June 5, 2013
I thank the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission for this opportunity to testify today. I would like to address the topic of this hearing in the context of the current critical situation in Tibet.
This hearing is timely as President Barack Obama is preparing to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping in California. Therefore, I would like to highlight the situation in Tibet and what the Obama Administration should do about it, including during the upcoming summit.
In his first speech after becoming the new head of the Chinese Communist Party on November 15, 2012, Xi Jinping said, “In the new situation, our Party faces many severe challenges.” In the same speech, Xi also said, “…Chinese people have opened up a good and beautiful home where all ethnic groups live in harmony and fostered an excellent culture that never fades.”
Self-immolation by Tibetans in Tibet is one of the severe challenges that the new Chinese leadership is facing. The latest one, a nomad named Tenzin Sherab, took place a few days before this hearing. They are clear indications of the depth of feelings among the Tibetan people with their current state of affairs. China’s hope that the issue will fade away — as a result of a combination of threats, suppression and increased control — is not happening.
China’s misguided policies on Tibetans are leading to continued tension developing into a crisis, contradicting any claims of “ethnic groups living in harmony.”
The self-immolations are a result of decades of Chinese misrule in Tibet. The International Campaign for Tibet has outlined these in many of its publications, including in “60 Years of Chinese Misrule/Arguing Cultural Genocide in Tibet” and “Storm in the Grasslands/Self-immolations in Tibet and Chinese Policy.” The first report reveals that Chinese policies and practices of cultural repression and destruction are so systematic and persistent in Tibet, and their effects are so serious, that they contain elements of cultural genocide. The second report shows that the Chinese government has responded to the Tibetan self-immolations by intensifying the military build-up and very policies and approaches that are the root cause of the acts.
In addition to the wounds that three generations of Tibetans have suffered under the Chinese, as Kirti Rinpoche, a prominent Tibetan religious master, puts it, Chinese authorities’ blatant racial discrimination against Tibetans in recent times have been making them feel like second class citizens. Let me cite some examples.
i) Today, while Chinese towns experience some sort of freedom, whether of movement, expression or assembly, the Tibetan areas are increasingly being turned into one big prison with heavy security crackdown.
ii) While China simplified the passport application process for the majority of Chinese people with many getting their passports within weeks, reports indicate that Tibetans are virtually being denied new passports currently. Tibetan applicants for passports are subjected to a new procedure that is not implemented for Chinese. Worse still, the authorities have in fact been confiscating the passports of the few fortunate Tibetans who have them, thus denying them their right to travel.
iii) Even as China is boasting of increased Chinese tourists visiting Tibet, Tibetans from one area cannot travel to another area without prior permission.
According to information available publicly, a Tibetan from outside the Tibet Autonomous Region needs at least four approval letters from different security-related offices to go on a pilgrimage to Lhasa. It is not just monks, but any Tibetan wanting to go from one place to another needs to seek one permit or another. Lhasa, which is the holiest town for all Tibetans, is now virtually out of bounds for Tibetans not only living outside of the Tibet Autonomous Region, but also to many Tibetans within the region. Prominent Beijing-based Tibetan blogger Tsering Woeser wrote about the irony of her needing a special permit to enter Lhasa while her three fellow travelers, who were all Chinese, were allowed entry without any question.
iv) While China is proudly heralding the amendment to the Criminal Procedure Law that talks about “respecting and protecting human rights” we are seeing a new reign of terror in the Tibetan areas where ordinary Tibetans are being threatened with guilt by association on matters relating to the self-immolations.
Therefore, the situation in Tibet is at breaking point. The United States can play a pivotal role in not allowing the situation in Tibet to deteriorating further.
At the political level, the President needs to send a clear message to the new Chinese leadership that the United States continues to remain concerned at the situation in Tibet and urges a resolution of the problem.
The United States should also convey a message to the Tibetans in Tibet that irrespective of the distance between Lhasa and Washington, D.C., the American people are closely following the happenings in Tibet and want the Chinese authorities to address their genuine grievances.
The common message of the self-immolators is for the return of the Dalai Lama and freedom for the Tibetan people. The Dalai Lama just finished a very meaningful visit to the United States in May during which he took the opportunity to reiterate his continued adherence to the Middle Way Approach that he had enunciated. He clarified that although he had retired from his political authority, as a Tibetan and as the Dalai Lama he had the moral responsibility to explain this. Elected Tibetan leader Lobsang Sangay has reiterated the Tibetan leadership’s commitment to non-violence and the Middle-Way Approach, and says, “Substance being primary and process secondary, we are ready to engage in meaningful dialogue anywhere and at anytime.”
Therefore, the new leadership of China under President Xi Jinping has the opportunity to display the face of a new and confident China by addressing the Tibetan issue positively. In order to enable such a situation, we would like to make the following recommendations.
1. President Obama should clearly reiterate to Chinese President Xi Jinping during their meeting his Administration’s position “to promote a substantive dialogue between the Chinese Government and the Dalai Lama or his representatives, and to help sustain Tibet’s unique religious, linguistic, and cultural heritage.”
2. He should call on China to heed the call of the international community, including by the United Nations, the United States and the European Union, to address the “deep underlying issues” that are leading to the self-immolations in Tibet and to stop resorting to “heavy security measures and suppression of human rights.”
3. The United States should urge the new Chinese leadership to re-evaluate the ‘stability maintenance’ approach applied in Tibet, end the military buildup and limit the dominance of the security apparatus.
4. American and other diplomats, including representatives of multilateral organizations, should seek access to Tibetan areas based on the spirit of principle of reciprocity by which Chinese diplomats and journalists enjoy unrestricted access in the United States.