Living in the rubble

Few governments, international institutions or religious organisations missed the chance to condemn the Taliban militia for their wanton demolition of the massive rock-cut Buddha statues at Bamiyan in March 2001, even those, such as the United States, which had failed to deplore the devastation of the country by civil war during the previous decade. But there was one conspicuous absentee from this facile chorus of international protest. It took a long week after the defiant iconoclasts had carried out their threat before the government of the People's Republic of China (PRC) published a statement in the English-language edition of its official newspaper expressing mild regret over the incident on behalf of the Chinese Buddhist Association – hardly an organisation representative of the party or government, but one which nonetheless functions exclusively in their interest.

Taliban vandalism had put the Chinese Communist Party in an embarrassing quandary: as a permanent United Nations Security Council member and ardent aspirant to world-power status, it was loathe to remain silent over such a flagrant violation of universal values, but to speak out would have been to risk attracting the aroused indignation of the international community towards its own, incomparably more heinous record. The muted press statement was a belated compromise masking this official discomfort, which it was hoped would go unnoticed in the wider world. Not for the first time in its dealings with China, the wider world unwittingly obliged.

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Himal Southasian