Tibet problem stumbling block to US-China relations, says Undersecretary Dobriansky

Paula Dobriansky

Undersecretary Paula Dobriansky

Dobriansky, the United States Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, says the lack of resolution on the Tibet issue will be a stumbling block to fuller political and economic engagement by China with the United States and others.

Addressing the House International Relations Committee on Tibet on March 7, Dobriansky said China needs to engage the Dalai Lama in the interest of both the Tibetan and Chinese people.

Dobriansky said that even in high level discussions with Chinese leaders, she pushes for the continued release of Tibetan political prisoners and that “we use every opportunity” to bring these issues up with Chinese leaders. When asked about the Tibetan Policy Act, she said “we endorse and embrace the thrust of the Act.”

Full text of Dobriansky’s statement is given below.

Statement of Under Secretary Paula J. Dobriansky, Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues
House International Relations Committee
“U.S. Policy Considerations in Tibet”

March 7, 2002

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, I am delighted to appear before you today to testify on U.S. policy considerations in Tibet. I truly appreciate the interest and support Members of this Committee have provided on this issue. I would also like to thank the Dalai Lama’s Special Envoy, Lodi Gyari, the International Campaign for Tibet, the myriad of experts, including Richard Gere who is with us today, and non-governmental organizations that have met with me over the past year.

I was appointed 10 months ago to serve as Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues concurrently with my portfolio as Under Secretary for Global Affairs. The U.S. Government’s policy goals are two-fold: first to promote a substantive dialogue between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama or his representatives, and second, to help sustain Tibet’s unique religious, linguistic, and cultural heritage.

Mr. Chairman, as you and your colleagues know, disputes over Tibet’s relations with the Chinese government have a long, complex history, dating back centuries. Rather than focus my testimony on the distant past, I would like to describe the current circumstances in Tibet, highlighting key developments over the past year and the areas on which I have focused since my appointment.

Current Situation in Tibet

The situation on the ground in Tibet remains grave. The State Department’s annual Human Rights Report for 2001, in the section on China, clearly states that tight controls on religion and other fundamental freedoms remain serious problems. The report describes in detail widespread human rights and religious freedom abuses, including instances of arbitrary arrests, detention without public trial, torture in prison, and official controls over Tibetan monasteries and institutions on monks and nuns.

Tibet remains China’s poorest region even though China has devoted substantial economic resources to Tibet over the past 20 years. Language problems severely limit educational opportunities for Tibetan students, illiteracy rates are said to be rising, and non-urban children in some regions are chronically undernourished. Some reports suggest that privatization of health care, increased emphasis on Chinese language curriculum, and continuing Han migration into Tibet are all weakening the social and economic position of Tibet’s indigenous population.

Key developments

In October 2001, we resumed our bilateral human rights dialogue with the Chinese. We made clear from the outset that our expectation was that these talks are to be substantive and results oriented. We also reiterated that the terrorist attacks of September 11 serve as a powerful reminder that the futures of responsible nations of the world are intertwined and that we must work together to ensure peace and stability for all.

We used this human rights forum to raise individual cases of concern. Most notable is the issue of the welfare and whereabouts of Gendhun Choekyi Nyima, the boy recognized by the Dalai Lama as the Panchen Lama, and his parents, who have been held incommunicado now for 7 years. The Chinese maintain that he is a “normal schoolboy” living in China. Despite our urgings to the Chinese to allow the boy and his family to receive international visitors, they refuse to allow direct confirmation of his well-being. It is hard to understand why, if the boy is thriving as they have indicated in the past, it would be difficult to arrange a brief visit to confirm his status. Indeed, concern about the boy grows each day that his fate remains uncertain. Verbal assurances are not sufficient to allay international concerns. Agreement to such a visit would send a very positive signal to the world about China’s intentions with regard to religious freedom.

In January, as a humanitarian gesture, the Chinese Government did release Ngawang Choephel, the Tibetan ethnomusicologist and former Middlebury College Fulbright Scholar who was incarcerated in 1995 on charges of espionage. We were pleased with this development; along with many Members of Congress, the Administration had pushed hard for such a step. Still, we made it very clear to the Chinese that occasional and individual releases of political prisoners are simply not enough. It is more important than ever that we work together to narrow differences on issues such as human rights so that obstacles that have slowed the pace of the development of our bilateral relationship can be moved aside. As Secretary Powell stated before this very Committee just a month ago, “a candid, constructive, and cooperative relationship is what we are building with China — candid where we disagree, constructive where we can see some daylight, and cooperative where we have common regional or global interests.”

My Role

Last May, the President, Secretary Powell, and I got to hear firsthand about the situation in Tibet from the Dalai Lama. Our conversations with him left me convinced of the Dalai Lama’s interest in pursuing dialogue with China’s leaders. He also remains firmly committed to seeking “genuine autonomy” for Tibet within the framework of the People’s Republic of China.

Last summer, Secretary Powell went to Beijing to set the groundwork for President Bush’s scheduled visit to China in October. Shortly thereafter, Foreign Minister Tang traveled to Washington to follow up on the Secretary’s initiatives. During the Foreign Minister’s visit, I was included in bilateral discussions which afforded an opportunity to raise concerns about Tibet directly with one of China’s most influential leaders. The President went to Shanghai in October and had his first summit meeting with President Jiang. The two leaders had a full agenda that encompassed joint cooperation against terrorism and other security concerns, bilateral economic and defense ties, religious freedom, human rights, and Tibet.

The last time the leaders of our two countries got together in China, President Jiang left then-President Clinton with the impression that progress on the Tibet issue was imminent. The Chinese leader publicly expressed a readiness, albeit with pre-conditions, to meet with the Dalai Lama. Unfortunately, he soon retreated from his statement, and instead of the beginning of substantive and direct dialogue, the 1998 Clinton-Jiang Summit seemingly marked the end of communication between the two sides.

I accompanied President Bush on his trips to Shanghai and Beijing. On both visits, the President urged the Chinese leadership to negotiate directly with His Holiness or his representatives, noting that the Dalai Lama’s call for genuine autonomy was sincere.

In December, I traveled to Norway to meet with the Dalai Lama and to get his perspective. Later this month, I plan to meet with EU counterparts to solicit their views on the situation in Tibet and best means to foster dialogue.

Conclusion

Widespread knowledge of China’s poor human rights record in Tibet harms its international reputation and credibility. Tibet, in other words, is a difficult issue for China internationally, and a problem for U.S.-China relations. As Beijing approaches its 2002 Communist Party Congress, it is my impression that China’s leaders see the Tibet issue as a complex political task with considerable domestic political risks. Fears of loss of central control in Tibet, the Far West, or even in coastal China, are deep-seated. China’s leadership has drawn lessons from the break-up of the Soviet Union.

Examples worldwide of domestic instability based on ethnic strife demonstrate that mutual collaboration, reasonable compromise and protection of ethnic, cultural and religious rights are the best course of action for protecting national sovereignty and stability over the long-term. Indeed, the lessons of the recent past, properly construed, make the case for why Beijing should engage the Dalai Lama on the future of Tibet.

The Dalai Lama can be an asset to the difficult challenge of regional and national stability. He indisputably represents the opinion of most Tibetans, and his moral authority transcends Tibetan interests. If the Chinese government fails to engage with the Dalai Lama who vigorously seeks dialogue and a mutual solution, Tibetan resistance could intensify and the potential for political upheaval could grow.

Resolving the situation in Tibet would be a win for both the Chinese Government and the Tibetan people. China stands to gain on a number of fronts. First, finding a resolution to the Tibet problem would add stability in China and provide more opportunities for cooperative economic growth. Second, the international spotlight on this issue will dim, thus removing a major impediment for engagement with China. Third, China will show itself to be serious about adhering to international standards on human rights and being a respected player in the international community. Tibetans stand to gain, what is most important to them — the preservation of their culture, linguistic and ethnic heritage.

Conversely, much will be lost if this situation is not resolved. As President stated at Qinghua University in Beijing, “In a free society, diversity is not disorder. Debate is not strife. And dissent is not revolution. A free society trusts its citizens to seek greatness in themselves and their country.” Open dialogue among all citizens and a fundamental protection of basic rights under the rule of law are key ingredients for internal stability ?C a goal that both the Chinese and Tibetans seek. The lack of resolution on this issue will be a stumbling block to fuller political and economic engagement with the United States and others.

Three days from now, the Dalai Lama will commemorate his forty-third year of living in exile. The Dalai Lama has shown enormous courage in articulating his position on autonomy for Tibet within the People’s Republic of China. Should the Chinese reach an agreement with the Dalai Lama, they will open to the next generation a road to peace, advancing both Chinese and Tibetan interests. We look for the Chinese to begin the journey down this road.

In closing, I would like to thank you for this opportunity to testify today. I look forward to working with you now and in the future on this extremely important issue.

 

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