Dalai Lama-Obama meeting: are the Chinese crying wolf?Despite harsh rhetoric that President Obama’s welcoming of the Dalai Lama to the White House would harm China-U.S. relations, it appears clear that there will be little follow-through on what has become ‘routine’ fare from Chinese officials, after the White House confidently ignored Beijing’s demands that the meeting be cancelled. It has become increasingly evident that the threats meted out by Beijing to world leaders over meetings with the Dalai Lama are more bluster than bite, an assessment supported by record Chinese investment in the UK, despite the overt threat that economic repercussions would ensue after Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy PM Nick Clegg met with the Dalai Lama in 2012.
Following the Dalai Lama’s February 21 meeting with President Obama at the White House, Executive Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui, who once served as China’s Ambassador to the United States, called on U.S. diplomats in Beijing to lodge the PRC’s displeasure. The following day, a spokesperson from the Foreign Ministry reiterated the complaints, stating that the Dalai Lama was “essentially pursuing ‘independence in disguise.’”
A directive from China’s State Council Information Office informed news outlets that “only Xinhua and national media copy may be used regarding U.S. President Obama meeting the Dalai Lama. Do not hype the issue.”
In one derisively worded article, Lian Xiangmin, a director at the China Tibetology Research Center, located in Beijing, boasted that “What the Dalai Lama and his clique are doing lacks the support of all ethnic groups in China, including Tibetans.”
ICT’s Vice President Bhuchung Tsering dissected another such article which questioned the Dalai Lama’s ‘Middle Way’ approach. Overall, as ICT’s President, Matteo Mecacci, noted in an conversation on the visit hosted by the online magazine, ChinaFile, “this meeting shows to the Chinese that the United States does not accept the propaganda coming from Beijing regarding its ‘liberating’ Tibet from the oppression of the Dalai Lama and its clique.”
Sarah Sewall assumes new role as U.S. Tibet Coordinator
On the same day as the Dalai Lama was welcomed into the White House, the State Department announced that Sarah Sewall, a Harvard and Oxford-trained academic and foreign policy adviser, will serve as the next Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, after her concurrent role as the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights at the State Department was confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
The appointment quickly received a routine condemnation by Beijing, with a spokesperson from the Foreign Ministry telling reporters at a daily press briefing that, “We have never recognized and will not recognize in the future the so-called special coordinator for Tibetan issues appointed by the United States.”
The Tibet Coordinator position was created by Congress as part of the 2002 Tibet Policy Act, represents the United States’ strong commitment to a negotiated resolution on Tibet that preserves the distinct religious, cultural and linguistic heritage of the Tibetan people.
State Department report details widespread human rights abuses in Tibet
On Thursday (February 27), the U.S. State Department released its annual Human Rights Report, which contains a section devoted to Tibet. The findings in this year’s report include an atmosphere of “severe” repression in Tibetan areas, where information and access are “strictly controlled.” The report highlights the latest revelations of collective punishments targeted at the family and friends of self-immolators.
The State Department report comes less than a week after President Obama “reiterated his strong support for… the protection of human rights for Tibetans.” The report’s findings concerning the authorities’ continued use of torture has most recently been illustrated by news of the release of Goshul Lobsang, a Tibetan political prisoner who was detained in May, 2010, and tortured until “he could not even swallow his food.” According to Goshul Lobsang’s brother, who resides in exile and spoke with Radio Free Asia’s Tibetan Service, Goshul Lobsang was only released after “authorities began to feel he might not survive.”