Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Members of the Congressional Delegation who traveled to Tibet and China held a press conference on November 17, 2015 following their historic visit last week. Here is a video recording and transcript of the press conference.
Leader Pelosi. Good afternoon, everyone. It is really a very special privilege to be here with my colleagues upon our return [from] a very special visit to China – China, including Hong Kong, Tibet and Beijing. I’m honored to be here with the Chair of our Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, Congressman Jim McGovern of Massachusetts; Congresswoman Betty McCollum of Minnesota, a leading Member of the Appropriations Committee; Congressman Tim Walz, also of Minnesota, a Member of our China Commission, a person who has visited China – including Tibet, before; Congresswoman Joyce Beatty of Ohio, who brought her perspective as a former Administrator of the University – I mean, excuse me, Ohio State University…
Congresswoman Beatty. The Ohio State University.
Leader Pelosi. …Congressman Lowenthal of California, a leader on the issue of climate change in the state legislature, and now in the Congress; and Congressman Ted Lieu, our Freshman Member of the Committee. He brought his own special credentials, which he will discuss in a moment. But we were very proud – I always have, on any CODEL that I go forth with, a new Member of Congress, to bring the fresh eyes and the next generation of thinking on subjects.
We had a very interesting visit to China. We are extremely grateful to the President of China. When he was here, I had the opportunity to meet with him as part of the House-Senate Democratic-Republican leadership. I had expressed to him my appreciation for what China is doing on the issue of climate change, congratulated him also on the agreement with our President on issues that relate to cybersecurity, in terms of intellectual property, et cetera, to thank him for China’s leadership role in the Iran Agreement, and the responsibilities of enforcement that China is taking. And the list goes on.
So, praising him for that, and also calling to his attention the concern of Democrats and Republicans in Congress on human rights in China, and that would include concerns about democracy and autonomy in Hong Kong, autonomy in Tibet, and human rights in China in general. He said, at the time: “Come see for yourself.” I considered that an invitation, and he honored that suggestion by very graciously agreeing to giving us a visa to visit Tibet when we were in China. It was a very, I think, constructive, informative visit. And my Members will speak to it. But it was one that revealed certain truths, to us. I considered the trip constructive, bridge-building, and we want to continue building that bridge through reconciliation and clearer understanding. And our Members will speak to those issues. I’m pleased to yield now to, really – I called him, what did I call you, the spiritual leader of our trip? The co-Chair of the bipartisan Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, Jim McGovern.
Congressman McGovern. Thank you. I want to thank Leader Pelosi for organizing this trip, and for allowing me to be part of it. Everywhere that Leader Pelosi or the delegation and I went in Tibet and Beijing, we talked about Tibet; we talked about His Holiness the Dalai Lama; we talked about human rights and the importance of respect for people’s culture and religion. We had a very good exchange with Chinese officials and, especially, with university students, both in Tibet and Beijing. I saw this trip, and especially the delegation’s visit to Tibet, as an important gesture by the Chinese government. I think we were the first Members of Congress to be granted a visa to travel to Tibet in many years. So this is an important gesture.
But more needs to be done. And we must find ways to build on this visit, and make the reforms needed for meaningful change, such as: one, allowing the United States to open a consulate in Lhasa, Tibet; two, allowing more Members of Congress, more journalists, more members of parliament from other nations, and more people in general – including Members of the Tibetan community here in the United States – to travel freely to Tibet; and three, renewing the dialogue with the Dalai Lama to resolve longstanding issues of Tibetan autonomy, religious practice, culture and heritage. I believe that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is part of the solution, not the problem, to resolving the issues confronting Tibetan autonomy. You know, one of the things that concerned me – we heard too often from some, not all, but some Chinese officials, we heard language and characterizations of Tibet and the Dalai Lama showing that people’s minds and imaginations are stuck in the past, in old prejudices. The issue is not the past. The issue is the future of Tibet and its people.
Renewing dialogue must be genuine and productive, and it cannot be just another guise for wasting time or going through the motions – but a dialogue based on good faith and the mutual need to resolve outstanding issues in a way that is acceptable to all parties. Undertaking such initiatives would be a positive reflection on the capacity of Chinese authorities to engage in constructive dialogue, and increase confidence that the government is committed to reconciliation and ending abuses in Tibet. The Chinese government has invested a great deal in Tibet, and that was very clear to us. But that investment should not come at the price of an entire culture. You cannot confine a people’s culture and heritage – their very sense of identity – to a museum or a market of handicrafts. The human rights of the Tibetan people must be strengthened and protected, and I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress, with the Leader, to push for the reforms needed to achieve this. Again, I view this trip as a very productive step, and a very important first step towards resolving some of these important issues.
Congresswoman McCollum. Good afternoon. I’m Betty McCollum from Minnesota, and I want to associate myself with the remarks made by Leader Pelosi and, my colleague, Mr. McGovern. But I’m going to talk about something that I felt very positive about, and that is China and the United States coming together to tackle climate change. We had the opportunity to be in Hong Kong, where there’s pressure on the water usage because of the population; Tibet, where we’re watching the great rivers of Asia be threatened by the lack of snow cover in the Himalayas; and then I experienced firsthand, as you can tell by my throat, the pollution in Beijing.
Climate change – how we care for our land, air and water – and the fact that the United States, as the most developed country, and China, as a large developing country, [are] coming together to do what we can to offset the harmful effects of carbon pollution is very, very empowering for me as a legislator – to come back here to encourage my fellow Members of Congress to do more to reach out to our Congress, to engage even more, not only with the Chinese government, but other governments around the world. We have the opportunity to work on renewable energy, as we do in Minnesota, as they do in other parts of the country, to achieve efficiency in conservation. But most importantly, we now have an opportunity to have China at the table, to talk about what we can move forward. The Chinese people are very, very serious about addressing this pollution problem, as I know my constituents, and my fellow Minnesotans, and the majority of people here in the United States [are].
So, where there is much work to be done in dialogue on human rights, much work to be done on better people-to-people exchanges, and protecting the Tibetan culture, and working towards freedom of religion, the common ground that we are coming together on – between our two presidents and, I believe, our two people, the Chinese people and the American people – to do something about climate change, I think creates more hope and opportunity for more dialogue on how we can move forward to not only protect our planet, but maybe how we can have an even more peaceful world in the future.
Congressman Walz. Well, thank you all for being here, and I thank Leader Pelosi and my colleagues. I’m Tim Walz. I represent Minnesota’s First Congressional District. My engagement in China dates back to the late 1980s, when I was part of the first group of American high school students to teach in Chinese high schools. I spent time there, and I think it’s obvious by this trip, and the access that we were given, that the Chinese value this relationship with the United States very much. And that’s a positive sign. I mentioned to one of our hosts when we got to Tibet that I had been to Tibet. I said: “I think it was in late 1989.” And he quickly corrected me, and he said: “No, it was February of ’90.” So it was good. I thought, pre-computers – I might have done something.
On that trip, it took me six days by bus to get there. This time, we landed at an airport alongside the train tracks that were there. There’s no doubt, as anyone knows, the modernization of China over the last 25 years has been nothing short of spectacular, when it comes to infrastructure, and improvements in quality of life, access to clean water, access to health care services, and those things are undeniable. And I think China rightfully feels a sense of pride on that. I also think, over the years of watching this, and interactions with friends of mine and watching on this trip – I think it’s probably safe to say that the human rights aspects are lagging a little behind in coming up. And in all fairness, the discussions – I would never have imagined being in the deepest enclaves of Chinese government with some of their highest level officials having a debate about the Dalai Lama – and a spirited one, back-and-forth, where they, Mrs. McCollum and others up here, myself included – they knew I had taught on Pine Ridge, and they asked me how the Native American situation has gone for America over their history, and rightfully pointing out that mistakes were made.
So it was a healthy dialogue. It was one that absolutely has to happen. I think you heard from the voices up here: if this is the crack to opening it up – this relationship is too critically important; it’s too critically important on trade; it’s too critically important on climate change; it’s too critically important on national security, issues of containment of terrorism and everything else that’s involved; and, I think, positive first steps with an acknowledgement that there’s a ways to go. So, thank you.
Congresswoman Beatty. I’m Congresswoman Joyce Beatty from the Third Congressional District of Ohio. And certainly, I join all my colleagues in thanking Leader Pelosi for this opportunity. You’re going to hear a range of thoughts and experiences. For me, first trip to China – spending a large part of my career in higher education, I was delighted to have the opportunity to visit universities in China and in Tibet. And what was interesting to me was to listen to the students. One, we know education is the economic engine of the future, but we also know students are fresh minds.
So let me just say there were three student thoughts from my perspective. First, you had the students who were well scripted, they were well-informed. They knew probably as much about us as we know about ourselves and what our issues were. And they stayed to that script. Then there was the second group of students who were a little more thirsty for the knowledge from America. So, while somewhat safe, but they asked the questions: how would you help us resolve climate change? They touched on human rights which, for me, shared that they wanted us to do more and to know that there were some issues there. And then there was the third student who was clearly an activist, a student who not only said thank you for being here but thank you for listening and we need your help because there are freedoms here that we don’t have that you have in America. There are human rights issues there.
So I say to Leader Pelosi: thank you, because our work is just beginning. And what a wonderful opportunity for us to be able to be helpful to maybe change some things that we know can be better. Thank you.
Congressman Lowenthal. Thank you. I’m Congressman Alan Lowenthal from California. I, too, want to echo the thoughts and statements of my colleagues. It was a very powerful experience for all of us. I think the parts that touched me the most was that we went to listen, we went to understand but we also went to express our differences. And I think the one concept that I think allowed us to move forward was that the Chinese saw we came with respect. We differed on issues; we strongly talked about human rights issues; we talked about issues on what is the rule of law; we talked about issues about what does it mean to have people arrested, but we spoke in a way of respect. And we also, I think, came to a general understanding – both with the officials and with the students – that the greatest crisis confronting both China and the United States and Tibet within China was climate change – whether it was the pollution we experienced in Beijing which was at a very high level and was very difficult for us. I, too, come back with a raspy voice after being there. But also an understanding that it will take the leadership of China and the United States to deal with this problem that is so interrelated that pollution in Beijing affects us here in Washington, D.C. there is no safe place.
So, I think that acknowledgement and that understanding really helped us move forward and deal with some of the issues that the Chinese found more difficult for us to work with. Thank you.
Congressman Ted Lieu. I’m Congressman Ted Lieu from Southern California. It was a joy and an honor to be on this delegation with Leader Pelosi and my colleagues. It was a successful diplomatic mission that built upon the previous visit of President Xi Jinping to the United States. And everywhere we went – whether it was Hong Kong or Tibet or Beijing – we raised the issue of cybersecurity. It was an issue that knows no boundaries and we commended the Chinese government for negotiating a landmark agreement with the United States that essentially said the two leading economies of the world are not going to steal the intellectual property of each other’s businesses.
And as China starts to have its own intellectual property, they have come to realize in the long run it is to their detriment if they can’t protect their own intellectual property. And we believe that this agreement will be enforced and it’s also being used as a model with other countries now.
On a related issue, there does continue to remain unfairness between China and the U.S. in terms of the access that companies have to each other’s cyber domains. So in the United Sates, we don’t block Chinese companies from accessing our business markets or internet but China does block U.S. companies such as Google, such as Facebook and other companies. So we raised that issue and we said to them: ‘Look, if you actually have more competition from U.S. companies, your companies will become competitive and do better and your consumers will have more choice.’ We are hopeful that they will give more access to our companies. We know that about two weeks ago they did return some services back to Google. We hope that continues. And again, it was a positive trip and we look forward to continue working with China on some of these differences.
Leader Pelosi. Thank you very much to my colleagues. As you can see, our delegation went with purpose, with knowledge, with questions and as Mr. Lowenthal and others have said, with respect. I just want to – before I open to questions – just want to say this. In Tibet, really actually starting with the meeting of President Xi Jinping when he was here, what I was concerned about was the attitude of the Chinese government to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. When I said, and Senator Feinstein also said, that His Holiness is about autonomy not about independence. That idea was rejected by the President and so it was also on this trip. It’s something that gives me some hope because we know that for decades – the first time I saw His Holiness was here in 1988 – and his whole message was about autonomy. So if they think it’s about independence, he says it’s about autonomy. We only support autonomy. We believe Tibet is a part of China. Then I think there is an opportunity to find common ground.
Also, the Chinese have done a remarkable [job] – and I’ve said this on previous visits within the past several years – that they have done an amazing work addressing the climate change issue and how they invest in infrastructure. And China is one of the reflections of that. Well, they would say before we went to Tibet it was old Tibet. Now it’s new Tibet. Well, it was old China and now it’s new China. They said: before we went it was bicycles, now it’s cars. And we said: that’s what Beijing was not that long ago and now it’s cars.
So, I really respect what the Chinese government has done throughout China. I also respect that they did that also in Tibet. So it wasn’t as if there was a difference in timing on the progress in that regard. As my colleagues who have said, the more journalists who could go there – we wish we could have had some of you come with us, but that wasn’t possible any place we went in China – but I believe the freedom of the press is probably one of the most, is the gateway freedom because if the press can see and tell the story, that’s very, very important. Because of course in addition to the reverence we have for His Holiness the Dalai Lama and faith that we have in his commitment to autonomy, we also want to see a perpetuation of Tibetan culture. And again, another different perspective was that it’s beautiful if the Chinese government spends a lot of money to guild the temple roof, the roof of the temple, but we’re interested in what’s happening in the minds of children and the education and the perpetuation of the culture there. More on that if you wish in a moment.
But again, Tibet treated as China in terms of climate and in terms of infrastructure. And we praise the Chinese for what they are doing in China and Tibet. Again, the culture is not just – as Mr. McGovern said – a handicraft center, it’s about what’s happening to the culture in terms of the people, the resettling of the Han, the Chinese there diluting that culture. And so in any event, those are some opportunities that we see that there’s a path to reconciliation. We wanted our trip to further us down that path and we were grateful for the opportunity that we had.
I’m sure my colleagues would be happy to take any questions that you may have, and I as well.
Q: Congresswoman Pelosi, did you get a sense from the trip that china could reduce restrictions in Tibet and possibly even start talking to the Dalai Lama? And secondly, the Tibetan Daily quotes you as praising the Chinese government for its actions in Tibet and protecting religious freedoms. Doesn’t sound like you would say that.
Leader Pelosi. Well, I think that you consider the source. Mr. McGowan – McGovern. These Irish names.
Congressman McGovern. As I said – I’ll just repeat it. We continue to be concerned about the human rights situation in Tibet and about religious freedom issues and about people’s abilities to be able to live a life that they want. We had some very heated exchanges with Chinese government officials over a whole range of issues involving Tibet, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Some were more heated than others. Some drew a line in the sand. Some discussions I felt there was an openness to constructive dialogue. And I think that’s how we come to this issue at this point. Is that we can’t – we went, we learned, we appreciate the opportunity to be granted the opportunity to visit, but we want to move beyond the past, and we want to see whether or not the Chinese government is willing to engage in some constructive dialogue that can help promote reconciliation that can help resolve some of the issues that have torn families apart for many, many years.
I can’t tell you with certainty that the Chinese government will agree to doing ‘x,y and z,’ but I don’t think any of us came away feeling that the door was entirely closed on anything. And so our challenge is to work with our colleagues in a bipartisan way to see what can be done. And we are hopeful. And we’re hopeful, as I said, we can open up a consulate in Tibet which I think would be an important step. We’re hopeful that they’ll allow others to visit. And we’re hopeful that we’ll begin a more formal dialogue with His Holiness the Dalai Lama to resolve a whole range of issues.
Q: If I could just add onto that. In your conversations, did the issue of the Uighurs in the Xinjiang region come up? Because there are some concerns about that region…
Congressman McGovern. Well we are concerned about the Uighurs and about – we talked about some of the lawyers that were arrested, women who were arrested for protesting and passing out leaflets involving domestic violence. So we raised a whole range of human rights issues that go beyond just Tibet. So the Chinese government knows that those issues are still very much of concern to all of us.
Leader Pelosi. Yes, sir?
Q: Madam Speaker, I want to ask you about the visit to Tibet. How do you understand the intention of President Xi or the Chinese Communist Party receiving your visit to the sensitive regions? And did you feel any restrictions during your stay in China?
Leader Pelosi. Would anyone like to speak to the restriction part and then I’ll go to the first part of the question?
Well, let me just say that our final visit before we came – we left China – was with the Premier of China, and it was a very positive meeting – again, respectful and with clarity of purpose and also with the recognition that the cooperation between America and China is really important, not only to our two countries but to the entire world. I think they had a pretty good idea of what we accepted as freedom of movement and what we recognized as containment of our activities there. But again, we were there, and we saw, and we made judgements. We learned, we made judgements, and we will act upon them as we go forward in the most positive way.
My colleagues, any comment on the restriction or anything?
Congressman Lowenthal. I just want to say, one of the surprising things that occurred to me was when we arrived in Tibet, there was an entourage of Chinese security around us. There must have been – for the seven of us – 25 to 30 security people. And it took us a while to work out a relationship to say: ‘Hey, we need some space. We’re here to learn. We’re here to talk to people. We respect that you’re here, but you’ve got to give us some space around us.’ So, we had to work out that kind of relationship.
Congressman McGovern. I think it’s fair to say that I think the Chinese government wanted to control as much of our visit as they could. And we saw what they wanted us to see. We also saw things that they didn’t want us to see. And I think what they didn’t count on was the tenacity of Leader Pelosi, who wanted to visit religious sites, who wanted to visit monasteries, and who insisted and insisted and kind of wore some of these officials down so that we were able to see what we wanted to see as well. So, I felt like we got a wide perspective of life in Tibet. And we went to the meetings that the Chinese government wanted us to go to. We also visited places that we thought were important to the Tibetan people, to our constituents and to a lot of the people who have expressed concerns about human rights over the years. I think we got a good exposure.
Congressman Walz. And I would just say, my experience with – my Chinese friends always taught me the first time they said, ‘You Americans don’t know how to read the paper. You read what’s not in the paper.’ It’s what’s important – and to look [at] what you’re not seeing. So, it became obvious. When you’re being asked not to go somewhere, that’s the important place.
And that’s what you should be looking for, and that happened.
Leader Pelosi. And right from the start with all this – I think 30 is probably a conservative estimate because there were people who – shall we say – had walkie talkies that may not have been identified as security who are part of the mass movement through the – down the path and through the old part of Tibet. But, those same people, right from the start, kind of complained that there was too much ‘tashi delek’ going on between us and the people who were standing around. They were like: ‘She wasn’t supposed to be doing that.’ ‘You weren’t supposed to be doing that.’ But, we did.
Q: Leader Pelosi, you were in Dharamsala in 2008, when there was a huge crackdown in Tibet, and we know what you said to Dalai Lama again. You went to Dharamsala before Fasa as a victory. Now my question is: how is China finally trying to make peace with Leader Pelosi?
Leader Pelosi. What was the last part?
Congresswoman McCollum. How China is making peace with you.
Leader Pelosi. I think we have a realistic view of each other. Yeah.
Actually, when we went to – it’s funny how people interpret things. We had planned in like November to be in India in March. Actually, Tom Lantos was going to be a part of our trip, and then sadly, he was diagnosed and left us just around the time of the new year. So, this was a long-planned trip. It just so happened that we got to India and Dharamsala after the crackdown in Tibet. So the Chinese thought we just up-and-flew there so that we could be there to protest what was happening. We would’ve been protesting it wherever we were.
But in fact, it was – a visit to the prime minister of India to – you know, it was part of a trip to India that we also had a priority to visit His Holiness. So at that time, when we made our statements and we had a large bipartisan delegation visiting His Holiness, they thought that was all planned. But if it were planned, we were really better at planning than we’ve ever been. It was really more a coincidence, but it served a purpose. So after that, they said to me, ‘We want to restart our relationship. We invite you to China.’ So, I went to China the next year.
Although we talked about human rights, we focused on climate change then and we are continuing that conversation because we believe that it is really important that our two nations are in sync on it. And I do have to say that the fragility of the plateau – we were at the roof of the world, and it’s a very important place to the ecology of the entire world, and for that, as the gentleman indicated, I gave the Chinese credit for protecting the ecology, the environment as they are in the rest of China. So that’s a place where we have a very constructive conversation going and have been for a number of years before this visit.
Congressman Walz. They called votes a while ago.
Leader Pelosi. Oh, they called votes? Okay, just one more. We haven’t had a woman’s question.
Why don’t you ask the questions and we’ll answer them all at once?
Q: You mentioned that journalists weren’t able to come with you on the trip. Is that a condition of the Chinese government or how did that happen? And how did that affect your thinking…
Leader Pelosi. Well, we didn’t – until we landed in Tibet, we didn’t even know if we were going to be in Tibet. Yeah. So, that’s – in other words, we found out the day before we left that we had the visa to go to Tibet, but we – until we actually got there, that’s when we knew we would be there.
Q: What about the rest of the trip? You said that journalists weren’t allowed to come with you.
Leader Pelosi. No – well, we didn’t travel with journalists. In other words, the Chinese press was covering the trip. Now, I think – it’s specific, I mean, because there are many journalists in Beijing, but, you know, Tibet is a – Lhasa – it’s a different story, whether it’s opening an embassy, they talked about – I mean, a consulate. They talked about exchange students – more exchange students between our two countries. Well, that would speak to having a consulate there to address the needs of families visiting or students going there. So we think there are some openings that could happen. That would be very wholesome.
Yes, ma’am. This last one.
Q: Thank you. I’m from the Tibetan Language Service at VOA. With all the issues that you raised – the issue of human rights and religious freedom – I’m just wondering what were the responses by the Chinese counterparts? Specifically, I’m just wondering if you raised the issue of the 120-plus immolations and what was the Chinese reaction to those questions?
Leader Pelosi. We didn’t have the conversation with the Chinese, but we were told that what they have – because the immolations have been reduced in number and how it was explained to us, not by the Chinese government but that the threats to the families of the monks or nuns who had self-immolated was what had deterred a further number. And that was very, very sad news to us.
Yes, sir? Just very quickly because we have votes.
Q: I’m sure you met some of the leadership in the Tibetan region – so, maybe you had an opportunity to interact with the common Tibetans. So what kind of experiences did you have in those interactions?
Leader Pelosi. Does anyone want to speak to that? Our Interaction with the regular people?
Congresswoman Beatty. I think they were very good. We actually went into some of the homes and we were received there. And I think it’s that same range – there were people who were so proud just because of their culture, there were other people that would squeeze our hands and then be excited that we could see, and I think they were saying to us: we hope you see it from our lands.
Leader Pelosi. Well, what they wanted us to see was housing. And we did. Did we see families? I’m not sure.
I hope so. They were very nice people. I didn’t see any family photos in the place, but nonetheless – we made progress, and I don’t want to back off of any of that. Again, I’m so proud of my delegation – their values, their knowledge, their purpose, their courage in asking questions and the rest. Not that it should take courage but nonetheless, I think the Chinese probably thought it did. I was very proud of them. And I’m very grateful to the Chinese government to give us the opportunity to see. The difference between seeing and not is vast – no matter how they show you what they want you to see or what you see beyond. But it was very, very valuable. What we learned was that there is opportunity. If they would accept the fact that His Holiness supports autonomy, not independence, if they know we’re about the culture of Tibet and that so children don’t have to be sent out of the country to be raised in that tradition because of the dilution of their own culture in their own country.
So, it was a wonderful trip. I had on my bracelet that was given to me by the Dalai Lama’s sister on his 80th birthday last summer. I don’t know if they knew what that was, but I mentioned it a few times.
But in any case, really, I thank the President of China, the Premier of China, the officials who greeted us – because they – really, it was a giant step forward, and we are grateful for it. Thank you all very much.