President-Elect Barack Obama and Tibet


This morning I was invited by Radio Free Asia’s Tibetan service to talk about the new Obama presidency, including its possible position on Tibet.  Since the inauguration festivities were also starting today with a music concert in the afternoon, and as the weather was predicted to be cold, I prepared myself accordingly. I planned to walk down to the Mall from RFA’s studio after the program just to get a feel of the new atmosphere of hope that was accompanying the Obama presidency.  

It was indeed a bitter cold day. Due to traffic restrictions I had to walk for nearly half an hour to reach the venue. The pool between the WW II Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial (where the concert stage was constructed) was frozen solid.  But there were thousands of people there. The program was to begin at 2:30 pm, but when I was there it was a little after 10:00 am and the place was already beginning to be filled. People were really in a festive mood. To while away the time before the concert there were a group of youngsters wearing uniform red, blue and white caps attempting to encourage the people to create body waves. Of course there were the ubiquitous “where are you..” coming from cell phone conversations. At one time the jumbotron showed Elmo instructing the gathering to say “One” after he says, “We are..” I tried to look around after Elmo’s utterance and almost everyone seemed to be shouting, “One.”   

Anyway, what could an Obama Presidency mean for Tibet?  The future is difficult to forecast. However, I am taking the liberty to copy here some publicly available materials about development in the past that could reflect the soon to be our President’s thinking on Tibet. I am also giving here the text of H.H. the Dalai Lama’s letter to Senator Obama following his election in November 2008.

The possibly first statement of Barack Obama after he came to the national scene as a Senator could be in one in November 2005 after a meeting H.H. the Dalai Lama (who was on a visit to Washington, D.C.) had with members of Congress. The French news agency AFP that reported on the meeting said on November 17, 2005, “Senator Barack Obama of Illinois said, “obviously we are all concerned about the human rights situation in Tibet and hopefully while the President is there in China, this will be an issue he brings up.” “





Statement of Senator Barack Obama on the situation in Tibet


Chicago, IL, March 14, 2008– “I am deeply disturbed by reports of a crackdown and arrests ordered by Chinese authorities in the wake of peaceful protests by Tibetan Buddhist monks. I condemn the use of violence to put down peaceful protests, and call on the Chinese government to respect the basic human rights of the people of Tibet, and to account for the whereabouts of detained Buddhist monks.


These events come on the 49th anniversary of the exile of the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, the Dalai Lama. They demonstrate the continuing frustration of the Tibetan people at the way in which Beijing has ruled Tibet. There has been an informal dialogue between Chinese leaders and the Dalai Lama’s representatives over the past six years. It is good that they have been talking, but China has thus far shown no flexibility on the substance of those discussions. Indeed, it has delayed in scheduling the latest round, despite the willingness of the Tibetans to continue dialogue.


If Tibetans are to live in harmony with the rest of China’s people, their religion and culture must be respected and protected. Tibet should enjoy genuine and meaningful autonomy. The Dalai Lama should be invited to visit China, as part of a process leading to his return.


This is the year of the Beijing Olympics. It represents an opportunity for China to show the world what it has accomplished in the last several decades. Those accomplishments have been extraordinary and China’s people have a right to be proud of them, but the events in Tibet these last few days unfortunately show a different face of China. Now is the time for Beijing to take steps that would change the image people have of China later this year by changing the reality of how they treat Tibet and Tibetans. Now is the time to respect the human rights and religious freedom of the people of Tibet.”



Friday, March 28, 2008



CONTACT: Michael Ortiz, 202 228 5566


WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) today sent the following letter to President Bush, calling on him to employ every diplomatic tool to persuade Chinese President Hu Jintao to make significant progress in resolving the Tibet issue. Given the recent events in Tibet and the upcoming Beijing Olympics, Obama asks President Bush to encourage the Chinese government to negotiate with the Dalai Lama, guarantee religious freedoms for the Tibetan people, protect Tibetan culture and language, and support the exercise of genuine autonomy for Tibet. Obama also supports Bush’s insistence that foreign press and diplomatic personnel have free access to Lhasa and other Tibetan cities and villages to ensure that repression and human rights violations cannot escape the world’s notice. 



The text of the letter is below:

Dear Mr. President:


The situation in Tibet is deeply disturbing, and requires that all of us, regardless of party, do what we can to try to influence it for the better. I understand that you discussed the subject on Wednesday with President Hu Jintao. The United States has many issues for which China’s cooperation is important, including denuclearization of North Korea, ending Iran’s nuclear program, stopping the genocide in Darfur, confronting repression in Burma, and combating global warming. However, it is important that we give high priority to the plight of Tibetans and make clear to President Hu that the way in which China treats all Chinese citizens, including Tibetans, profoundly affects how China is viewed in the United States and throughout the international community.


Resolution of differences between the Chinese Government and the Dalai Lama is the key to progress in Tibet. The Dalai Lama, as you have said, is “a good man.” He is revered by virtually all Tibetans, and his absence from his homeland creates an incurable wound in the heart of Tibetan Buddhism. Tibet’s unique cultural and religious heritage cannot be preserved if he is demonized and kept at arm’s length. He has accepted Beijing’s precondition for a solution, namely recognition that Tibet is part of China, and has clearly stated that he is seeking religious, cultural and linguistic protection and autonomy for the Tibetan people, not independence. More recently, he indicated his belief that despite recent events, the Chinese people deserve to host the Olympics this summer.


I hope you made clear to President Hu the American view about the importance of the following: a negotiation with the Dalai Lama about his return to Tibet; guarantees of religious freedom for the Tibetan people; protection of Tibetan culture and language; and the exercise of genuine autonomy for Tibet. That is the path to the stability and harmony that the Chinese leaders say they are seeking in Tibet.


In addition to your personal intervention with President Hu, there are other steps I hope you will take to highlight our concern. I support your call for the foreign press and diplomatic personnel to have free access to Lhasa and other Tibetan cities and villages to ensure that repression and human rights violations cannot escape the world’s notice. Beijing has committed to the International Olympic Committee to allow foreign journalists free access to cover stories throughout China, including Tibet. We should hold them to that commitment. The U.S. and our democratic allies and friends should also urge the UN Human Rights Council to send an investigatory team to Tibet. China should be encouraged to allow the International Committee for the Red Cross to visit prisons in Tibet to ensure that detainees are not held under inhumane conditions, tortured, or mistreated.


Like you, I want to take steps that increase the chance of a negotiated solution between Beijing and the Dalai Lama, and that have the best chance of improving the lives of ordinary Tibetans. Therefore, I support your effort to aggressively use your relationship with President Hu to achieve these goals. Should it appear, however, that the Chinese are taking private diplomacy as a license for inaction or continued repression, I would urge you to speak out forcefully and publicly to disabuse them of the notion that they can thus escape international censure.


Despite the high emotions of the present time, I hope you can persuade the Chinese leadership that in this the year of the Beijing Olympics they have a unique opportunity to make dramatic progress in resolving the Tibet issue. Chinese leaders have it within their power to achieve that worthy goal if they take steps to change the situation in Tibet for the better and by reaching an accommodation with the Dalai Lama. Progress in Tibet would profoundly affect the world’s perception of China as it prepares to host the Olympic Games in August.




Barack Obama


United States Senator



Obama Statement Honoring the Awarding of the Congressional Gold Medal to the Dalai Lama


Wednesday, October 17, 2007




CONTACT: Amy Brundage, 202 228 5511


WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) today made the following statement on the awarding of the Congressional Gold Medal to His Holiness the Dalai Lama:


“His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled leader, stands among the great moral figures of our time. His mission is reflected by personal example – a life led in humility, moral courage and the belief in the redemptive power of human compassion. 


“Today we celebrate the Dalai Lama, not only as the spiritual rock for the Tibetan people, but also for his tireless advocacy for religious harmony, non-violence and human rights throughout the world. 


“I am proud and honored to join my colleagues and all Americans in paying tribute to the Dalai Lama. By bestowing on him the Congressional Gold Medal, we send a clear message of our commitment and support for his efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Tibet issue through dialogue with the Chinese leadership. 


“The people of Tibet have a distinct and rich culture, and the Dalai Lama occupies a special place in their Buddhist beliefs and practices. The Dalai Lama has been consistent in his message that he does not seek independence for Tibet, that he supports the integrity and unity of the People’s Republic of China, and that he aims for a solution based on Tibetan autonomy within China. 


“I am pleased that China has been willing to enter into discussions about Tibet’s future, including inviting the representatives of the Dalai Lama to China for a sixth round of talks earlier this summer.


“But it is now time for the Chinese leadership to engage in a dialogue with the Dalai Lama directly, allow him to return to Tibet, and work with him to assure the identity and cultural integrity of Tibet and to address the legitimate needs of the Tibetan people. 

“Taking such steps will build the basis for long-term stability in this strategic part of that country.”




Letter from Senator Barack Obama to the Dalai Lama

July 24, 2008




Your Holiness,


I regret that our respective travel schedules will prevent us from meeting during your visit to the United States this month, but I wanted to take the opportunity to reassure you of my highest respect and support for you, your mission and your people at this critical time. I hope that this letter and your meeting with Senator McCain will make clear that American attention to and backing for the people of Tibet is widespread and transcends the divisions of our political contest in this important election year.


I was heartened to read of the continuing dialogue between your representatives and the government of the People’s Republic of China. Although progress is likely to be slow, and the travails of the people of Tibet will continue, I am hopeful that the process of dialogue and negotiation will bring positive results if both sides demonstrate good intentions and mutual respect. I remain optimistic that this process will continue beyond the Beijing Olympics, and pledge that I will continue to support it. The right to practice their religious beliefs without punishment or obstruction is one that should be accorded the people of Tibet, and I will continue to encourage the Chinese government to put aside its suspicions and act in accordance with its own constitution.


I will continue to support you and the rights of Tibetans. People of all faiths can admire what you are doing and what you stand for, and I look forward to meeting you at another time.


With great respect,


Barack Obama




Congratulatory letter from the Dalai Lama to Barack Obama on his election as US President, November 5, 2008


Dear President-elect Obama,


Congratulations on your election as the President of the United States of America.


I am encouraged that the American people have chosen a President who reflects America’s diversity and her fundamental ideal that any person can rise up to the highest office in the land.  This is a proud moment for America and one that will be celebrated by many peoples around the world.


The American Presidential elections are always a great source of encouragement to people throughout the world who believe in democracy, freedom and equality of opportunities.


May I also commend the determination and moral courage that you have demonstrated throughout the long campaign, as well as the kind heart and steady hand that you often showed when challenged.  I recall our own telephone conversation this spring and these same essential qualities came through in your concern for the situation in Tibet.


As the President of the United States, you will certainly have great and difficult tasks before you, but also many opportunities to create change in the lives of those millions who continue to struggle for basic human needs.  You must also remember and work for these people, wherever they may be.


With my prayers and good wishes,


Yours sincerely,




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