In the summer months, tourists and celebrities flock to the village of McLeod Ganj on a quiet ridge in India's Himalayan foothills in search of a 21st-century Shangri-la. Usually, by the end of November temperatures have dropped and the crowds thin. This year, however, the village's main square was still filled in December.
Monks, activists and exiles had been coming to the small hamlet--home to the Tibetan government-in-exile for nearly half a century--to join a Tibetan Youth Congress "chain hunger strike," which began Nov. 25.
The hunger strike is a protest against China's imprisonment of Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche, a Tibetan monk who has been on death row for the last two years.
Rinpoche and another monk, Lobsang Dhondup, were arrested in 2002 for their alleged involvement in a bomb attack in Sichuan Province, adjacent to the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Both men denied the charges but were convicted and sentenced to death.
Dhondup was executed in January 2003. Rinpoche was given a two-year reprieve. The case drew international outrage over the lack of a public trial and Dhondup's hasty execution. The controversy also highlights the discomfiting shadow that a rapidly transforming China is casting on the geopolitical landscape.
Since the crumbling of European Communism, China has hedged all bets with a softened demeanor to the imperialist West. International market forces, in return, rewarded China with an astounding boom. Still, Beijing has failed to earn the complete trust of the free world because of human rights transgressions within its borders, like the Rinpoche case.
Now that China has tasted the once forbidden fruit of global capitalism, the stakes are higher. Fifteen years after tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square, France is now pushing to lift the resulting European Union arms ban, while America, always wary of Chinese designs, particularly on Taiwan, is lobbying hard to keep the arms ban in place.
In near form-letter style, Beijing rejected a U.S. Senate resolution calling for Rinpoche's release, referring to the case as part of China's "internal affairs" and suggesting that the monks' arrests were comparable to international efforts to stamp out terrorism.…