Leading up to Chinese President Jiang Zemin’s October 25 visit to President Bush’s Crawford ranch, the U.S. Congress, the American people and President Bush have a unified message to Jiang: Beijing needs to talk to the Dalai Lama.
“We fully expect that President Bush will convey to Jiang how strongly the American people, through their actions, and Congress, through the force of law, support Tibetans in their non-violent efforts to resolve the Tibet issue through dialogue,” said Mary Beth Markey, U.S. Executive Director of the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT).
“Face-to-face dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives is the only way to achieve a solution for Tibet that is in the best interest of the Chinese and Tibetans peoples,” said Markey.
This message has become increasingly relevant since a September trip to Beijing and Lhasa by the Dalai Lama’s envoys, Lodi Gyari – the point person for negotiations – and Kelsang Gyaltsen.
“We are hopeful that the renewed contact after a 20-year impasse between Beijing and Tibetans in exile could facilitate a process of regular dialogue leading to a concrete solution,” said Markey.
While Beijing has remained officially silent on whether it intends to enter into dialogue with the Tibetans, the Dalai Lama described the recent opening in an October 22 statement as an opportunity, saying “we must recognize the positive signal from the Chinese government.”
State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher also welcomed the development as an encouraging first step, saying “President Bush and Secretary Powell have discussed with Jiang Zemin and other Chinese leaders the need for dialogue with the Dalai Lama or with his representatives. We believe that a process of dialogue can resolve longstanding differences and result in greater freedom, including religious freedom, for the Tibetan people.”
In the first week of October, Congress demonstrated its strong support for Tibet when it passed, and the President signed into law, the “Tibetan Policy Act” (TPA) as part of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for fiscal year 2003 (H.R. 1646).
The legislation, which urges “substantive dialogue” between Beijing and the Dalai Lama or his representatives, was introduced as a reflection of congressional concern for the Tibetan people and dissatisfaction with Beijing’s intransigence on dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives. ICT promoted the bill aggressively and helped secure the commitment of nearly a quarter of the U.S. Congress as cosponsors of the TPA.
At the bill’s introduction, Senate sponsor Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said: “My intent in introducing [this bill] is to place the full faith of the United States government behind efforts to preserve the distinct cultural, religious and ethnic autonomy of the Tibetan people.”
“I want to be a positive force for bringing Tibetan and Chinese leaders to the table for face-to-face dialogue,” Senator Feinstein continued.
In the second week of October, the House of Representatives joined the Senate in passing H.Res 410, a resolution calling for the release of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, Tibet’s young Panchen Lama, and his family from Chinese custody.
The Tibetan Policy Act and Panchen Lama resolution were the focus of an extensive campaign from thousands of ICT members to their Congressional delegations over the last several months.
Before its passage, H.Res 410 was amended to reflect congressional interest in the renewed contact between the Tibetan envoys and Chinese officials as a “welcome gesture” and to send notice to President Jiang on the eve of his visit of congessional “concern for the Panchen Lama and the need to resolve the situation in Tibet through dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives.”
“Until a solution is reached that affirms the dignity of the Tibetan people and culture and meets the aspirations of the majority of Tibetans, the international community will not recognize Chinese control over Tibetan lands and people as legitimate,” said Markey.
“If President Jiang Zemin genuinely seeks an honorable and enduring legacy among China’s leaders, he will find a solution to the future of Tibet with the Dalai Lama,” Markey continued. “This is the Tibet message of the Congress and the American people that ICT expects President Bush will deliver.”
In the weeks leading up to the meeting ICT has circulated more than 50,000 postcards to President Bush urging the President to press Jiang to enter into dialogue with the Dalai Lama.
ICT plans to participate in an Amnesty International-sponsored panel discussion on human rights in China on October 23 in Houston, TX, to be held near the traveling Chinese delegation.