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Media Coverage of the China-Tibet Talks

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Media Coverage of the China-Tibet Talks


For the past several decades, China has been trying to take over Tibet. During this
conflict, the leaders of these two nations have been communicating with each other. Overall, talks have not been very successful, for conflicts still exist. The coverage of their communications by the media has been mixed. The level of objectivity and quality of content are not consistent. For detailed and unbiased information about China-Tibet talks, long articles from focused writers are better than reports from magazines and newspapers, which cover a wide range of news.

While covering ongoing communications between China and Tibet, reporters for Newsweek in the U.S. are supposed to be as objective as possible. However, by reading the
articles and reports that Newsweek present on this topic, it appears that the work is not as objective and complete as it should be. In one issue of the publication, a lengthy report about China took up a fair amount of space. One section, by Melinda Liu, relates to talks between China and Tibet, and how the U.S. acts as an intermediary contact. At first, the article talks about President Jiang Zemin and his attempts to make good relations with Tibet. The article begins, “ When he visited the United States last year, President Jiang Zemin dismayed some of his own supporters with his clumsy handling of the Tibet issue” (Liu 39). Later on in the introduction, Liu says, “ He compared the Chinese Army’s ‘emancipation’ of the serfs to Abraham Lincoln's abolition of slavery” (39). The rest of the article continues to bring up facts that build up against Jiang. Liu goes on to say, “ As for Tibet, Jiang claims to have had ‘good relations’ with the late
Panchen Lama” (39). Note the word ‘claims’ here. The use of the word implies some sort of
doubt in Jiang’s trustworthiness. In the other half of the article, Liu mentions the Dalai Lama. But the article appears to paint him in a very positive way by stating “ that the Dalai Lama has publicly given up hope of obtaining independence for Tibet, seeking instead some form of autonomy. Visiting Paris last week, the exiled Tibetan leader said he sees ‘signs of hope’ in Beijing” (39). Here, Liu praises Tibet, while she looks down upon China. This is blatantly visible when it says: “ [The Chinese] are not convinced that the Dalai Lama has really given up on independence… the Chinese Embassy in the U.S. capital said, ‘The Dalai Lama claims that he seeks ‘autonomy.’ What he really means is the restoration of the feudal serfdom of old Tibet.’” Most of the article discussed
the Chinese side of the China-Tibet conflict, but overall, the article lacks true content. In a letter to Newsweek in response to the article, a reader complains, “ It is appalling that in a special report devoted to China, you allot only three quarters of a page to the complex and deeply disturbing conditions of Tibet. Your 11-year-old photo of resisters stoning a police station is an anomaly among the current and numerous images of Tibetans” (Snyder 17). It just looks as if this ‘three-quarters’ of a page has been hastily thrown together and a bit slanted in favor of Tibet. In similar articles, the amount of content has pretty much been the same. Short blurbs here and there consisting of a few lines provide facts about negotiations, but the bits do not dive too much
into the issue. In an effort to present a wide amount of coverage on various issues, Newsweek fails to meet the readers’ expectations by giving them information of so-so quality about China and Tibet relations.

In Pacific Affairs, a journal about issues in Asia, it allows much more space to write in
than three-quarters of a page. On average, an article lasts about 20-25 pages. This allows for a more in-depth discussion of a certain topic. In one issue of the journal, Solomon M. Karmel writes about China and Tibet relations in “ Ethnic Tension and the Struggle for Order: China’s Policies in Tibet.” Karmel starts off by saying, “ This article employs hundreds of sources in the Chinese press and a limited number of sources published abroad by social scientists and Tibetan partisans” (Karmel 485). He establishes a greater sense of objectivity with this statement. In the beginning of the article, Karmel writes:

“ In his tour of Tibet in 1980, Party secretary Hu Yaobang reportedly said, ‘We feel very
bad. We have worked for nearly 30 years, but the life of the Tibetan people has not
notably improved. Are we not to blame?’ In Hu’s eyes, the answer to his rhetorical
question was yes, and the need for radical changes in China’s Tibet policy appeared to be
obvious” (486).

Looking at this quote, the word ‘reportedly’ casts doubt on the Chinese leader, but this word is balanced when Karmel says “ In Hu’s eyes.” Instead of forcing the idea that the answer is yes, the answer is placed in the hands of the Chinese leader. Karmel goes on and talks about other leaders. He points out that there have been some good leaders who have introduced reforms and worked well with Tibetan leaders, yet he also points out their faults. This balance continues throughout the rest of the article, as seen in the
following quote: “ In an interview during martial law, Pagblha Geleg Nambyai recalled that his older brother was beaten to death at the gates of Norbulingka in 1959 by protesters attacking both Chinese and Tibetan officials….It should be emphasized, however, that most protests during this period were nonviolent” (491-492). Karmel puts the information presented into context, rather than leaving it hanging on its own, like Newsweek did with the old picture of a police station getting stoned. Since more space exists to talk about issues, they can be better explained. Once again, going back to Newsweek, the article mentions that the Dalai Lama holds high hopes for Tibet. The article in Pacific Affairs takes this one step further by actually listing out the Dalai Lama’s reasons for his hopes. In its coverage of relations between the governments
of China and Tibet, this journal provides objective pieces that are backed up with sound facts. In The Making of Modern Tibet, A. Tom Grunfeld writes about how Tibet has changed
in the last 100 years. He also takes a look at talks between China and Tibet. Grunfeld goes through the blame game that the two nations have been playing as well as the political maneuvering both sides have performed. In the book, he mentions that the Dalai Lama once said that socialism would be the best government for Tibet. Grunfeld immediately follows this fact up with, “ The Dalai Lama was probably reflecting a politically astute attitude – pretending to lean closer to Moscow in order to gain greater leverage for bargaining with Beijing in secret talks.” (Grunfeld 199). This small tidbit of analysis provides good insight into the actual haracter of the
Dalai Lama, adding on to what was just a simple statement. Without this follow up, it would not have been apparent that some sneaky politics was taking place.
When dialogues between China and Tibet took place in the late 1970’s, the book describes the way the media covered them. So many trips were conducted at the time that the
New York Times “ went so far as to predict that the Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet would not be delayed much” (213). From what we have seen, the analysis given by the New York Times had its flaws, since the China-Tibet stalemate still exists. Other media sources also supplied incorrect outlooks for the future. China was making public gestures towards the Dalai Lama, and many newspapers wrote about them extensively. However, these gestures were all a guise, so “ the Dalai Lama felt obliged to publicly renounce them…He also felt the need to write an article that appeared in the Asian Wall Street Journal, adamantly declaring that his return was not imminent.” (214). In this case, newspapers had given a good amount of content to the public, but the analyses they gave were poor. The book gives objective information about the ongoing situation in Tibet, while the media sources it examines do not. In The Spectator, a London journal, Jonathan Mirsky, a China historian, writes about China in “ Beijing rules the mountains.” The article mainly runs through the way China has handled the Tibetans. Initially, Taiwan is brought into the picture. The Chinese have been more lax with Taiwan than they have with Tibet. Relations there are better. This introduction allows readers to compare and contrast Taiwan and Tibet as they read on. Mirsky points out that China stiffens when it confronts Tibetan issues. He explains that “ Wei Jingsheng, whose views on democracy for China are world-famous, assured [him] in March that Tibet had always been part of China and that in his heart the Dalai Lama knows this, too” (Mirsky 5). A bit later he says, “ The Dalai Lama, now referred to as ‘the criminal, splittist Dalai’, must agree in advance that Tibet has always been part of China before any negotiations can begin. With Taiwan, Beijing tends not to push too hard on such a requirement” (6). Here, it is seen that China acts unkindly to Tibet, which contrasts the way it handles issues with Taiwan. However, the article views things in a one-sided way. The overall message is that China is being childish with Tibet. Mirsky reaffirms this feeling by saying, “ To put it bluntly, Beijing, which has unsurpassed patience, is waiting for the present 14th Dalai Lama, who is 63, to die. In the meantime the Chinese will stall, bluster and watch men like President Clinton flounder into statements like, ‘We hope Beijing and the Dalai Lama can enter into meaningful negotiations’” (7). The article gives us ample detail about the differences between Tibet and Taiwan. Nevertheless, it puts too much emphasis on how China plays the evil villain role while Tibet suffers, which is most notable
when Mirsky comments, “ What is happening in Tibet is one of the 20th century’s great
tragedies.”

Various news sources present facts about China and Tibet in different ways. In magazines
like Newsweek and newspapers like the New York Times, reporters have a limited amount of
space, so a thorough and accurate explanation of affairs in one of these publications would be rare. Journals and books hold very good information, for the amount of area in them allows writers to give minute details, and those writers are often experts in China and Tibet issues. With more detail given to readers, there tends to be less bias introduced since all the facts are laid out for them. Future coverage of the conflict will most likely continue in the same fashion it has been going on over the decades. Incorrect analyses will continue to occur. Nevertheless, by looking at all the reports that have been written, it appears that it will take a long time for Tibet and China to resolve their issues.


Works Cited

Grunfeld, A. Tom. The Making of Modern Tibet. London: Zed Books, 1987.

Karmel, Solomon M. “ Ethnic Tension and the Struggle for Order: China’s Policies in Tibet.”

Pacific Affairs 68 (1995): 485-508. Online. JSTOR. 21 March 2005.

Liu, Melinda. “ Talking Past Each Other.” Newsweek 29 Jun. 1998: 39.

Mirsky, Jonathan. “ Beijing rules the mountains.” The Spectator 281 (1998): 24-25. Online. ProQuest. 21 March 2005.

Snyder, Lisa. “ China Ties.” Newsweek 20 Jul. 1998: 17.

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