Since opening up to the world, China has become much more adept at public relations than in the old communist days, when the ultimate in propaganda was pictures of smiling peasants happily gathering improbably bounteous harvests under the benevolent guidance of Chairman Mao. But one thing the country's leaders still don't appear to have grasped is that in a free country, the surest way to publicise anything is to try to ban it. For this reason, China's efforts to export its domestic suppression of dissent often have the opposite effect to that intended. The suppression becomes the story, highlighting the very cause China wishes to keep hidden.
Hardly anyone outside Xinjiang Province had heard of Uighur rights activist Rebiya Kadeer until a few months ago. China's clumsy attempts to have a film about her withdrawn from the Melbourne Film Festival and her invitation to attend cancelled, far from keeping her campaign out of the public eye, transformed her into a world figure instead. And the Dalai Lama's prominence on the world stage owes much to China's high-profile ritual denunciations of any world leader who agrees to meet with him.
One day China's leaders will cotton on to the fact that keeping silent is often the best tactic. Until then we should thank them for helping to highlight their own country's darker areas so effectively.