Testimony of Bhuchung K. Tsering, Vice President of the International Campaign for Tibet, at the hearing on The Many Faces of China’s Repression: Human Rights and US Diplomacy in China organized by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom on Wednesday, January 31, 2007 Dirkson Senate Office Building Washington, D.C.

I thank the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom for providing me with this opportunity to testify before you today.

As successive reports by the United States Government, your own Commission, the Congressional Executive Commission on China as well as international human rights monitoring organizations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Tibetan Center for Human Rights & Democracy, the International Campaign for Tibet, etc., have revealed, religious freedom of the Tibetan people is greatly undermined by the policies of the Chinese Government.

Official visitors to Tibet, including by the members of the Commission itself in August 2005, as well as independent witnesses have confirmed what organizations like ours have been trying to highlight for the past many years. There is a consistent pattern of violation of the fundamental rights to religious freedom of the Tibetan people by the Chinese Government. The most recent case is the order issued by the Chinese Government banning Tibetan government workers, retired staff and cadres, students and Party members from participating in the commemoration of an important Buddhist festival in December 2006. The International Campaign for Tibet was able to obtain a copy of this Government order. While this in itself is a cause of concern to the Tibetan people, I would like to draw your attention to a more sinister motive of the Chinese Government in its present approach towards religion in Tibet. Today, it is clear that the Chinese Government has altered its religious policy by virtually making it an instrument of control of the Tibetan people. I would like to expand on this by highlighting the specific case of the present Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, who continues to remain under some sort of detention since his recognition by the Dalai Lama in 1995.

January 28 this year, i.e. three days ago, marked the 18th anniversary of the passing away of the previous Panchen Lama in Tibet. As per Tibetan religious tradition, following the passing away of the Panchen Lama in 1989, the Dalai Lama undertook to initiate the process of finding his reincarnation. However, the Chinese Government, which had once banned the system of reincarnation of Tibetan lamas, claimed authority to appoint the next Panchen Lama and to dictate the process of his search. When the Dalai Lama announced his recognition of the then six-year-old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the 11th Panchen Lama in 1995, the Chinese authorities retaliated by detaining the boy and his family and appointing another boy on the throne. Since then, despite repeated attempts to gain access to the Panchen Lama, no international agencies or human rights organizations – including the United Nations and your Commission– has been allowed to visit him or his family, and their condition remains uncertain.

From one perspective, Chinese authorities’ treatment of the Panchen Lama reflects their known repressive policy towards Tibetan religion and its practitioners. However, the fact that the Chinese authorities were not satisfied with criticizing the Dalai Lama’s role of recognizing the Panchen Lama, but took upon themselves to appoint their own choice also shows that they are bent on using the institution of the Panchen Lama to serve their political interest of controlling the Tibetan people. This has to be understood in the context of the Tibetan society.

Although the Tibetan people have been under the control of the People’s Republic of China for the past nearly five decades, no Chinese leader has been able to win the hearts of the Tibetan people. Time and again, the Tibetan people, including the previous Panchen Lama, have showed their reverence and loyalty to the Dalai Lama, despite the physical distance between them. Religion is a primary means for the Tibetan people to assert their distinct identity in today’s Tibet. The previous Panchen Lama used all the authority he had to protect religious freedom of the Tibetan people. It was during his time that Tibetans began to get the space to undertake some of their religious practices.Historically, too, the Panchen Lamas have had a special relationship with the Dalai Lama.

The Chinese authorities are now bent upon using the institution of the Panchen Lama to control the Tibetan people. As it is, China’s appointee to the throne of the Panchen Lama has been making political statements praising the work of the Chinese Communist Party, which are not in the nature of a typical Tibetan lama. The Chinese authorities assume and hope that their selected boy will play a decisive role in the choice of the next Dalai Lama.

The issue of the Panchen Lama is also reflective of the nature of China’s trampling of Tibetan religious freedom. The process of reincarnation is a distinctly spiritual process. Since the spread of Buddhism in Tibet, the Tibetan people have evolved a unique process to search and recognize reincarnations of lamas. By denying the Tibetan people the right to undertake this religious process in their own way, the Chinese government has grossly interfered in this spiritual process.

It is because of such a repressive atmosphere that the Chinese authorities have created for the Tibetan religious practitioners inside Tibet that prominent lamas, like the Karmapa and Arjia Rinpoche, have fled to freedom in the last several years.

The Karmapa is a prominent Tibetan religious leader and this reincarnation was recognized while he was in Tibet. However, he soon began to realize that the Chinese officials wanted to make use of him for political purposes and that he would not be able to have a wholesome spiritual education if he remained inside Tibet. During a press conference in Dharamsala, India, on April 27, 2001, the Karmapa responded to a question about Chinese Government’s plans regarding his future saying, “I came to suspect that there might be a plan to use me to separate the people within Tibet from His Holiness the Dalai Lama.”

The Arjia Rinpoche’s case is directly linked to the issue of the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, as he informed your Commission during a hearing in Los Angeles in 2000. He said then, ‘I was part of the “committee” formed by the Chinese government to search for the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama. Historically, it has been an important part of our tradition to have the Panchen Lama’s reincarnation chosen by the Dalai Lama and the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation chosen by the Panchen Lama.’

Since Arjia Rinpoche’s Kumbum Monastery is closely linked to the institution of the Panchen Lama, the Chinese authorities hoped to use his good office to legitimize their choice of the Panchen Lama. Rinpoche was among the few Tibetan lamas inside Tibet who knew the reality of the process of the search of the Panchen Lama. Having understood the ulterior motives of the Chinese authorities, the Arjia Rinpoche took the decision to flee China rather than acquiesce to the political needs of the Chinese Government. As he said at the hearing, ‘Had I remained in Tibet I would have been forced to denounce the Dalai Lama and my religion and to serve the Chinese government. This meant also participating in government practices that went against my religion and my personal beliefs. As Abbot of the Kumbum Monastery, I would have been forced to help the government have its choice of the Panchen Lama accepted by the Tibetan people. This would violate my deepest beliefs.’

Thus, it is our contention that the lack of fundamental human rights is the cause of instability in Tibet today. Under the leadership of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan people have chosen not to seek a violent path to find a resolution to the problem. The Chinese authorities cannot hope to resolve the Tibetan problem through control. In fact such issues of religious freedom or human rights are mere symptoms of a bigger political problem. No Tibetan, including the Dalai Lama, feels any pleasure in working to resolve the Tibetan issue. The Dalai Lama rightly believes that once there is a lasting mutually satisfactory solution through negotiations these issues will get resolved in a natural process.

It is important, therefore, that a responsible government like that of the United States plays an effective role in supporting the Tibetan people’s endeavor. The United States has said in its annual Report on Tibet Negotiations that ‘The Dalai Lama can be a constructive partner as China deals with the difficult challenges of regional and national stability. He represents the views of the vast majority of Tibetans and his moral authority helps to unite the Tibetan community inside and outside of China. 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. At the same time, the lack of resolution of these problems leads to greater tensions inside China and will be a stumbling block to fuller political and economic engagement with the United States and other nations.’

Specifically, establishing religious freedom in Tibet requires deep structural and systematic changes in China’s policies in Tibet. I would like to conclude by repeating here some recommendations that the International Campaign for Tibet has to bring about a change in the condition of Tibetan religious practitioners.

  • Immediate and unconditional release of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his family. The Panchen Lama must be allowed to return to Tashi Lhunpo Monastery and be allowed to receive traditional religious education.
  • Immediate and unconditional release of all religious prisoners of conscience;
  • Restoration of complete religious freedom to the Tibetan religious practitioners, including in the matters of search and recognition of reincarnations;
  • Abolish minimum age requirements for entering a monastery or nunnery;
  • Halt the use of Work Teams in monasteries and nunneries;

Thank you.