On Friday, the London-based advocacy group Free Tibet announced a boycott of InterContinental Hotels Group, the world’s largest hotel operator and owner of the Holiday Inn, Candlewood Suites, and Crowne Plaza brands. So, if you’re planning a stay at one of these hotels, Free Tibet urges that you go elsewhere.
The chain, which refers to itself as IHG, plans to open the InterContinental Resort Lhasa Paradise, a 2,000-room complex, next year. The boycott is based on Free Tibet’s demand that IHG withdraw “from Tibet because the hotel’s presence will be a PR coup for the Chinese government and will exacerbate oppression and economic marginalization of Tibetans.”
Various activists and conservationists have also complained that in recent years the Chinese government, which rules Tibet, is undermining its culture by tearing down traditional structures and replacing them with concrete-block buildings and sites designed for tourists in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital. Beijing last July even announced a Tibetan theme park outside the city. Woeser, the Tibetan poet living in Beijing, writes that Lhasa is “on the verge of destruction.”
“This destruction is not simply a matter of aesthetics,” notes a petition concerning the relentless modernization of Lhasa signed by more than a hundred Tibet specialists. “It is depriving Tibetans and scholars of Tibet alike of a living connection to the Tibetan past.”
China’s relationship with Tibet in the past has mostly been uneasy. In 1950, Mao created the current situation by invading Tibetan lands and incorporating them as the southwestern corner of the People’s Republic.
Since then, Tibetans have periodically tried to expel the Chinese, but Beijing has only tightened its grip with policies obviously designed to eradicate Tibetan culture and to make Tibetans a minority in their own homeland. His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who accepts the general notion of Chinese rule, nonetheless uses the term “cultural genocide.” Beijing’s tactics are essentially the same as those it has employed to take the lands of the Muslim Uighurs, who live in what is now the northwestern part of China, and undermine their way of life.
Beijing continually boasts about the economic development it is bringing to Tibet, and InterContinental sounded the same theme in its response to the boycott call. Said the chain, “We take our commitments to human rights and creating local economic opportunity very seriously.”
All multinationals do these days, but close association with China’s Tibetan policies is nonetheless troubling. And InterContinental has gotten itself into the middle of a nasty, ongoing fight. “IHG’s marketing portrays Lhasa as a paradise and trades on images of an ancient Tibetan culture which in reality is being systemically destroyed by China,” said Free Tibet’s Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren. “The presence of an upscale multinational brand such as InterContinental gifts priceless PR to the Chinese regime responsible for gross human rights abuses throughout Tibet.”
Most worldwide boycotts never get off the ground, and nobody wants to confront a China that looks to be on the rise. Yet the Tibetans should be optimistic. The destruction of an ancient capital is difficult to justify and impossible to hide, and in the past the international community has rallied to punish abuses, transgressions, and injustices far less serious than Beijing’s in Tibet.