Australia’s foreign policy, according to Foreign Minister Bob Carr in a piece published the day after Australia’s UN Security Council win, is not only about protecting our national interest, it is “about doing the right thing”. If so, we should have expected more from the most significant work on Australian foreign policy for many years.
As an advocate for human rights and democratic freedoms in Tibet, I was encouraged when the Gillard government announced its plan for a white paper on Australia in the Asian Century. Our understanding of Asia, and China in particular, was in dire need of updating. When it came to Tibet, Chinese propagandists had spent years happily filling the vacuum left by the dearth of information escaping the Great Firewall and waning government interest in the region.
During the consultation phase, several Australian NGOs provided thoughtful input on how Australia’s deepening economic relationships with Asia might also support the wellbeing of disadvantaged or marginalised groups, particularly those paying for China’s “economic miracle”.
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Of all the words there are to describe the guttural, other-worldly sound of the Gyuto monks’ chant, beautiful is not one of them. Pure, yes. Transportative and uplifting, absolutely. But it’s far from beautiful. At least, not immediately. That part comes later.
Musical experts have described the Gyuto chant as multiphonic. The sound, three octaves resonating in one note, was once thought humanly impossible, and the effect is just as complex.
At first listen it’s almost unpleasant. But keep your eyes closed and persevere, because the sensation is acute and entirely unique. You can feel your thoughts moving from your feet, up through the bridge of your nose, before spreading to the very edges of your forehead. When you finally open your eyes, you feel an incredible sense of clearing.
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While we in peaceful democratic Australia have been conducting our political battles at public meetings and settling our disputes at the ballot box, in less fortunate places politics is being conducted by other means.
In Tibet, where the Chinese authorities have launched a new crackdown, these include arrests in the night, secret trials, long prison sentences on spurious charges, and beatings and other forms of violence.
In early August He Guoqiang, a member of the Chinese Communist Party Politburo and head of its Central Commission for Discipline, visited Tibet. Apparently he was not pleased by what he found, despite the intensive repression that has taken place in Tibet since the riots in 2008 in which at least 200 people were killed. He ordered a fresh crackdown on Tibetan “separatists” and intellectuals, particularly the Buddhist monks and nuns who have been at the forefront of the protests against Chinese rule over the past few years.
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