Tibet advocacy groups in the United States have called on Ambassador-designate Gary Locke to advocate for Tibet in his tenure as U.S. Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China. In a letter to Ambassador-designate Locke the coalition of American Tibet Support Groups requests that he “be a consistent and reliable advocate for the rights and aspirations of the Tibetan people.” Currently the Secretary of Commerce, Gary Locke awaits Senate confirmation as Ambassador to China.
“We will be counting on you to be a consistent and reliable advocate for the rights and aspirations of the Tibetan people per the abundant policies established by the U.S. Congress and successive Administrations,” said the letter, which was organized by the International Campaign for Tibet and signed by ten groups which are listed below.
This letter comes at a time when the Chinese government has intensified its crackdown across Tibet. In connection with celebrations organized by the Chinese Communist Party of its rule in Tibet, Tibetan areas have been made limits to tourists and foreign journalists and diplomats.
In addition to raising the case of the continued crackdown at the Kirti monastery, the letter cites issues of particular concern to U.S. authorities including the geopolitical significance of the Tibetan watershed, the recent call for language rights among Tibetan students, and the fate of political prisoners like the Panchen Lama.
Encouraging the new Ambassador to take on his Tibet portfolio with vigor, the letter notes that “Tibet is an unquestionable issue of morality and justice. American interest in Tibet is due in part to the Tibetans’ non-violent struggle for cultural, political, and religious rights as well as the geopolitical importance that Tibet holds for the region.”
Text of the letter follows:
July 12, 2011
The Honorable Gary Locke
US Department of Commerce
1401 Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20230
Dear Secretary Locke:
We would like to congratulate you on your nomination for the position of U.S. Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China. As you await confirmation by the Senate and prepare to settle into life in Beijing, we would like to reinforce the importance Tibet and issues facing the Tibetan people hold in your portfolio as Ambassador to China.
Tibet is an unquestionable issue of morality and justice. American interest in Tibet is due in part to the Tibetans’ non-violent struggle for cultural, political, and religious rights as well as the geopolitical importance that Tibet holds for the region. The Chinese government’s long-standing suppression of Tibetans’ cultural and religious freedom, as well as its denial of basic human rights of the Tibetan people in the face of non-violent resistance, have long been catalysts for U.S. engagement. Furthermore, Tibet’s mountainous and glacial terrain has provided a buffer zone between India and China as well as the source of water for six of Asia’s major rivers. Its geopolitical significance is important to security in Asia.
The U.S. government has taken great interest in Tibet, as evidenced by the large corpus of policy and programs developed on Tibet. In 2002 Congress passed the Tibetan Policy Act into law, codifying the position of the Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues in the State Department to oversee Tibet programs and promote the Tibetan-Chinese dialogue. Among its other provisions, the Act requires Tibet-specific sections of the annual reports on human rights and religious freedom, directs advocacy for political prisoners and set principles for U.S. support of development projects in Tibet. It also requires the U.S. Ambassador to meet with the 11th Panchen Lama, who was disappeared in 1995, and to seek his release in order to pursue his religious education.
If confirmed to this post, you will be joining the ranks of other U.S. ambassadors who have used their position to focus on Tibet. During the tenure of Ambassador Clark Randt Jr., several Tibetan political prisoners were released into American custody. Most recently, Ambassador Huntsman visited Lhasa and the town of Kyegu (Yushu) which was devastated by a massive earthquake in April 2010 and took other steps on the Tibet issue.
Since the Chinese Government occupied Tibet in 1950, Tibetans in Tibet have been living under repressive policies limiting religious practice, freedom of movement, and freedom of expression – a situation which has only intensified since the demonstrations that swept across the Tibetan Plateau in 2008. Protests this spring at Kirti Monastery in Ngaba, Amdo (Ch: Ngaba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province) sparked by the self-immolation of a 20-year old Kirti monk, have led to a security lockdown at the monastery, the relocation of 300 monks to unknown sites for “political re-education,” and the deaths of two locals resulting from police brutality at the protests. An information blackout has been in place since mid-March, and very little information is available on the situation. Chinese authorities have denied any problem in Ngaba. We ask you to request U.S. diplomatic access to Ngaba to ascertain an accurate account of the situation at Kirti monastery.
The rebuilding of Kyegu, Amdo (Ch: Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai province) is an example of the failure to adequately involve Tibetan stakeholders in economic decision-making. Chinese government plans call for rebuilding Kyegu as an “eco-friendly tourist city” with insufficient regard for the fact that Kyegu has been a center of Tibetan cultural and religious life for centuries and 97 percent of the prefecture’s inhabitants are Tibetan. Chinese authorities have even proposed to rename the town.
In October 2010, Tibetan school and college students protested against plans announced by Chinese authorities to restrict the use in schools of “minority” languages like Tibetan in favor of instruction in Mandarin. The Tibetan language is one of the oldest in Asia and is distinct from the Chinese language, phonologically and structurally. The scale of the protests across Tibet at a time of already intense political repression reflects the strength of feeling among Tibetans about the marginalization and erosion of their language, the bedrock of the Tibetan identity, religion and culture.
The State Department’s reporting on Tibet, as well as its ability to serve American tourists, is hampered because the closest U.S. consulate to Tibet is in Chengdu. To this end, the Tibetan Policy Act and Congressional appropriations acts have prioritized the establishment of a U.S. consulate in Lhasa. We ask that you keep establishment of this post as a priority and continue to seek access for diplomats, journalists, researchers and tourists to the Tibetan plateau.
Tibet’s unique environment draws many of these tourists and researchers to Tibet, and many are reporting that the effects of climate change are rapidly changing the landscape. As the “Third Pole,” the Tibetan plateau offer critical environmental indicators on the scope of climate change. The U.S. should ensure that Tibetan stakeholders, particularly nomads, are included in strategies to mitigate the effects of global warming, and promote a regional framework (to involve China, India and other Asian nations) to forestall future conflicts over water resources in response to melting Tibetan glaciers.
During your tenure as Ambassador to China we will be counting on you to be a consistent and reliable advocate for the rights and aspirations of the Tibetan people per the abundant policies established by the U.S. Congress and successive Administrations.
International Campaign for Tibet (ICT)
Association Cognizance Tibet, NC
Bay Area Friends of Tibet (BAFOT)
Los Angeles Friends of Tibet (LAFOT)
Northwest Tibetan Cultural Association (NWTCA)
Students for a Free Tibet (SFT)
Tibet Committee of Fairbanks (TCF)
Tibet Online United Nations for a Free Tibet (UNFFT)
United States Tibet Committee (USTC)