And with a disgraceful click, the supposedly diverse panel closed ranks behind China, despite some attempt by the chairman to generate at least a little debate. We heard that we have been indulging in "China-bashing" lately, and now that this earthquake has happened, we should stop all this nonsense about China's human rights and/or ecological violations.
I began to wonder whether there might be some business and party-political interests to declare, for I've rarely heard such a combination of unanimity and superficial reasoning. The message seemed to be, "Stop talking about Tibet, look at this crisis instead."
That's imposing a false perspective. China's own news media currently reckon the death toll from this terrible quake to be under 29,000; but "According to various estimates, up to 1.2 million Tibetans have died due to the Chinese occupation and various political campaigns since the Dalai Lama fled his homeland in March 1959." So in cold mathematical terms, Tibet has suffered a death toll 40 times as great - and far more avoidable. Why should a recent misfortune be the pretext for ignoring a long-standing injustice?And as for rubbishing ecological concerns, there will come a time (and quite soon) when we have forgotten in which year this quake happened, but we will be dealing with the multifarious fallout of China's economic, demographic and ecological problems. For China is a distressed giant thrashing about in the small house of this world.
China's population last year was estimated at about 1.3 billion, and in the next ten years or so is expected to increase by maybe another 100 million. Over the last 60 years, life expectancy has more than doubled and infant mortality has reduced. So despite the one-child-per-family policy (not universally applied in China), the population continues to grow.
And, as time goes by, it is becoming a demographically unbalanced population. Thanks to the preference for sons, there is a disparity between male and female. Should China decide to become warlike in the conventional manner, she will have an almost limitless supply of expendable single men. (Meanwhile, Russia's population threatens to decline to such a degree that reversing the trend was "a key subject of Vladimir Putin's 2006 state of the nation address".)
Less frightening for us, but surely very worrying for the Chinese, must be the growing imbalance of numbers between young and old. Imagine a young Chinese couple who have their one child, but face supporting four elderly parents. And when that child grows up, perhaps up to 6 parents-cum-grandparents (up to 12, after marriage). And the healthcare costs!
And with a smaller proportion of girls surviving to breeding age, the demographic waist will be pinched further. Perhaps the one-child policy will eventually be abandoned.
Meanwhile, China's burgeoning populace must be fed, but how? Changes in diet and the progressive loss of arable land, and reducing yields from such land as is still fertile, have been a serious concern for a long time (see e.g. here).
Then there's the demand for water, and energy, and how to have breathable air while exploiting China's giant coal reserves and rapidly expanding heavy industry.
It's far too simple to make China into a villainess, but she faces enormous difficulties on the road away from her past abject poverty and suffering. These translate into mighty pressures that the rest of the world will feel. We must find a way to assist China in the solution of her problems - but self-censoring discussion of her external relations will not help us find realistic answers.