The Senate Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs, chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer, on April 23 convened a hearing on “The Crisis in Tibet: Finding a Path to Peace”, where members of the committee discussed working with the Bush administration on an “action plan” on Tibet to highlight several key areas the US government should use as leverage for improving the human rights situation in Tibet, as well as encouraging dialog between the Chinese government and representatives of the Dalai Lama.
Compelled by the current crisis in Tibet, Senator Boxer convened the hearing and pursued a strong line of questioning, leading Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte – who heads the US-China senior dialog – to concede that US government attempts to address concerns over Tibet using “quiet diplomacy” had produced “results that are so far minimal at best” from the Chinese government.
The ‘action plan’ on Tibet discussed at the hearing included prioritizing the establishment of a US consulate in Tibet’s capital city Lhasa, pushing for US officials to attend and monitor trials of Tibetans detained during the recent unrest, encouraging President George W. Bush to travel to Tibet if he attends the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in August this year, exploring avenues of cooperation over Tibet with European governments, and pursuing other non-US governmental means of influencing the situation in Tibet, such as supporting UN human rights officials’ calls for access to Tibet, and even exploring what role the United States Olympic Committee could play in alleviating the immediate situation in Tibet.
Lodi Gyari, Special Envoy for the Dalai Lama who has led the Tibetan delegation through six rounds of negotiations with Chinese Communist Party, revealed to the committee in his testimony that the Dalai Lama wrote to Chinese president Hu Jintao on March 19 offering to send emissaries to Tibet to try and calm tensions. The response from Beijing made no mention of the Dalai Lama’s offer however, and was instead “nothing concrete, just rhetoric”, according to Mr Gyari.
Deputy Secretary Negroponte told the committee that a regular theme of US government meetings at the highest level with Chinese officials is to urge Beijing to engage in dialog with representatives of the Dalai Lama. Referring to Beijing’s harsh propaganda against the Tibetan spiritual leader, Mr Negroponte added, “Public vilification of the Dalai Lama will not help defuse the situation”.
Mr Gyari said that propaganda against the Dalai Lama was proving to be extremely divisive in Tibet and China: Tibetans deeply resent the personal attacks on the Dalai Lama, and the propaganda was also serving to stoke rising nationalism in China, largely fueled by ‘anti-Tibetan’ sentiments.
He also told the hearing that he and “friends of China knowledgeable about Tibet” have long warned that Beijing’s policies were causing ever heightened tensions in Tibetan areas of the PRC. “Beijing must now reverse course. Chinese leaders must look to the underlying causes of the problems, conduct whatever housekeeping may be necessary in their personnel and policies, and reach out to His Holiness and the Tibetan people in the spirit of inclusion and mutual benefit so that together we can achieve peace in Tibet.”
Richard Gere, who appeared as Board Chairman of the International Campaign for Tibet, said at the hearing “nearly six decades of brutal repression and calculated efforts to control religious practice and attack the very foundations of the Tibetan religious, cultural, and ethnic identity” were evidence that “the Cultural Revolution is still alive and well in Tibet,” and that the Tibetan people have reached “the tipping point of despair and helplessness.”
Mr Gere also bemoaned the fact that despite President George W. Bush expressing solidarity with the Tibetan people when the Dalai Lama was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in October 2007, now “when Tibetans are in their greatest hour of need, we have heard only a passing comment from the President.” He added, “I am still waiting for the President to throw some weight behind this issue and become publicly engaged.”
Testimonies from the hearing can be seen at: http://www.senate.gov/~foreign/hearings/2008/hrg080423p.html and complete video footage of proceedings can be seen at www.cspan.org. Expert testimony was provided at the hearing by Steve Marshall, the Senior Advisor on Tibet and Prisoner Database Program Director with the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, and Dr Lobsang Sangay, a Senior Fellow with the East Asian Legal Studies Program at Harvard University Law School.