Havel on Obama, China & Tibet

The Wall Street Journal has an interview of former Czech president and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Vaclav Havel. In it Havel speaks about Obama’s handling of China and the Dalai Lama and the elemental mistakes he is making in his policy towards Tibet and appeasement of China. After comparing Obama’s early dealings with China to French prime minister (and Munich architect) Edouard Daladier, he talks about his own efforts to outreach to the Dalai Lama and China’s response.

Politics . . . means, every day making some compromises, and to choose between one evil and another evil, and to decide which is bigger and which is smaller. But sometimes, some of these compromises could be very dangerous because it could be the beginning of the road of making a lot of other compromises, which are results of the first one, and there are very dangerous compromises. And it’s necessary, I think, to have the feeling which compromise is possible to do and which, could be, maybe, after ten years, could be somehow very dangerous.

I will illustrate this with my own experience. Two days after I was elected president, I invited the Dalai Lama to visit. I was the first head of the state who invited him in this way, directly. And everybody was saying that it was a terribly dangerous act and issued their disapproving statements and expressions. But it was a ritual matter. Later, the Chinese deputy prime minister and the foreign minister came for a visit and brought me a pile of books about the Dalai Lama and some governmental documents about what good care they have taken of Tibet, and so on. They were propagandist, fabricated books, but he felt the need to explain something to me.

I had a press conference with this minister of foreign affairs. And he said, “It was wonderful, meeting, because we were speaking openly. Mr. Havel gave me his opinion, and I explained the opinion of our government. I gave him this book, and he thanked me for it.”

This was unbelievable! Why did they feel the need to explain their point of view to the leader of such a small nation? Because they respect it when someone is standing his ground, when someone is not afraid of them. When someone soils his pants prematurely, then they do not respect you more for it. [Emphasis added]

Havel is right to criticize Obama’s tepid behavior when it comes to China and Tibet. He and Secretary of State Clinton have both tacked towards appeasing China with regard to Tibet and human rights, while extracting no concessions in return. Rather than standing their ground — the ground of America’s respect for human rights, freedom and democracy — Obama and Clinton have shown their fear of China and negotiated with themselves. Not shockingly, China has not budged an inch. Havel is a smart enough person and accomplished enough world leader that when he says Obama has “soil[ed] his pants prematurely,” listeners should pay attention. Havel knows what he is talking about and his critique should cause thoughtful reflection within the Obama White House and at Foggy Bottom.

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