Committee on Foreign Affairs, US House of Representatives
March 13, 2007
Chairman Lantos, Representative Ros-Lehtinen, Members of the Committee:
As Chairman of the Board of the International Campaign for Tibet, I would like to thank you for this opportunity to address the Committee. I also wish to compliment the Chairman Lantos and Representative Ros-Lehtinen for beginning their examination of China with the Tibet issue and say how gratifying it is to know that today’s hearing signals a return to the rigorous examination of China and US China policy that Congress used to conduct more regularly.
The time has come for an intensified public discourse on China. China’s global role is significant and developing, and Americans expect and need solid analysis of China’s issues from our politicians. We have recently entered a politically charged presidential campaign season. Soon after the Democratic and Republican nominating conventions take place, the 2008 Olympics will open in Beijing undoubtedly intensifying the American people’s focus on China. In light of major US manufacturing losses, Shanghai’s economic instability, religious persecution, human rights abuses, military build-up and the defilement of the environment, Americans want to understand what is happening inside China and how it will impact us and our world.
We are repeatedly asked to weigh the costs of the US-led war on terror, but there is a virtual silence from our political leaders on China and its 1.3 billion people.
As China rises to accept its very public role as host to the 2008 games, our political leaders have a responsibility to help us understand China and prepare us for the sure-to-be-radically changed post-Olympics China that will follow. Instinctively, Americans realize that China will emerge as either our greatest partner or greatest competitor and in the weeks and months ahead this must be addressed in both parties’ platforms and clearly articulated in the upcoming presidential campaigns.
Among the many areas where congressional leadership has shaped US China policy, Tibet stands out. Mr. Chairman, for twenty years, you and I have been meeting to discuss Tibet, mostly with heavy hearts. I have listened with appreciation and admiration as you and your colleagues register outrage over human rights abuses and urge strategies to move China towards genuine, systematic reform but we still face an uphill battle and the human rights situation for Tibetans has not improved.
Nonetheless, the tremendous outpouring of international support for Tibet and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, including and I believe most-significantly, congressional actions, have had a bearing on Beijing, so much so that we have come to believe the Tibet issue we are facing can be resolved.
Confidence in this premise has inspired legislation crafted in this Committee and in its Senate counterpart to mandate the appointment of a Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues with the responsibility to promote a negotiated solution for Tibet. Three successive appointments of high level officials to this position by US Secretaries of State have been committed to the engagement of Chinese officials and the envoys of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in a process of dialogue.
You have heard from Under Secretary Dobriansky on the initiatives taken by President Bush and his administration and from Lodi Gyari on his discussions with the Chinese. Their testimonies suggest a way forward, given sufficient political will in Beijing which thus far has been sadly lacking. I think it is fair to say that all parties are considering when and how the direct participation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama can be engaged to achieve a positive resolution for both parties. A win-win is possible. For those of us who know His Holiness, it is impossible to conceive that his involvement would be an impediment or a stumbling block. In fact, the Nobel Peace Laureate is the perfect partner for an equitable solution. So why has Beijing been so unwilling to embrace this simple truth?
China craves success and respectability. Its economic success is in most ways indisputable and certainly hosting the Olympics is a high-prestige occasion. But what concerns me and other Americans is how China is winning respectability and extending its influence as a global player. And at what cost to us?
However, with regard to Tibet, respectability rests on legitimacy, and China has come to its claim on Tibet by invasion and occupation and not through the Communist revolution that provided the legitimacy for that party’s rule in China.
The Dalai Lama embodies China’s lack of legitimacy and it is therefore reasonable to assume that Chinese leaders fear that a return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet and the emotional welcome that would greet him, would only underscore this point. But that’s clearly a short sighted point of view that belies President Hu Jintao’s commitment to a “harmonious society” which is inclusive of Tibetans and all other ethnic minorities in China. Ironically, the Dalai Lama actually affords China the opportunity for a lasting and peaceful solution with the Tibetan people that would otherwise be impossible. The stability and legitimacy the Dalai Lama would bring is very good indeed for China’s short and long term interests.
Unfortunately, nothing illustrates China’s failure of respectability more vividly than its current policies and actions in Tibet. Since the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1949-50, Tibetans who did not escape into exile with the Dalai Lama have been systematically brutalized and increasingly marginalized. China’s breakneck economic success has, in Tibet, led to inappropriate economic and social policies that make certain the even-further and perhaps permanent marginalization of Tibetans. These policies, which are rapidly transforming Tibet, are based on an urban, technocratic model that favors Chinese settlers and does not take into account Tibetans’ needs, views or the way of life that has sustained them successfully on the highest plateau of Asia for centuries. These policies present the most serious threat by the Chinese yet to the survival of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural and linguistic identity.
The chilling reality of China’s treatment of Tibetans was exposed in a short film shot by a Sergiu Matei, a Romanian mountain climber and cameraman who himself lived through similar hardships under Soviet Rule. I recently had the privilege of meeting Sergiu in Berlin. He told me of his climbing near the Tibet-Nepal border as he and his companions witnessed Chinese border police open fire on a group of Tibetan refugees, mostly nuns, monks and small children, who were making the impossible crossing into Nepal through the Nang Pa-la pass. After twenty-two days of walking, they were a half hour from freedom. In Sergiu’s film, the sharp crack of gunfire is heard and Kelsang Namtso, a 17-year old Tibetan Buddhist nun falls dead in the deep snow. She was shot like an animal.
Kelsang Namtso was escaping from Tibet in order to practice her religion in freedom and to seek a blessing from the Dalai Lama. The reasons for her dangerous journey into exile, which ultimately led to her death, were similar to many of the thousands of Tibetans who risk their lives escaping from Tibet each year. I must note here that since 1991 Congress has provided humanitarian assistance, administered through the UNHCR and the Central Tibetan Administration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, for the care of Tibetan refugees. I myself have been to these refugee centers, without which many of those Tibetans who do cross safely into Nepal and onwards into India would not survive.
China’s initial response to international news of the shooting of Kelsang Namtso was to say that its police fired on the Tibetans in self-defense. After Sergiu’s film was shown on the BBC, NBC, CNN and U-tube, China adjusted its explanation claiming that the murder of Kelsang Namsto reflected “normal border management”, hardly the response of a country that is seeking respectability.
Even as Chinese leaders may be weighing the pros and cons of genuinely engaging the Dalai Lama as a partner, there is a growing interest among the Chinese people themselves in Tibet’s culture, religion, and still largely pristine lands. The Chinese people are hungry for spiritual sustenance after sixty-years of official and enforced atheism. They are rediscovering deep Buddhist roots in China and are finding them compatible with their modern lives and future aspirations. Today, it is not uncommon to see Chinese on pilgrimage to Tibet’s holy places and Chinese monks are known to study the timeless Buddhist principles of wisdom and compassion with Tibetan Buddhist masters.
Well-to-do Chinese tourists, arriving in Lhasa by the hundreds of thousands on the new train from Beijing, cross thousands of miles of magnificent landscape. One can only imagine the impact of these wide open spaces on people who mostly experience daily life in China’s environmentally ravaged urban centers. Five of the ten most-polluted cities in the world are in China. An urgency to protect the environment is building within China, and many Chinese see Tibet as a natural treasure that must be protected. We need to encourage this. Many of us see the possibility of Tibet becoming an enormous environmental reserve, an area that China can claim with pride.
It is imperative that Congress encourage and convince China that the survival of Tibet’s spiritual and cultural heritage is vital not only for the Tibetan people but also congruent with its own ambitions for success and respectability. China’s journey towards greatness will only be enhanced by embracing and preserving Tibet’s unique culture and pristine land.
Mr. Chairman, the Dalai Lama is willing to make a visit to China. I strongly believe such a visit would build confidence and trust between the two parties and would certainly allay Chinese fears concerning the Dalai Lama and what his presence in Tibet would portend. Those of us who know His Holiness could never doubt his sincerity. We must use every opportunity available to us to impress upon President Hu Jintao and other Chinese officials the importance of extending an invitation for this visit. It is imperative for the human rights of the Tibetan people, for the survival of their unique identity, and for the legitimacy of China that the Dalai Lama is meaningfully involved in decision making on Tibet’s future. China could have no better friend.
The award of the Congressional Gold Medal to His Holiness the Dalai Lama will occur this October and all Americans applaud this as a clear statement of the United States’ support for a peaceful resolution in Tibet. Prior to that, China’s National Party Congress will convene which offers an important opportunity for it to rethink its Tibet policy based not on the past but on China’s maturing stature in the world today.
It is my hope that China will generate a creative atmosphere of openness and possibility that sets the stage for an invitation to and an acceptance by His Holiness to visit China. It is important that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is able to continue to speak with confidence about the path he has committed to pursue with China. And let us be absolutely clear again, that path leads to a genuinely autonomous Tibet within the People’s Republic of China. And with it, all the national harmony and goodwill that that relationship would imply.
As I conclude my time before the Committee, I would like to return to the issue of US programmatic support for Tibet and urge this, the authorizing Committee, to renew its commitment and secure full funding for programs that: 1) preserve cultural tradition 2) promote sustainable development and environmental conservation in Tibet 3) promote democracy and human rights documentation 4) provide humanitarian assistance for Tibetan refugees; 5) preserve the Tibetan Scholarship Program, the Tibetan Cultural Exchange Program, the Voice of America and Radio Free Asia Tibetan broadcasts.
These programs have been the life blood of the Tibetan Diaspora and most importantly, they have provided hope and confidence to Tibetans inside Tibet. They indicate the strong support of our government for Tibet, and they express the will of the American people.
Finally and personally, for President Hu Jintao, this is an extraordinary opportunity to secure his position as a great modern Chinese leader, to enjoy the embrace of the rest of the world and set a precedence of trustworthiness for the solution of the far more-complex issues facing China. A creative and peaceful resolution in Tibet would surely be the foundation of the “harmonious society” President Hu so envisions.
To be honest, there is an extraordinary yet narrow window of opportunity between China’s National Party Congress and the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. President Hu is presented with a unique moment in history to define his legacy. Let us hope and pray he takes advantage of it.
I will offer a final observation. An equitable solution in Tibet is good for Tibet, good for China, good for Asia, good for America, good for the world and an unmistakable demonstration of China’s evolution as a responsible nation and people….and quite simply, it’s the right thing to do.