China Feels the Heat by Melinda Liu
[...] Before Tibet erupted, Beijing was doing a comparatively smooth job of handling international criticism. The primary issue for Olympic protests was China's refusal to lean harder on its friends in Khartoum for an end to Sudan's government-backed ethnic cleansing in Darfur. When Steven Spielberg quit as a creative adviser to the Games in February over the Darfur issue, Beijing handled the decision with relative equanimity. As recently as March 7 the government made its special envoy to Darfur available for a meeting with Olympic sponsors.
[...] But the question of Tibet, or indeed any of China's restive minority regions, touches upon Beijing's worst fears of national dissolution. At a March 2 concert in Shanghai, Icelandic singer Björk startled her audience by ending her last song, "Declare Independence," with shouts of "Tibet! Tibet!" After that incident, Chinese apparatchiks "started freaking out," says one Beijing-based diplomat, who was not cleared to speak on the record. All sorts of creative projects involving foreigners suddenly had to be approved by China's cabinet.
[...] China's reaction to the unrest has also tapped into an ugly strain of racism. To many Han Chinese, who have seen their prospects improve immeasurably over the past 30 years, disgruntled minorities like the Tibetans seem like backward malcontents. A Tibetan woman who sells traditional earrings and trinkets in a Beijing subway station says no one buys her jewelry any longer because no Han "wants to be mistaken for a Tibetan ... No one wants to be seen [even] speaking with Tibetans." She says Chinese commuters have cursed her every day since the protests turned bloody. She and her friends didn't dare venture outdoors for several days after March 14. "We heard [Chinese] were throwing stones and beer bottles at our women and trying to beat our children," says the vendor, who requested anonymity because she lives in Beijing illegally.
There are signs that at least some Chinese officials recognize that the regime is painting itself into a corner with its behavior. Domestic media have begun to devote more emphasis to the message that both Tibetans and Chinese suffered from the Lhasa riots, instead of focusing exclusively on Han Chinese victims. Minders who brought a group of foreign diplomats to Lhasa at the end of March emphasized the same theme. "China ... should spend less time demonizing their political enemies and more time telling positive stories about how they're going to address problems in the country, how they're going to help the victims of the rioting in Tibet regardless of their ethnicity," says the Beijing-based PR consultant. "The price of globalization ... [is] finding a way to balance internal and external audiences." If China wants to show it's ready to graduate, that's a lesson the regime needs to learn, fast. -- © Newsweek