Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Status of the Sino-Tibetan dialogue

During a full committee hearing Tuesday, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs addressed the status of the Sino-Tibetan dialogue. Witnesses included Paula J. Dobrianksy, undersecretary for democracy and global affairs at the State Department; Lodi G. Gyari, the special envoy of His Holiness the Dalai Lama; and Richard Gere, the chairman of the board of directors at the International Campaign for Tibet.

Committee Chairman Tom Lantos opened the discussion, stating that the Tibetans’ heroic and nonviolent struggle should be a powerful source of inspiration for all of us. As an old friend of the Dalai Lama, Lantos is proud to see that the Congress finally recognizes His Holiness’s many years of struggle to obtain general autonomy for the region. In October of this year, His Holiness will be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

Lantos has “hope for a bright future different from recent past,” but he said that Beijing must realize that “It takes two to tango, and the Tibetans have been dancing alone.” According to Lantos, China must understand that the current situation in Tibet is considered a serious stain on their moral status and credibility in the international community. They will not be considered a great world power until they address serious concerns of human rights violations and religious suppression, he said. Lantos also referred to a recent incident close to the Nepal border, where Chinese officials opened fire against 77 Tibetans – including a 17 year old nun – who had been walking for 22 days on a dangerous route to seek religious exile. Many of the asylum seekers were imprisoned.

Dobrianksy followed Lantos and underlined the responsibility of the United States to work to safeguard the unique identity and culture of the Tibetans. She also believes it is time to strongly encourage China to meet directly with the Dalai Lama. However, the U.S. administration has been contending with harsh Chinese rhetoric of late, as the two sides struggle to find common ground on the future of Tibet. This is startling, Dobrianksy said, considering the fact that the 2008 Olympics will be held in China, and this would consequently be a good time for China to attempt to prove their dignity.

Finally, Dobriansky mentioned the Tibet section of the just-released State Department human rights report, which states that, in 2006, Chinese “authorities continued to commit serious human rights abuses, including torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, house arrest and surveillance of dissidents, and arbitrary restrictions on free movement.”

Gyari mainly discussed the process of dialogue with China. As a true Tibetan, he reassured the Committee that Tibetans are dedicated to obtaining autonomy and he encouraged everyone to stay optimistic. Since 2002, Gyari has met with the Chinese authorities five times. However, nothing has come from the meetings thus far.

Gere, known as a dedicated philanthropist, gave a thoughtful testimony in which he passionately advocated for human rights in Tibet. Gere argued for an intensified public discussion on China’s policies on religious persecution, and said that we should all call for talks between Chinese and Tibetan diplomats, which he said can indeed result in a positive outcome.

Finally, Gere stressed the importance of maintaining full funding levels in order to secure the welfare of Tibetans living within their own borders and those in exile. Gere also expressed his disappointment in learning that the U.S. is planning to make cuts to radio broadcasting programs within Tibet as part of the proposed fiscal year 2008 budget unveiled last month, as radio is the only life-line to the outside world for many illiterate Tibetans living under repressive Chinese rule.


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