://www.naderlibrary.com/cia.secret.war.htm

My personal favorite among sites is here, where you can view a clip of former CIA agents chuckling appreciatively over their hi-jinks in Tibet. Here is the Stanford Library’s summary of the contents of the tapes: http://searchworks.stanford.edu/view/5077571 Videorecording of “Shadow Cireus: The CIA in Tibet;  Summary: “When Communist China marched into Tibet in 1949, Tibetans took up arms against the invading forces. Unknown to most, from the mid-1950s to 1969 the CIA armed, financed, and trained Tibetan guerrillas in an effort to curtail the expansion of communism. This project, code named ST Circus, was one of the CIA’s longest-running covert operations. To the dismay of Tibetan soldiers, the CIA pulled out their support when the U.S. decided that ST Circus was no longer in the best interest of America’s political and economic agenda.”

A related site is found at: http://www.ciaintibet.com/about_project.htm “CIA in Tibet  The Inside story of Tibet’s Guerrila War Against China and the Covert CIA Operation that Backed it.  See film clip

See also: Paul Salopek, “U.S. Recruited Exiles For Secret War In Tibet — Rebel Brigade Fought For CIA Against China” at: http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19970209&slug=2523109

For links between the Dalai and CIA, in addition to the NYT article cited above, see: http://www.straight.com/article/dalai-lamas-links-to-cia-still-stir-debate


About chinatripper

I am a retired academic. My leisure time activities were martial arts, bicycling, raising Koi, and bonding with our dog. I lived and worked in Greater China (China, Taiwan, Hong Kong) for more than six years. There is a full version of my academic vita on the web at: http://archive.is/EKY2 Jeffrey Barlow
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2 Responses to Oregon, Tibet, and the China Trade

  1. Pingback: The Return of anti-Chinese Racism « Chinatripper

  2. Matthew says:

    I’m in Salem, would appreciate it if you could contact me at akhalife at gmail.com about this article, I am interested in more info on this story.

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