With November witnessing the highest-one month total of self-immolations in Tibet (25 so far), U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke said there were “high expectations” for change on Tibet policy within the new Chinese leadership under Xi Jinping, while cautiously noting that “we’ll just have to wait and see” about improved relations between Chinese and Tibetans.
“Ambassador Locke’s remarks are a strong reiteration of the U.S.government’s expectation for change in Chinese policies in Tibet,” said Todd Stein, Director of Government Relations at the International Campaign for Tibet. “His remarks will be welcomed by Tibetans as evidence that their grievances are being heard globally, if not yet in Beijing.”
In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour broadcast on November 27, Ambassador Locke stated that “preserving the ethnic, religious, linguistic identity of the Tibetan people is a top priority for the U.S. government” and expressed concerns about the “heightened tensions in the Tibetan areas, the deplorable self-immolations and of course just the Chinese policies of the Chinese government at all levels.”
Ambassador Locke is apparently the only Beijing-based ambassador to have visited an afflicted Tibetan area since the self-immolation crisis accelerated in late 2011. In late September, he traveled to the Tibetan autonomous prefecture of Ngaba, site of 36 self-immolations. On October 30, Ambassador Locke publicly urged the Chinese government to meet with Tibetan representatives to examine policies that have led to the self-immolations.
An unofficial transcript of the exchange follows:
Amanpour: We want to know from your perspective whether the new leader will Xi Jinping will be any different on Tibet, for instance, because there have been many burnings by ethnic Tibetans and there have been four reported just today in China. I know you’ve met with some ethnic Tibetans. What do you think is the prospect for any different kind of relationship, Ambassador.
Locke: Well, we’ll just have to wait and see but obviously the United States is very concerned about the situation, the heightened tensions in the Tibetan areas, the deplorable self-immolations and of course just the Chinese policies of the Chinese government at all levels. And we’re publicly and privately constantly urging the Chinese to re-examine some of their policies that threaten the linguistic identity, the cultural identity, and religious identity of the Tibetan people.
Amanpour: And if I might, the new leader, Xi Jinping, his father was known to have worn a watch given to him by the Dalai Lama. So, again, do you have any hope or anticipation that there might be some kind of different relationship between China and not only the ethnic Tibetans in China but Tibet itself?
Locke: Well, I think that’s certainly a hope but whether or not those hopes will be realized will have to be seen. China’s really ruled by a Committee of seven, the standing committee of the Politburo. And its going to have to be leadership by consensus and of course, Xi Jinping will be the first among that seven, so we are very very hopeful. I think there are high expectations even by the Chinese people but we’ll just have to wait and see. But in the meantime, preserving the ethnic, religious, linguistic identity of the Tibetan people is a top priority for the U.S. government just as we are very concerned about all human rights issues and we believe that human rights has to be a fundamental part of U.S. foreign policy and we, very much urge the Chinese government publicly and privately to adhere to the universal principles, universal declaration of human rights, which are also part of the Chinese constitution.