July 26, 2012, Washington, D.C.: The International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) welcomes the opportunity provided by the U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue for American diplomats to raise the current crisis in Tibet, exemplified by the 44 Tibetan self-immolations, directly with Chinese officials. ICT especially hopes for positive responses from the Chinese government on U.S. appeals for the information on Tibetan political prisoners. At the same time, ICT questions whether it was most effective for securing progress on human rights to hold the dialogue on the same days that the President’s National Security Advisor was in Beijing for talks with Chinese leaders. ICT especially regrets that the Chinese government, as reported by the U.S.-side, does not hold the view that Tibetans are “entitled to live freely.”

The 17th U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue was held July 23-24, 2012, in Washington, D.C. The last round occurred in Beijing in April 2011. Various rule of law and human rights issues were reportedly discussed. In a press briefing following the dialogue (available at: http://www.state.gov), Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Michael Posner said with regard to Tibet:

“We’ve raised and will continue to raise our deep concern about more than 40 self-immolations in Tibetan parts of China. On Monday afternoon, we had a quite lengthy discussion, both of the issues relating to the Uyghurs in Xinjiang as well as the Tibetan population in the various places where they reside. And we discussed a range of concerns about both the self-immolations, which I mentioned with the Tibetans, but broader issues that apply both to the Uyghur and Tibetan community relating to discrimination in terms of language rights, ability to practice their religion freely, discrimination employment – a range of issues involving their cultural rights, their religious freedom, et cetera. Our position is that these are – these minority communities and representatives of religious minorities – are entitled to live freely, to express their religious views, to practice their religion, to express their cultural differences and customs. And this is an area where clearly the Chinese Government has a different view.”

On July 25, the day after the human rights dialogue’s conclusion, ICT Vice President Bhuchung Tsering testified before the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee on the human rights situation in Tibet (available at: http://foreignaffairs.house.gov). Mr. Tsering said with regard to the dialogue: “We welcome such [dialogues] as they reflect the concern of the American public about the situation in Tibet. [ICT], however, believes that the State Department bears the burden of proving that these dialogues are more than ritualized exercises that enable smooth U.S.-China relations.”

ICT seriously questions decisions about the timing of the dialogue, which was conducted concurrently with the visit of National Security Advisor Tom Donilon to Beijing to confer with Chinese President Hu Jintao and other senior Chinese leaders (available at: NYT, Political Worries in U.S. and China Color Obama Aide’s Beijing Visit). “The simultaneity of these meetings reinforces the impression that human rights are compartmentalized outside the core of U.S.-China relations. When the person who has the President’s ear on national security is in Beijing for top-level meetings, how seriously do Chinese officials visiting Washington take U.S. concerns on human rights? It sends a bad signal,” said Todd Stein, ICT Director of Government Relations.

ICT recommends that all governments engaged in such human rights dialogues with the Chinese insist on benchmarks and deliverables on human rights progress, and set clear consequences for failure to achieve progress. In his testimony before Congress, ICT Vice President Bhuchung Tsering made additional recommendations for U.S. China policy:

  • Assistant Secretary Michael Posner should testify before Congress to provide a public readout of the human rights dialogue, including any concrete actions the State Department is taking to follow up on human rights concerns raised;
  • The U.S. Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, Under Secretary of State Maria Otero, should confer with the Obama Administration’s new interagency Atrocities Prevention Board to ensure that the situation in Tibet is on their watch-list;
  • The State Department should impose travel restrictions on certain Chinese officials unless and until U.S. diplomats, foreign journalists, and U.N. officials are given access to Tibetan areas, as have been requested;
  • U.S. diplomats in China should expand their outreach to Tibetan communities and increase monitoring of Tibetan language blogs and social media; and
  • The State Department should continue to insist that the Chinese government, on the basis of reciprocity, allow the establishment of a U.S. Consulate in Lhasa, Tibet.

In addition, Bhuchung Tsering urged Congress to:

  • Pass House Resolution 609 regarding the self-immolations in Tibet;
  • Update and strengthen the Tibetan Policy Act;
  • Investigate China’s interference in the internal affairs of Nepal and its consequences for Tibetan refugees; and
  • Investigate the impact of Confucius Institutes on academic discourse on Tibet.