Tibet, Taiwan, China, and Suzerainty

Beijing has been lecturing Western governments on their support for exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama. US President Bush, while on one hand condemning Congress for its efforts to state that Ottoman Turks were responsible for the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians at the start of the 20th century, at the same time gave Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, the medal of freedom in a White House ceremony. The American ambassador to China got hauled on the carpet by Chinese leaders. Less than a month later the Canadian ambassador got the same Red carpet treatment for allowing the Dalai Lama to speak and be feted in Toronto.

Now some argue that the twentieth century after the two World Wars, saw the redress of the colonial excesses of the West with return to independence of India, Indonesia, dozens of African and Carribean nations including the termination of Apartheid in Africa. But the 20th Century saw some last ditch land grabbing as well – Israelis with 1/3 of the population of Palestine getting 2/3 of Palestine’s land in the original 1948 proposed UN settlement of land claims and in 1959 under Mao, China deposed the Dalai Lama and rejected any hints of Tibet’s independence. Since then, China has been “supporting” Tibet by sending native Chinese into Tibet to help develop the country, such that Chinese speakers now out number the Tibetan population whose native language and culture is being endangered by Sino-ization.

Why This Is Important

This is important because of Suzerainty. Here is its definition:

  1. A nation that controls another nation in international affairs but allows it domestic sovereignty.
  2. A feudal lordship to whom fealty is due.
  3. A situation in which a state exercises a degree of dominion over a weaker state especially in its foreign affairs.

This is how the Western colonial powers reconciled some of the conflict of sovereign claims during the 18th and 19th centuries among the the weak but large sovereign states in Asia, the Mid East, and Africa. Allow the comparatively weak existing states to do unto smaller others as was being done unto them by the militarily more proficient colonial powers. Now this is important because of the Chinese world view of “all under heaven” – the Chinese word for “world” . This word has a particular meaning in China:
In classical Chinese political thought, the Emperor of China would nominally be the ruler All under heaven, that is, the entire world. Although in practice there would be areas of the known world which were not under the control of the Emperor, in Chinese political theory the political rulers of those areas derived their power from the Emperor.
This world view has marked the Chinese treatment as a Suzerainty of the ethnically, linguistically and culturally distinct Tibet. Ditto for Taiwan, except the Chinese incursion occurred after the Dutch had colonized the island in the mid 17th century. Hence, the Chinese, having regained HongKong and Macao from the “colonizing” Western powers, are mindful of how weak their claims to Tibet and Taiwan stand against the same historical and political backdrop. Hence the vehemence of the Chinese reactions to the West supporting any notions of independence in these two Suzerains.