A new report prepared by a bipartisan staff delegation of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee that visited Tibet finds that Chinese economic and social policies are “fueling discontent” among Tibetans. The report offers recommendations for U.S. Tibet policy to promote the inclusion of Tibetans in decision-making based on the conclusion that “Tibetans … live under a political system that too often affords them little real power over their own affairs.” The delegation also called for the establishment of a U.S. consulate in Lhasa.

The delegation, which comprised four staff members of the Committee, visited Lhasa in September 2010, arriving via the Qinghai-Tibet railway. One staff member also made observations in Amdo, traveling though Tibetan autonomous areas in Qinghai and Gansu provinces. The main purpose of the trip, the first by Committee staff since August 2002, was to “identify areas of common ground, particularly in the areas of equitable economic development, environmental protection, and cultural preservation.”

Typical for official visitors to the Tibet Autonomous Region, the delegation’s itinerary was “carefully scripted” by the Chinese authorities. As an example, they described the “Potemkin-like quality” of a “model village” designed to show the modernity of Tibetan dwellings. However, the members did assert time for themselves to wander unescorted to talk to local residents.

The delegation reported on the “scale and scope of the economic transformation that is obviously underway in Tibet,” citing “massive investment” in transportation infrastructure, housing, and education. The report cites official statistics on economic development in the region, including housing construction, school enrollment and graduation rates and economic growth rates. It says Chinese investment has “improved the lives of Tibetans” even as it notes that “a large percentage of the jobs created by the boom are going to Han Chinese rather than native Tibetans.”

The report concludes that “discrimination, Han migration and growing income equality are also fueling discontent,” and that “restrictions on religious practice … are also a major source of unhappiness for many Tibetans.” One delegation member paraphrased a famous Beatles song to characterize the result of Chinese policies in Tibet as “Money can’t buy you love.”

The report’s release comes three weeks after His Holiness the Dalai Lama issues a call for “fact-finding” delegations to Tibet to find out if Tibetans are truly happy under Chinese policies.

The report offers ways for U.S. policy-makers to work collaboratively with Chinese government officials on polices to help Tibetan autonomous areas. The delegation recommends that the U.S. government:

  • “identify specific projects in the areas of sustainable economic development, environmental protection, and cultural preservation that could be undertaken jointly;”
  • “seek to scale up existing U.S.-funded NGO activities in Tibetan regions;” and
  • “encourage China to relax restrictions on movement of U.S. government officials, journalists, tourists, and pilgrims to and from Tibetan regions, and, consistent with the Tibet Policy Act, press China to permit the United States to open a Consulate in Lhasa.”

A copy of the report can be found at: http://foreign.senate.gov/download/?id=E3A86CB6-499B-4228-9F2F-2B046E0ADE83