Students at the University of California, San Diego are protesting an upcoming visit by the Dalai Lama – claiming the Tibetan leader is “oppressive”.
Chinese students are leading objections to the event, which will see the Dalai Lama give a commencement speech on graduation day.
They have claimed that his presence is offensive because of his campaign to make Tibet more independent – contrary to the Communist government’s position that Tibet is a region of China under their control.
Arguments over Tibetan independence have raged for decades – but this dispute is remarkable because activists are conducting it through the language of social justice.
As noted by Quartz, the Chinese student association framed their complaints as an example of cultural oppression and a problem of equality.
A statement accused university leaders of having “contravened the spirit of respect, tolerance, equality, and earnestness—the ethos upon which the university is built.”
One student posting on Facebook said: “So you guys protest against Trump because he disrespects Muslims, blacks, Hispanics, LGBT.., but invites this oppresser [sic] to make a public speech?? The hypocrisy is appalling!”
Likewise, an alumni group based in Shanghai said UCSD will be breaching its ethos of “diversity” and will leave them “extremely offended and disrespected” if the Dalai Lama’s speech dips into the political.
Chinese officials are known to be extraordinarily hostile to any groups who get close to the Dalai Lama, and do their best to punish governments who engage with the exiled Tibetan regime.
They consider the Dalai Lama a threat to stability in China, akin to a terrorist who wants to split the country.
This is despite his stated aim being increased autonomy – rather than outright independence – for Tibet, which he fled in 1959.
His insistence on peaceful protest and non-violent resistance won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. It is hard to see who he is oppressing by touring the world, giving speeches and promoting peaceful opposition to China.
Questions have been raised about whether the Chinese government is directly involved in lobbying against the address.
A statement by the Chinese Students and Scholars Association originally said it was seeking support from the Chinese Consulate General in Los Angeles, but later denied that claim.
Government officials are certainly not above getting involved in campus politics.
At the University of Durham in northern England, the Chinese Embassy in London tried to stop a Chinese-born activist and beauty queen speaking in a debate.
Anastasia Lin, a Miss World Canada winner, was asked to speak at the Durham Union Society on whether China was a “threat to the West”
But the students organizing the debate received angry calls from embassy officials, claiming that if Lin spoke it could damage UK-China relations, according to a BuzzFeed report.
The students ignored them and went ahead with the debate anyway (Lin’s side lost).
But the incident underlines that China is prepared to take advantage of a newly censorious atmosphere on campus – and its supporters are happy to use the posture of SJWs to get their way.