I am among the greatest admirers of the Chinese people and of the Chinese nation; it is a matter to be celebrated that the Olympic sports are to be displayed in Peking over the next few days.
There are those who call China an inscrutable nation. It is an ancient civilisation and the present hierarchy can be viewed as little different from the other dynasties that have ruled it over many centuries. I would wish China to be democratic and liberal; but I cannot concur with those who state that democracy is necessary for free trade and industrial development.
It is also a nation racked by frequent natural catastrophes and even as I write I learn of another earthquake in its devastated central provinces.
Does this mean we should, like Lord Nelson, turn a blinded eye to developments in the western part of this nation? By no means!
The Chinese have usually sought a unified and harmonised state; and I believe their experience a century ago, when the country disintegrated, has reinforced this view. Such a philosophy poses special dangers however when rulers seek to integrate ethnicities and religions that are not in accord with their own. I believe that danger applies in particular to the nation of Tibet and the province of Xinjiang, which is at this moment causing alarm to the Chinese authorities. Xinjiang lies in the heart of the vast continent of Asia. The expanse of this region cannot be imagined; I have heard a reporter today describe this single province as being the size of Europe. These people I understand are Muslims, that is they are not adherents to a religion such as Buddhism which will encourage its followers to submit to an invader.
Without liberty and democracy it is inevitable, if regrettable, that they take to arms to advance their cause. The authorities call these fighters "terrorists" and I hear this word echoed by British government reporters. Perhaps they are freedom fighters. Perhaps they are misguided and should bide their time. It is a distant territory of which we know little and yet we should recognise the yearnings of all peoples at all times to be free.
I repeat that the correct approach to China is not and never was to condemn, to make an enemy of this great nation and its great history of civilisation. The level of enterprise within the Chinese people, their ability to make the utmost of those freedoms granted to them is to be admired.
The leaders of western nations should give this eastern Behemoth full respect. But diplomacy and trade may achieve better results than the bluster of a gunboat. Indeed we should continue to urge the advantages of democracy, of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.
In the meantime let us celebrate the convergence of nations in the ancient and peaceful contest of the Olympics. Oh that all nations should declare peace for this brief period - as was the custom in ancient times.
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