At the US-China summit in Beijing, Presidents Obama and Hu have released a joint statement that indicates they discussed a resolution for Tibet, human rights and religious freedom.

In the joint statement, President Obama said, “I spoke to President Hu about America’s bedrock beliefs that all men and women possess certain fundamental human rights. We do not believe that these principles are unique to America but rather they are universal rights and that they should be available to all peoples, to all ethnic and religious minorities. We did note that while we recognise that Tibet is part of the People’s Republic of China the United States supports the early resumption of dialogue between the Chinese government and the representatives of the Dalai Lama to resolve any concerns and differences that the two sides may have.” President Hu said, “The two sides reaffirmed the fundamental principle of respecting each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity… We will continue to act in the spirit of equality, mutual respect and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, and engage in dialogue and exchanges on such issues as human rights and religion in order to enhance understanding, reduce differences and build common ground.” 

The joint statement confirms pledges by Obama Administration officials that Tibet would be discussed at the summit, and follows a meeting in September between the Dalai Lama and a White House delegation in Dharamsala, India. Also, prior to the summit, Chinese government officials clearly stated their desire for a reformulated US statement on Tibet policy and urged President Obama to reconsider his opinion of the Dalai Lama.

“The joint statement shows that Tibet remains a prominent issue in the US-China relationship,” said Mary Beth Markey, ICT Vice President for International Advocacy. “Chinese officials may have perceived President Obama’s break with precedence on meeting with the Dalai Lama as an opening to press for a change of policy. However, they neglected to take into account that Tibet was long ago institutionalized as a principled US foreign policy interest, which incorporates both support for the Dalai Lama and documentation of serious rights abuses by the Chinese state against Tibetans.”

The joint statement echoes President Obama’s engagement with President Hu in April in which he expressed his desire for progress in the dialogue and for improvements in the human rights situation. In March, the State Department informed Congress in its 2009 Tibet Negotiations Report that: “China’s engagement with the Dalai Lama or his representatives to resolve problems facing Tibetans is in the interest of both the Chinese government and the Tibetan people. Failure to resolve these problems will only lead to greater tensions inside China and will be a stumbling block to fuller engagement with the United States and other nations.”

Mary Beth Markey said: “President Obama went to Beijing looking for forward movement – not a roll-back on Tibet. It remains to be seen whether his new approach will be understood by the Chinese as a desire to be substantially helpful in resolving the Tibet issue, and whether President Obama uses the weight of his office to promote an early resumption of the dialogue with meaningful progress toward a resolution.”

On November 10, ICT’s Board of Directors sent a letter to President Obama urging him to use the summit to push for progress on the Tibet issue, with two specific initiatives recommended: an offer of assistance to the Chinese government and representatives of the Dalai Lama in defining a common goal for their dialogue; and an invitation for the Dalai Lama to visit China.