Musings on a US congress Hearing about Tibet

It has been awhile since I posted something here. I wrote the following for the ICT Blog after attending a hearing at the United States Congress. You can get the full details from the website of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.


Sense of the Congress on Tibet

Bhuchung K. Tsering

June 6, 2011

In the technical jargon of Capitol Hill, the location of the United States Congress, a “sense of the Congress” resolution is one of the avenues available to members of Congress to legislatively convey their policy views on any given. Congress has passed several such resolutions pertaining to Tibet, highlighting its human rights situation, religious freedom, and political issues. The most frequently cited “sense of the Congress” on Tibet dates to 1991 when Congress adopted “the sense of the Congress that Tibet, including those areas incorporated into the Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu and Qinghai that have historically been a part of Tibet is an occupied country under established principles of international law whose true representatives are the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in Exile as recognized by the Tibetan people.”

But on June 2, 2011, there was a different kind of sense of the Congress that I felt. I am referring to the House of Representative’s Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on “Religious Freedom, Democracy and Human Rights in Asia: Status of Implementation of the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002, Block Burmese JADE Act and North Korean Human Rights Act.” (View webcast here.) The International Campaign for Tibet’s very own Chairman of the Board, Richard Gere, testified on Tibet. State Department’s Deputy Assistant Secretary, Dr. Daniel B. Baer, testified on Tibet on behalf of the Administration. Human Rights Watch’s Sophie Richardson spoke to the human rights situation in Tibet.

Although the hearing covered three regions, it was apparent to all that most of the Members of Congress present were interested in the situation in Tibet and how it could be made better. Not only did the Members devote much time to scrutinizing the Administration’s actions on Tibet but they did so with much passion and emotion. It was clear that the sense of the Congress on Tibet continued to be strong and supportive. What message did the hearing send? I can think of at least three.

First, the United States Congress conveyed to the Tibetans in Tibet that irrespective of the distance between Lhasa and Washington, D.C., the American people closely followed the happenings in Tibet and were concerned about the plight of the Tibetan people. It means much to the Tibetans in Tibet to know (through the Tibetan language broadcast of Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, whose reporters were present at the hearing) that the United States, the champion of democracy and freedom, supports peace and freedom in Tibet.

Secondly, an equally strong message was sent to the Chinese Government that the United States will work to see a positive resolution to the Tibetan issue through dialogue. While Members of Congress were concerned at the lack of progress on the dialogue between representatives of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Chinese Government and wanted a more proactive approach from President Obama on Tibet, the State Department representative conveyed the official position in his testimony, namely, “The Administration’s goals are twofold: to promote a substantive dialogue between the Chinese Government and the Dalai Lama or his representatives, and to help sustain Tibet’s unique religious, linguistic, and cultural heritages.” If the Chinese were hoping for any waning of American support to the Tibetan issue, this hearing has shown that nothing like that is happening.

Thirdly, the hearing came out with suggestions on how the Administration could take actions that will indicate to the Chinese about its seriousness on the issue of Tibet. Quite many members of Congress conveyed their feeling that President Obama and his Administration should receive His Holiness the Dalai Lama appropriately during his July visit to Washington, D.C. Members also wanted the Administration to emphasize the principle of reciprocity so that the Chinese Government can respond to initiatives by the United States. One such issue is the opening of an American consulate in Lhasa. Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen reflected the feelings of her colleague when she said, “The State Department must make it perfectly clear to China’s diplomats that there will be no more Chinese consulates opened in the U.S. – not in Atlanta, not in Boston, not in Honolulu – until the stars and stripes are flying proudly over a U.S. diplomatic facility in Tibet.”


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