Supporters of permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) with the People’s Republic of China have promised a bonanza for U.S. business, but today’s 83-15 Senate vote undermines U.S. efforts on behalf of human and economic rights for the Tibetan people.

The vote comes at a time when China is intensifying repression in Tibet. Hundreds of Tibetans are detained or imprisoned for political reasons, including the young Panchen Lama and Ngawang Choephel who is in seriously ill health.

“To maintain legitimacy and credibility in its human rights advocacy, the United States must work harder bilaterally with China and in multilateral fora, such as the United Nations, to achieve demonstrable results. Those corporations and investors who would benefit from PNTR must ensure that their profits are not fueling China’s occupation of Tibet,” said John Ackerly, ICT President.

The passage of PNTR signals the end of the annual Congressional review of U.S. trade relations with China that often served America well, reflecting its economic strength, democratic principles, and commitment to fundamental human rights around the world. Loss of this review discards a powerful foreign policy tool.

In addition to extending PNTR to China, the legislation also establishes an Executive-Congressional Committee to monitor and report on human rights abuses in China and Tibet, although there is no requirement that its findings result in legislation or an annual debate in the Congress. “ICT recognizes the limitations of the Committee, but we look forward to working with its members to maximize the potential for positive change in Tibet. Beijing should not interpret PNTR as a referendum on human rights or a retreat from the Congress’ 1991 declaration that Tibet is an ‘occupied country under established principles of international law’,” said Mary Beth Markey, ICT Director of Government Relations.

Increased economic ties with China may have profound adverse effects on Tibet. Formally begun in 1999, China is implementing grand plans to develop its “western regions.” The scheme is touted as a way to promote “backward” economies and raise the welfare of the people but, so far, its clear beneficiaries have been Chinese migrants and the coffers of the Central Government. According to the Chinese constitution, all natural resources belong to the state, which has announced its eagerness to exploit Tibetan lumber, minerals and fossil fuels.

Since the People’s Liberation Army invaded Tibet in 1950, Beijing has struggled to maintain its rule over the captive nation. Unable to extinguish Tibetan nationalism by military occupation alone, the PRC has sought to destroy Tibet’s separate identity by resettling millions of Chinese into the country and building up the infrastructures to consolidate its control. It is the end game of China’s final solution, and foreign resources are now being recruited to help.

Involvement by foreign corporations or multilateral institutions, which facilitate the influx of Chinese settlers or further disempowers the Tibetan people, has attracted intense opposition by Tibetans and international non-governmental organizations. An attempt by the World Bank to move settlers into a traditional Tibetan area and the NYSE listing of PetroChina, a state-controlled oil company are two recent examples. The World Bank was forced to cancel their project and opposition to the NYSE listing drastically reduced the investment raised by PetroChina, which is building a gas pipeline through Tibetan areas. BP, Agip, and underwriter Goldman Sachs have come under fire for their involvement and their disregard for development guidelines established by the Tibetan government-in-exile.