US Congressional Representatives speak out in support of Tibet: ‘It deserves our unanimous support’

On July 8 a group of Congressmen in the House of Representatives urged their colleagues to pass bipartisan resolution H. Res. 337, which denounces human rights violations in Tibet and calls for dialogue without preconditions between China and the Dalai Lama and its representatives leading to a negotiated settlement for the people of Tibet. It was agreed to without objections after Representatives Chris Smith (R), Eliot Engel (D), Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Jim McGovern (D) and Dana Rohrabacher (R) took to the floor to speak in favor of the resolution.

The text and video of these remarks, if available, follow:

Representative Chris Smith


I rise in strong support of House Resolution 337 calling for substantive dialogue, without preconditions, to help secure a negotiated agreement for the Tibetan people.

I want to thank the gentleman from New York, our Ranking Member on the Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel, for his leadership in introducing this bipartisan resolution.

This week, when so many voices around the world are joined in wishing His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, a happy 80th birthday, it is a fitting time to re-commit ourselves to Congress’s longstanding support for the fundamental rights of the people of Tibet, because the situation in Tibet has never been more bleak.

Those basic rights involve the foundational right of religious freedom. The recent State Department Human Rights Report offered a withering criticism of the Chinese government’s oversight of Tibet and Tibetan areas of China. It said the “government engaged in severe repression of Tibet’s religious, cultural and religious heritage by, among other means, strictly curtailing the civil rights of China’s ethnic Tibetan population, including the rights to the freedom of speech, religion, association, assembly, and movement.”

Unfortunately, regime interference extends even into the most elemental aspects of Tibetan Buddhist practice. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the disappearance of the Panchen Lama, Gedun Choekui Nyima, who was detained by Chinese government officials in 1995 when he was a young child. Zhu Weiqun, a top Communist official dealing with ethnic and religious affairs has claimed that “decision-making power over the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama and over the end or survival of his lineage, resides with the central government of China.”

Sadly, we know that Tibetans have used self-immolations as a protest against religious and political oversight by the Chinese government. There have been 134 self-immolations since 2009, the numbers are decreasing because of heavy security and punishments that target family members and entire villages.

It is difficult to fathom the despair and desperation felt by Tibetans who take this last act of defiance. The Chinese government has blamed the Dalai Lama and “foreign forces” for self-immolations instead of looking at how their own policies created such deep grievances.

The Tibetan people want to be free to practice their unique faith, to live by the dictates of the faith, this freedom is also denied them.

The Chinese government expanded its efforts last year to transform Tibetan Buddhism into a state-managed institution. They sought to undermine the devotion of the Tibetan people to the Dalai Lama and control the process of selecting Buddhist leaders. The Chinese government wants a Tibetan Buddhism that is attractive to tourists and which allows the Communist Party to manage its affairs.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Religion said recently criticized China’s efforts to control Tibetan Buddhism and the process of selecting leaders. He said “the Chinese government is destroying the autonomy of religious communities…creating schisms, and pitting people against each other in order to exercise control.”

This is exactly what the Chinese government has done to other religious groups, including Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, and Falun Gong. When the faithful don’t fall in line, they are jailed.

The Congressional-Executive Commission on China, which I chair, has a prisoner database that contains records on 617 Tibetan political and religious prisoners. 44% of those detained or monks, nuns, and religious teachers. Almost all were imprisoned since 2008. Among them Tezen Deleg, a prisoner that the China Commission has made a priority case.

Unfortunately, our ability to get accurate information in real-time about the situation in Tibet is complicated by restrictions on access to Tibetan areas by United States officials, journalists, and other U.S. citizens. This has frustrated U.S. consular officers’ ability to provide services to American citizens. In October 2013, the Chinese government delayed access for over 48 hours during an emergency situation involving a bus accident that ultimately resulted in the deaths of 3 U.S. citizens, and injuries to several others. As the Chinese Government pushes for new consulates and official facilities in the United States, our government must insist on an official U.S. presence in Lhasa, which is called for in section 618 of the Tibetan Policy Act, which became law in 2002.

The Dalai Lama is recognized internationally for his commitment to peaceful and non-violent conflict resolution. The recipient of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize and a Congressional Gold Medal in 2007, he has made clear his willingness to engage in dialogue with Chinese counterparts at any time, at any place, without preconditions. Unfortunately, this commitment to peaceful dialogue is not reciprocal, and Chinese officials have not met directly with his representatives in over 5 years. This is the longest break since the dialogue started in 2002.

Indeed, a Chinese government “White Paper” on Tibet, published this April, states that China will “only talk with private representatives of the Dalai Lama” to discuss “the future of the Dalai Lama” and how he can “gain the forgiveness of the central government and the Chinese people.” Instead of asking for the Dalai Lama’s forgiveness for the decades of brutal repression, the Chinese government demands that he ask the Chinese government for forgiveness!

This is unfortunate and counterproductive. If China’s goal is to build a “harmonious society” in Tibet, it cannot be done without the Dalai Lama

He is the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. His views are widely shared throughout Tibetan society, and he can be a constructive partner for China in addressing continuing tensions, and deep-seated grievance, in Tibetan areas.

In light of this, the resolution before us today:

  • Calls for fuller implementation of existing U.S. law in support of direct dialogue between Chinese officials and the Dalai Lama, in order to address longstanding and legitimate Tibetan grievances;
  • Calls for an official U.S. presence in Lhasa, which would allow us to monitor developments in Tibet and to provide consular protection to U.S. citizens traveling there;
  • Urges our government to ensure that human rights and religious freedom issues are consistently raised in the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue and other high-level meetings;
  • Calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners, including the 11th Panchen Lama, and an end to Chinese government interference in Tibetan religious practice;
  • Urges our government to increase global awareness of the upcoming electoral process through which Tibetans in exile will choose the next democratically elected leader of the Central Tibetan Administration;
  • Calls on the Chinese regime to allow unrestricted access to Tibetan areas to U.S. officials, journalists, and other citizens;
  • Affirms the Dalai Lama’s desire for a negotiated agreement for the Tibetan people, and urges the Chinese regime to enter such negotiations; and
  • Reaffirms the unwavering friendship between the people of the United States and the people of Tibet.
    By stating our commitment to peaceful dialogue and the protection of the fundamental human rights of the people of Tibet, this bipartisan resolution reaffirms the longstanding positions of Congress, including those enacted into law in the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002. It deserves our unanimous support.

Representative Eliot Engel

“I’m proud to have offered this resolution that calls for the Chinese government to sit down with Tibet’s leaders without preconditions, listen to their grievances, and work toward an agreement that guarantees the rights and security of the Tibetan people.

“It also marks, as the Democratic leader pointed out, the 80th birthday of the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama.

“I’ve had the privilege to meet His Holiness, who is truly a remarkable man. Such a gentle spirit, driven from within by incredible strength and courage. A person of such humor and kindness, whose life has been marked by struggle and setback. I first met him here in Washington, many years ago.

“When you meet him, no matter your faith or background, you cannot help but feel the bond of common humanity and be drawn into his cause and the cause of the Tibetan people.

“Indeed, many in Congress have gotten behind this effort. Let me again especially thank Leader Pelosi. There has been no greater champion in Congress for the Tibetans’ struggle for freedom. For years, she has held a light to the challenges of the Tibetan people face in preserving their unique culture, language, and religion. I’m honored that she is cosponsoring this resolution.

“Let me also thank our Asia Subcommittee Chairman Matt Salmon, and Co-Chairmen of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, Representative Jim McGovern and Representative Joseph Pitts for supporting this measure. And I thank my friend, Mr. Smith of New Jersey, as well.

“Since 1951, the republic—the people of Tibet have lived under the shadow of the People’s Republic of China, without guarantees of even the most basic rights, and with no say in deciding Tibet’s future.

“The Dalai Lama has described the cultural genocide the Tibetan people have endured. Forced assimilation. Loss of language and cultural identity.

“Today, as human rights conditions for the Tibetan people deteriorate—and continue to deteriorate—as more monasteries come under government control, as more people are arrested, the desperation of the Tibetan people grows. Tragically, more than 140 Tibetans have burned themselves alive in protest of growing oppression.

“Yet the Chinese authorities have not changed course. Despite talk of mutual respect and social harmony, the reality in Tibet tells a very, very different story.

“So today, we look to the example set by the Dalai Lama and call for meaningful change for the Tibetan people.

“The Dalai Lama’s life has been a ceaseless, peaceful journey toward a better future for his people. It’s in that spirit that we call on the Chinese government to negotiate without preconditions.

“His Holiness has shown that democratic institutions can thrive alongside spiritual leadership. It’s in that spirit that we urge the Chinese government not to involve itself in the spiritual succession process for the next Dalai Lama, should there be one.

“The Dalai Lama has championed freedom of expression and freedom of conscience to promote mutual understanding and harmony. It’s in this spirit that this resolution calls on China to allow unrestricted access to officials, journalists, and other American citizens.

“And let’s not forget: the United States has an obligation to hold up these freedoms as well. That’s why this measure also calls on our own government to press the issues of human rights, political rights, and religious rights at the highest levels of the Chinese government, and to call for the immediate release of Tibetan political prisoners.

“Throughout his life, the Dalai Lama has worked for a peaceful path forward for the Tibetan people. We’re grateful for his example and his wisdom. And with this resolution, we urge China’s leaders to do the right thing for Tibet.

“I enthusiastically support this resolution. I urge my colleagues to do the same and I reserve the balance of my time.”

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi


“Thank you, Madam Speaker. I thank the gentleman for yielding, and commend him for being a champion on human rights throughout the world. I’m pleased to associate myself with the remarks of Chairman Smith, and thank him for his courageous, long-term dedication to human rights throughout the world, and the recognition that what is happening in Tibet is a challenge to the conscience of our country and to the world. And I thank him for enumerating some of the concerns that we have. And I know that our distinguished Ranking Member will talk about some of those contained in the resolution. I thank them both for their leadership.

“Madam Speaker, I rise today in support of that resolution, and in celebration of the 80th birthday of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, whose spiritual wisdom and friendship have been uplifting to many Tibetans, Americans and people throughout the world. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a transcendent figure and presence on the international stage. As a compassionate religious leader, an astute diplomat and an undaunted believer in the power of nonviolence, the Dalai Lama has earned the respect of people from many nations, many backgrounds, and many faith traditions.

“American presidents and the American people have been inspired by his Holiness, who describes himself as a ‘simple monk, no more, no less.’ Those American presidents began with Franklin Roosevelt, who sent His Holiness the Dalai Lama a watch, when he was a little boy, for his birthday – sent him a watch with the phases of the moon. How prescient it was of President Roosevelt, because His Holiness would not only be a religious figure, but one who related so positively to science and its mysteries.

“To Tibetan Buddhists, His Holiness is the earthly manifestation of the living Buddha. To them and the international community, he is the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. To millions of believers and admirers, he is a source of wisdom and compassion. To young people, His Holiness is a positive example of how to make the world a better place.

“As our colleague mentioned, the Chinese government has refused to meet with him; they’re afraid to meet with him. They consider him a threat, and that’s so unnecessary. They accuse him of being for independence, when he has said for decades now that he is for autonomy for Tibet. The Chinese government has brutally repressed Tibetans’ unique religious, cultural and linguistic heritage. The Chinese government’s oppression of the Tibetan people and the Chinese Communist Party’s vitriolic campaign against the Dalai Lama continues, which again challenges us all to speak out.

“Again, the situation in Tibet is a challenge to the conscience of the world. If freedom-loving people do not speak out against oppression in Tibet, then we have lost all moral authority to speak out on behalf of human rights anywhere in the world. If [because] it’s a big country, with whom we have big commercial interests like China, deters us from using our voices in support of human rights, how then can we turn to smaller, less economically significant countries and say: ‘For you, the standard is different.’ So, the Congress must continue to stand with the Tibetan people and stand with His Holiness The Dalai Lama to ensure that Tibetan children are free to learn their language, practice their faith and honor their culture as they live in peace.

“Perhaps one of the most remarkable achievements of His Holiness is his profound and unbreakable connection with the people of Tibet. He has won the Nobel Peace Prize, as was indicated, a recipient whom we honored with the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007. And at that time, it was an honor for all of us that President George W. Bush and Mrs. Bush attended that Gold Medal ceremony. An eightieth birthday is a significant milestone in any culture, none more so than in Tibet. This is a moment to celebrate. And on his birthday, on July 6, Tibetans were still not even allowed to utter the Dalai Lama’s name. In the Dalai Lama’s homeland, more than 140 Tibetans have self-immolated to protest oppression by the Chinese Government and the Chinese Communist Party’s vitriolic campaign against the exiled Tibetan religious leader.

“The people of Tibet persevere. They persevere in peace, and the nonviolent nature of the Tibetan struggle should serve as an inspiration to a world ridden by conflict and devastating acts of violence. During his long life, the Dalai Lama has shown that harmony between peoples is based on freedom of expression, and the courage to speak the truth and treat others with mutual respect and dignity.

“I just recall one incident, when I was visiting His Holiness in India, at Dharamsala, and he had lamas come over to visit with our bipartisan Congressional Delegation who were visiting him there. And after the people got up and talked about all the oppression and campaign against the Tibetans that was happening at that time – when I got up to speak following that, I said that ‘We in Congress must act. We must act in terms of legislation to support the people of Tibet.’ And I said so in a very forceful way, because it was so sad to hear the stories of what was happening in Tibet. And I was so strong in my reaction to it. And His Holiness followed me in the program and he said: ‘I pray that we can rid Nancy of her negative attitudes.’

“But anyway, there is no better way to honor the Dalai Lama on his 80th birthday than by standing with him and the Tibetan people, vowing to keep their cause alive. As we wish His Holiness a peaceful and joyous birthday, we must rededicate ourselves to the cause of peace in the world and peace in our lives. With that, Madam Speaker, I yield back to the distinguished Ranking Member.”

Representative Jim McGovern

“I thank the gentleman for yielding me time. And I want to thank Chairman Royce, Ranking Member Engel, Subcommittee Chairman Salmon, and my friend and fellow Co-Chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, Congressman Pitts, for working in such a bipartisan way to bring this resolution to the House floor during this week when we are all celebrating the 80th birthday of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I especially want to thank Democratic Leader Pelosi for her many years of leadership in support of the Tibetan people. She is a true champion in the struggle to protect their basic human rights and autonomy.

“We are all here because we care about the fundamental human rights of Tibetans, including the right to worship as they choose and to enjoy and protect their culture. But we may be running out of time to guarantee those rights. As we celebrate the 80th birthday of Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, the Chinese government has recently asserted its right to approve his successor. The very continuation of the ancient line of Tibetan spiritual leadership and reincarnation is in question. Next Tuesday, on July 14th, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission will hold a hearing on the situation in Tibet with the aim of identifying new, creative ideas to advance the basic human rights of Tibetans and ensure Tibetan autonomy.

“I share the concerns of my colleagues that the situation in Tibet is dire. Since 2009, more than 130 Tibetans inside China have taken the unimaginable step of setting themselves on fire – at least 112 are believed to have died. Some chose self-immolation to protest Chinese government policies, others to call for the return of the Dalai Lama. In response, Chinese authorities have intensified official reprisals. Surely the people of Tibet must wonder whether anyone is hearing their desperate cries. With this resolution we are attempting to send a clear message back to Tibet that, yes, we hear you. You are not alone.

“Regrettably, the human rights abuses in Tibet are neither new, nor unknown. On the contrary, Tibet is a very sensitive issue in U.S.-China relations. U.S. policy is supposed to be guided by the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002, which encourages dialogue between the Chinese government and representatives of the Dalai Lama. But Chinese intransigence has closed down dialogue since 2010. China also severely restricts access to Tibet and Tibetan regions, especially for U.S. journalists, officials and citizens, even though, I might add, Chinese citizens and officials enjoy unrestricted access here in the United States.

“In April, the Chinese government issued a new white paper on Tibet, with its own unbelievable version of history and an unprecedented demand that the Dalai Lama publicly state that Tibet has been an integral part of China since antiquity as a pre-condition for improving relations with China.

“We need to be doing something different. We need to have the guts to take some action. Everyone in the world says how much they admire the Dalai Lama. Every head of State, every international organization – all declare how much they care about Tibet and worry about Tibetan human rights abuses. But things have only gotten worse. We must all come together now to change the status quo, to change the game the Chinese government has been playing for so many decades. The situation is urgent. It can wait no longer. And shame on all of us if we stand by, with empty words, and continue to watch the people of Tibet suffer and their culture, religion and way of life be exterminated, day by day, year by year, until nothing is left.

“So, I thank my colleagues for bringing this urgent matter to the attention of the Congress and I urge all my colleagues to support H. Res. 337.”

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