New US report says Tibetans lack autonomy under Chinese rule

A new report by a Congressionally-mandated organization has said that Tibetans lack autonomy and that repression of Tibetans continue under Chinese rule. The Congressional-Executive Commission on China has, in its 2003 Annual Report, released on October 2, 2003, said the atmosphere for Tibetan religion and culture is not improving.

The report spotlights inadequate protection of worker rights, repression of religious freedom, intolerance of political dissent, strict controls on media freedoms and the Internet, and a lack of autonomy for Tibetans as primary areas of concern to the United States.

“This document takes a hard look at current human rights conditions in China.” said Rep. James A. Leach, (R-IA), the Commission’s Chairman. “Chinese government behavior violates China’s own laws and falls short of international standards,” he said, adding, however, that “recent legal reforms in China may result over time in an improved human rights record.”

“This is an honest report,” said Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), the Commission’s Co-Chairman. “China’s new leadership must seize this moment to lead China into a future that includes human rights for all its citizens. China’s future development will impact all of Asia, and the world. Respect for human rights must be part of that future,” Hagel said.

Congress created the Congressional-Executive Commission on China in 2000 to monitor human rights and the development of the rule of law in China. The Commission is made up of nine Senators, nine House members and five senior Administration officials appointed by President Bush.

In the report, the Commission says, “Intolerance of free religious expression continues in China. Scores of Christian, Muslim, Tibetan Buddhist worshippers were arrested or detained in 2003.”

The report said, “In Tibetan areas, official controls continue to limit the practice of Tibetan Buddhism. Tibetan lamas are perceived by government authorities to wield significant influence in Tibetan communities and can become targets of government crackdowns. Despite the central role of the Dalai Lama in Tibetan Buddhism, Tibetans caught with the images of him or copies of his religious teachings may face abusive treatment, including arrest.”

The report refers to the re-establishment of contact between the Dalai Lama’s Envoys and the Chinese leadership as being positive and that they have the potential to lead eventually to positive developments of long-term significance. It said, “The Chinese government opened a preliminary dialogue with envoys of the Dalai Lama during late 2002 and 2003. The Dalai Lama’s unique stature helps position him to help ensure the survival and development of Tibetan culture, while contributing to China’s stability and prosperity. Although the envoys’ visits are a positive step, repression of ethnic Tibetans continues and the environment for Tibetan culture and religion is not improving.”

In its recommendations on Tibet, the report said,

“U.S. Government programs focused on Tibetans in China have done much to improve conditions, but need additional resources. The Congress should increase funding for U.S. Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) to develop programs that improve the health, education and economic conditions of ethnic Tibetans living in Tibetan areas of China, and create direct sustainable benefits for Tibetans without encouraging an influx of non-Tibetans into these areas.”

Given below is the text of the Tibet reference in the Commission’s report. The full report can be accessed at the Commission’s website.

Religious Freedom for Tibetan Buddhists

In Tibetan areas, numerous official controls continue to limit the practice of Tibetan Buddhism. Authorities often characterize the religion as backward and its practice as a burden on society. Chinese authorities argue that the Dalai Lama is a hostile political figure, not a legitimate religious leader, and that programs counteracting

veneration of him do not violate religious freedom. Chinese authorities attempt systematically to repress Tibetan devotion to the Dalai Lama, with little success. Police confiscate printed, audio, and video material featuring the Dalai Lama’s religious teachings and speeches, and those possessing such material sometimes face abusive treatment, including beating and detention.

Political education sessions require that monks and nuns denounce the Dalai Lama and Gedun Choekyi Nyima, the boy recognized by the Dalai Lama in 1995 as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, Tibet’s second-ranking spiritual leader. Chinese authorities took the boy, then age six, and his parents into custody in 1995 and installed another boy, Gyaltsen Norbu, as the reincarnated Panchen Lama several months later. Gedun Choekyi Nyima and his parents have been held incommunicado since that time. Chinese authorities report that the boy is living a “normal’ life, but Chinese authorities have refused requests to allow independent observers to verify this claim. The U.S. government has repeatedly urged China to end restrictions on Gedun Choekyi Nyima and his family, and to allow international representatives to visit them. Meanwhile, Gyaltsen Norbu’s appointment continues to stir widespread resentment among Tibetans. His visits to important religious sites such as Tashilhunpo Monastery in the Tibet Autonomous Region, the historic seat of the Panchen Lamas, and Kumbum Monastery in Qinghai Province, are infrequent, brief, and conducted under tight security.

Authorities have intensified a crackdown on religious activity and association in Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province. A Commission topic paper released in February 2003 discussed the case of Tenzin Deleg, a Buddhist teacher who was sentenced to death with a 2-year suspension for conspiracy in a series of explosions in Chengdu that resulted in one death. He has consistently denied involvement, and Chinese authorities have not made public any evidence linking him to the blasts. Tibetan reports reaching the West say he was singled out for persecution because of his stature in the local community and his devotion to the Dalai Lama. Lobsang Dondrub was executed in January for his alleged involvement in the explosions. In February 2002, a prayer ceremony in a residential courtyard in Kardze County for the long life of the Dalai Lama resulted in a wave of detentions, with at least seven sentenced to administrative detention. In addition, Sonam Phuntsog, another influential Buddhist teacher, was arrested in 1999 and sentenced to 5 years in prison for allegedly advocating separatism. No details about evidence or charges against him have been made public by Chinese authorities.

VII. TIBET

Findings

The Dalai Lama’s representatives visited China in September 2002 and again in May of this year. The Dalai Lama and his representatives have described the meetings positively and expressed their commitment to continue the process. The visits have the potential to lead eventually to positive developments of long-term significance.

  • The Dalai Lama is seeking bona fide autonomy for ethnic Tibetan areas of China, as guaranteed by the Chinese Constitution. The Chinese government’s priorities are national unity, stability, and prosperity. Chinese and Tibetans would both benefit from an agreement about Tibet’s future. As the most respected and influential Tibetan anywhere, the Dalai Lama is uniquely positioned to help ensure the survival and development of Tibetan culture, while contributing to the stability and prosperity of China.
  • The overall environment for Tibetan culture (including language and religion) and human rights (including the freedoms of religion, speech, and association) is not improving. The Tibetan language and religion are in particular jeopardy.
  • The growth in the Han population of Tibetan areas is substantial. Many Tibetans believe this influx is the most serious challenge facing Tibetan culture.
  • The majority of Tibetans, who live in rural areas, benefit little from central government investment in the Tibetan economy.

Most of this investment supports large-scale construction and government-run enterprises in which Han control is predominant.

The Dalai Lama seeks to protect and strengthen Tibetan culture, not to gain independence for Tibet. Where he seeks to realize genuine local autonomy and a degree of consolidation in the administration of Tibetan territory, China’s government and Communist Party have instead applied a substantial degree of division, and consistently stressed national integration over local autonomy. Chinese leaders have characterized the Dalai Lama’s approach as “independence in disguise” and contend that the Law on Regional National Autonomy protects Tibetan culture. The law inverts the commonly understood concept of autonomy, stating, ‘The organs of self-government of national autonomous areas shall place the interests of the state as a whole above anything else and make positive efforts to fulfil the tasks assigned by state organs at higher levels.”

The Chinese government has divided ethnic Tibetan geographic areas into 13 administrative divisions. All are contiguous, and all are entitled to practice local self-government. Tibetans living throughout these areas have long shared a common culture, religion, written language, and ethnic identity. The Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) makes up about half of the total Tibetan area and is ranked at the provincial level. Its boundaries approximate the extent of administration exercised by the Tibetan government in Lhasa when the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949. The rest of the Chinese-designated Tibetan autonomous areas are found today in Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan Provinces. Until 1949 they formed a complex and decentralized administrative mosaic.

Many Tibetans regard oversight by a single Tibetan capital as central to their concept of “Tibet.” However, no Tibetan capital has administered the entirety of what is designated by China today as “Tibetan” since the Tibetan empire collapsed in the 9th century. The Tibetan government-in-exile endorses the Dalai Lama’s quest for genuine autonomy under Chinese sovereignty. At the same time, it asserts that Tibet is an “occupied country” and that ‘The Tibetan people, both in and outside Tibet, look to the [Tibetan government-in-exile] as their sole and legitimate government.

The United States government recognizes the TAR and Tibetan autonomous prefectures and counties in other provinces to be part of the People’s Republic of China. The territories described above are equally Tibetan under China’s Constitution and laws, and are entitled to similar rights under the rubric of regional national autonomy. Ninety percent of the territory that the Tibetan government-in-exile claims as ‘Tibet” has been officially mapped by China as areas of Tibetan autonomy. Nearly 94 percent of Tibetans in China are residents of those autonomous Tibetan areas.

Dialogue between China and the Dalai Lama’s Representatives

Two representatives of the Dalai Lama, Special Envoy Lodi Gyari, based in Washington, and Envoy Kelsang Gyaltsen, based in Europe, visited China twice during 2002 and 2003. The delegations were the first to travel to China in nearly 20 years. The envoys visited Beijing, Shanghai, several Chinese provinces, the TAR, and an autonomous Tibetan prefecture in Yunnan Province. They held discussions with central government and provincial-level officials, including top leaders of the United Front Work Department (UFWD)and senior Tibetan officials in the TAR. The Special Envoy has characterized these developments in terms of cautious optimism and emphasized the importance of international support. Upon his return from the first visit, Lodi Gyari stated, ‘We have made every effort to create the basis for opening a new chapter in our relationship. We are fully aware that this task cannot be completed during a single visit. It will also need continued persistent effort and support from many sides.’ After the second visit, he summed up the challenge, saying, ‘Both sides agreed that our past relationship had many twists and turns and that many areas of disagreement still exist. The need was felt for more efforts to overcome the existing problems and bring about mutual understanding and trust.”

Tibetan Culture and Human Rights

China imposed no major new campaigns across Tibetan areas during the past year, but economic development, the education system, and existing initiatives encouraging Han population migration continue to pressure Tibetans. Friction remains between Tibetan aspirations to maintain their distinctive culture and religion and Chinese policies favoring atheism and emphasizing the primacy of national identity. Human rights Tibetans face systematic restrictions of their basic human rights, including the freedoms of speech, press, association, and religion. The state represses peaceful expression that it considers ‘splittist,’ or which is deemed ‘detrimental to the security, honor and interests of the motherland.” The Dalai Lama enjoys unrivaled respect as a cultural and religious leader, but even innocuous expressions of support for him can result in punishment. According to a March 2003 report by the Tibet Information Network, approximately 150 Tibetan political prisoners were serving sentences or awaiting disposition of their cases. Seventy-five percent are monks and nuns. About 60 political prisoners, most serving sentences for the now-defunct crime of counterrevolution, remain in TAR Prison No. 1, also known as Drapchi, in Lhasa.

In December 2002, a court in Sichuan Province sentenced two Tibetans to death after a closed trial. Lobsang Dondrub (Chinese: Luorang Dengzhu) was charged with causing a series of explosions; Tenzin Deleg (Chinese: A’an Zhaxi), a Buddhist lama, was accused of conspiracy. A few weeks later, Chinese authorities executed Lobsang Dondrub despite pledges to senior U.S. government officials that the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) would undertake a “lengthy’ judicial review of the sentence. A Commission staff paper published in February 2003 outlined the case and highlighted systemic failures in the criminal law and in the legal process for review and approval of death sentences. Tenzin Deleg appealed his conviction and sentence but may face retrial by the same court that rejected his appeal and sent Lobsang Dondrub to the executioner.

A new hearing before the SPC would provide the best opportunity for a full, fair, and just reconsideration of the sentence. In March 2003 Chinese officials allowed the nun Ngawang Sangdrol to travel to the United States to seek medical care, a welcome development which followed her early release from Drapchi Prison in October 2002. Imprisoned in 1992 at age 14 for peacefully demonstrating, the authorities extended her sentence three times for further political protests inside the prison to a total of 21 years, 6 months. After arriving in the United States, she discussed her experiences with Commission staff. The descriptions of her actions that police and court officials detailed during interrogation and sentencing sessions were, she said, ‘accurate.” She never denied carrying out acts of protest or dissent, nor did she recant her beliefs while imprisoned, but even when beaten, tortured, or put into solitary confinement for prolonged periods, she refused to accept that she had committed any “crime.’ Her views are typical of Tibetan political prisoners, she said.

Many Tibetans find Chinese requirements for obtaining permission to travel legally to Nepal inordinately burdensome and their prospects for approval poor. Tibetans attempting to cross the Chinese-Nepalese frontier without documentation have long faced danger and abuse on both sides of the border. In May 2003, the Chinese government pressured Nepalese officials in Kathmandu to hand over 18 Tibetans who had entered Nepal the previous month to Chinese diplomats to be forcibly repatriated. The U.S. State Department swiftly condemned the action, which Nepalese authorities carded out without the status determination required by international law. In August the Nepalese government articulated a policy toward Tibetan asylum seekers that assures “Nepal will not forcibly return any asylum seekers from its Soil.”

Ethnicity and economic development

Tibetans living in Tibetan areas, when speaking privately, cite the changing population influx in Tibetan areas as their principal concern. They believe that nothing threatens Tibetan culture more directly than marginalization and minority status in their own territory. Government authorities deny that there is a substantial influx of Han and other ethnic groups. Referring to the 94 percent Tibetan majority reported in the TAR by the 2000 census, Ragdi, then Chairman of the TAR People’s Congress, said, “[S]ome people say that with immigration, the Tibetan population is greatly reduced and Tibetan culture will be extinguished. There is absolutely no basis for such talk. In contrast, another senior official acknowledged the magnitude of undocumented changes, saying last year that migrant Han already made up half of Lhasa’s population and their number would continue to rise.

Assessing official population data is difficult because China’s census methods hinder meaningful analysis. Data reflect only registered permanent residents, who census officials tabulate as if they were present in their places of registered residence, irrespective of where they in fact live or work. The majority of Chinese in Tibetan areas have not registered as permanent residents and are not enumerated in local census statistics. For example, comparing 1990 and 2000 census data shows a mere 2 percent increase in the Han proportion of the TAR population. Remarkably, official census statistics show that Han population in Qinghai remained virtually flat from 1990 to 2000 while other ethnic groups increased their numbers. The official result is a 4 percent decrease in the Han proportion of Qinghai’s population. Tibetans speaking privately continue to express concern about the completion of the Qinghai-Lhasa railway, which stayed on schedule in 2003 for completion in 2007, believing the rail link will accelerate the transformation of the TAR population. Construction of the railroad is providing its own boost to Han immigration — last December Vice- Minister of Railways Sun Yongfu told a news conference that only 700 of the then-current 25,000 project employees were Tibetan.

Chinese officials point to years of surging economic growth in Tibetan areas, but unofficial reports show that most Tibetan incomes, while rising, are trailing regional economic indicators. Legchog, head of the TAR government, said in January that the TAR GDP had averaged 10.9 percent annual growth for the past 5 years. Observers say that the engine of growth is central government funding of large-scale infrastructure construction projects and of the service sector, which is dominated by government-run work- places, and not local production. Unofficial reports show that the gap between urban and rural incomes has doubled in the past decade, leaving the majority of Tibetans increasingly disadvantaged.

The Great Western Development policy (Xibu da kaifa), the ambitious development program announced by President Jiang Zemin in 1999, will present far-reaching challenges to Tibetans. An article in a prominent Party journal featured a senior official declaring, “Development is the last word.” He recognized the social risks, however, and warned, “We should correctly handle the relations between reform, development, and stability. The paper outlined a vision for a reconfigured demographic landscape, calling for herders and farmers to be resettled in compact, urbanized communities.

Education and culture

If Tibetans are to adapt successfully to their new environment, then they must have access to significantly improved educational resources. If their culture is to survive, then the Tibetan language must play an important role in their education. Education in the TAR trails every other province. Official data report that nearly half the population (46 percent) has “no schooling.” Barely more than 1 percent has attended junior college or above. Educational prospects for ‘Tibetans in rural and urban communities differ sharply. Farmers and herders in the TAR attend primary school at a rate similar to city dwellers, but urbanites are 25 times more likely to reach junior college or higher. Some experts have observed that rural schools are often poorly funded, leading to shortages of staff and supplies. Fees linked to schooling can discourage or prevent parents from sending children to class.

In May 2002 the TAR People’s Congress enacted regulations encouraging use of the Tibetan language. The rules also stress the equal status Chinese language shall have with Tibetan, and allow for one or both to be used in most official work. Professor Nicolas Tournadre of the University of Paris informed a Commission roundtable that, while well-intentioned, “It is likely that the present regulation concerning [use of the] Tibetan [language] will have no significant impact and that only a far-reaching reform introducing a real Tibetan-Chinese bilingualism will be capable of changing the ecolinguistic situation. At the same event, Professor David Germano of the University of Virginia summarized a strategy for supporting Tibetan language:

What is important is not simply an exchange where Tibetans are taken out of Tibet and brought to the United States, but investment in Tibet, working with dedicated professionals in the institutions which survive our departure and presence . . . I think these emerging partnerships, if adequately supported, offer another vision of a better tomorrow, not one in which Tibetan triumphs over Chinese, but one in which Tibetan and Chinese can co-exist.

Economic development during the period of “opening up to the outside world” has produced impressive results in certain respects, but the predicament of the Tibetan people continues to be a matter of concern to the President and the Congress. China’s Constitution and laws could provide an obvious and direct avenue toward improved circumstances for Tibetans — but only if Party and state privilege does not eclipse the authority of local autonomous governments and the rights of individual citizens.

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