Representatives Jim McGovern (Democrat from Massachusetts) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Republican from Florida) spoke today in the House of Representatives to draw attention to the situation inside Tibet. Participating in the General Speeches period as the House began its session, they displayed a large portrait of the Dalai Lama, spoke about their support for the aspirations of the Tibetan people, the respect they have for the Dalai Lama, and about their work in the United States proactively promoting initiatives on Tibet. They also spoke about the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Bill that Representative Jim McGovern and Representative Randy Hultgren introduced in the House in April and that aims at promoting more access to Tibet for American citizens.
Below is an unofficial transcript of their remarks.
Mr. McGovern: Mr. Speaker, in 2002, Congress passed the Tibetan Policy Act to support the aspirations of the Tibetan people to safeguard their distinct identity. The law laid out steps to protect the distinct religious, cultural and linguistic identity of Tibet; and to press for improved respect for human rights of the Tibetan people; a dialogue between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Chinese Government; immediate and unconditional release of Tibetan prisoners of conscience; establishing a U.S. Consular office in Lhasa; and requesting that the 11th Panchen Lama be allowed to pursue his religious studies without Chinese Government interference.
Mr. Speaker, these were basic commonsense steps, yet 15 years later there is little progress: the Chinese-Tibet dialogue has been suspended since 2010; there are hundreds of Tibetan prisoners of conscience, many are monks, some, like Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, have died in custody. There’s still no US Consular office in Lhasa, a major problem for U.S. officials trying to respond to emergencies, like the 2015 earthquake that trapped dozens of our citizens in the Tibet Autonomous Region, and the Chinese government, officially atheist, has declared that it will decide who will be reincarnated as the next Dalai Lama.
Mr. Speaker, I want to express my concern for the well-being of the missing 11th Panchen Lama, the second highest leader in the Tibetan religion. Twenty-two years ago, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was detained by Chinese authorities when he was just six years old, and just three days after the Dalai Lama declared him to be the reincarnated Panchen Lama. Today, he is one of the world’s longest serving political prisoners. China has refused to provide any details of his whereabouts. Let me be clear, the Chinese government does not have the right or the authority to name the reincarnated religious leaders of Tibet, not the Panchen Lama and not the next Dalai Lama.
Mr. Speaker, I constantly receive reports from Tibet of human rights abuses and affronts to basic human dignity, like the demolition of buildings and forced eviction of religious people from the famous Buddhist institute of Larung Gar. Or the restrictions that keep Tibetans from traveling around their own country, much less abroad. We need to rethink U.S. policy toward Tibet. For years china has faced no consequences for its failure to respect the fundamental rights of the Tibetan people. This must change. Along with a bipartisan group of Members of Congress, I have introduced H.R. 1872, the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act. This Bill imposes consequences for just one aspect of Chinese bad behavior, its restrictions on travels to areas in China where ethnic Tibetans live. U.S. diplomats, journalists and tourists have to get a special permit to enter the Tibet autonomous region and travel to other Tibetan area is also tightly controlled. But under H.R. 1872 no senior leader responsible for designing or implementing travel restrictions to Tibetan areas will be eligible to enter the United States. The rationale for the Bill is simple. The basis of diplomatic law is mutual access and reciprocity. But while the Chinese enjoy broad access to the United States, the same is not true for U.S. diplomats, journalists or tourists going to Tibet, including Tibetan Americans trying to visit their place of origin. This is simply unacceptable. If China wants its citizens and officials to travel freely in the U.S., Americans must be able to travel freely in China, including Tibet.
Allowing travel to Tibet is only one step China needs to take. It must also remove the obstacles to freedom of movement for Tibetans within China and abroad. China cannot have it both ways. Either Tibetans are Chinese citizens or they are not. If they are, they must enjoy the same rights and privileges as other Chinese citizens. China also must permit His Holiness the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet for a visit, if he so desires. He is a man of peace who will soon turn 82 years old. He should be able to visit his homeland.
China also should demonstrate true respects for the human rights and religious freedom of the Tibetan people. A first step would be to permit an independent international investigation into the July 2015 death in custody of the revered lama, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche. On our side, the new trump administration needs to appoint the special coordinator for Tibetan issues as quickly as possible. To make progress, we need someone in charge. They must insist that China restart the dialogue to lead a negotiated agreement in Tibet. They should develop a list of Chinese officials subject to sanction under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. No one responsible for torture and extra judicial killings or for significant corruption, should benefit from coming to our country and doing business here. They should publicly engage the Dalai Lama and the democratically elected leader of the Tibetan people. The state department should take every opportunity to benefit from the Dalai Lama’s knowledge and decades of reflections. The secretary of State should highlight the democratic practices of the Tibetan people and meet personally with the Sikyong, Dr. Lobsang Sangay, and the Administration also should engage other governments to create a group of friends of Tibet. It is time to pursue a coordinated international action in support of the Tibetan people.
Mr. Speaker, time may be running out for the Tibetan people. All those who say they believe in the rights of Tibetans must move beyond words to concrete actions. I urge my colleagues to co-sponsor H.R. 1872, the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, and to support additional measures to protect all that is unique about Tibet and its people. I yield back my time.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen: Thank you so much, Mr. Speaker.
I rise today to speak about something that I hold near and dear to my heart, the plight of the people of Tibet and of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The forced exile of His Holiness is a source of profound sorrow for the people of Tibet. For over 60 years, the Communist regime in Beijing has refused to allow this kind, compassionate man to come home while systematically persecuting the Tibetan people, denying them even the most basic human rights and freedom, and implementing policies designed to wipe out the culture of Tibet.
In 2007 I authored legislation to pave the way for Congress to award the Congressional Medal of Honor to the Dalai Lama. A decade later, I am concerned that issues in Tibet are being pushed to the sidelines, a mistake that could have profound consequences, not only for Tibet, but for the entire Asian continent. Known as the Roof of the World, the Tibetan plateau is a source of many of Asia’s major rivers, making the Chinese regime’s threats to Tibet’s stability a strategically important security issue for the entire region.
Last month, i was proud to join Congressman McGovern in sending a letter in support of the appointment of a special coordinator for Tibetan issues at the State department. I am also proud to co-sponsor Mr. McGovern’s Bill, the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, which is designed to help stop China’s destabilizing behavior in Tibet by revoking the visa of any Chinese official found to be responsible for restricting the access of U.S. citizens to Tibet. Last week I had the pleasure of meeting with Richard Gere an activist who helps to bring more attention and awareness to this very important matter. As His Holiness has said, in the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher. It is essential, Mr. Speaker, that we in Congress advocate on behalf of the people of Tibet and join forces to combat the Chinese regime’s increasing aggression.