My Testimony in US Congress on Tibet

Last week was a busy week for Tibet here in Washington, D.C. We had the visit of Kalon Tripa Lobsang Sangay and Kasur Kirti Rinpoche, whose numerous engagements included a hearing by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission at the US Congress. You can read their testimonies from here.

I also had the privilege to testify at a hearing by the U.S. Congress’ House Committee on Foreign Affairs on November 3, 2011 on Tibet. The Hearing was about  the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC): 2011 Annual Report.  I am giving below the text of my testimony. 

Since the US Special Coordinator on Tibetan Issues, Mario Otero, is also a commissioner of the CECC, she issued a statement on Tibet, which I am including here.

Testimony of Bhuchung K. Tsering Vice President for Special Programs at
 the International Campaign for Tibet before the House Committee on Foreign
 Affairs hearing on the Congressional-Executive Commission on China: 2011
 Annual Report
 November 3, 2011

Madam Chairman, Congressman Berman, and Members of the Committee. I thank you for this opportunity to testify on the Tibet aspects of the annual report of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC).

This hearing comes at a critical juncture in the modern history of Tibet. Tibetans in unprecedented numbers have started resorting in their despair – and some would say in their extraordinary courage and conviction – to the most extreme form of protest imaginable: self-immolation.

We value the work of the CECC and commend the annual report not only for  the rigor of its reporting, but also for the breadth of its scope.  The  CECC provides a valuable service in covering a wide spectrum of human rights abuses committed by Chinese authorities in Tibet: from threats to the Tibetan language to political imprisonment; from the steady eradication of the Tibetan nomadic lifestyle to regulations to exert control over Tibetan Buddhism; from harassing, detaining and imprisoning
writers to jailing Tibetans who came to the aid of monks who had burned themselves.  I would like to comment on the CECC report by linking it to what is happening with Tibetans in Tibet today.

On October 25, Dawa Tsering, a monk in his thirties from Kardze Monastery in Eastern Tibet (Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture), set fire to himself, thus becoming the 11th Tibetan to have self-immolate since March 2009, and the tenth since March of this year.  All but two of these were from the Kirti Monastery in Ngaba, a Tibetan region in Eastern
Tibet.

Why are these young Tibetans resorting to such grave actions?  And why are they mostly clustered around Kirti Monastery?  To find possible reasons for these ongoing tragic developments, I recently spent some time looking through reports from the area around Ngaba over the past year.

Simply put, much of the answers can be found in the latest annual report of the CECC. The report says, “During the past year, the Chinese government and Communist Party continued the campaign to discredit the Dalai Lama as a religious leader and expanded government and Party control over Tibetan Buddhism to impose what officials describe as the ‘‘normal order’’ of the religion.”   Similarly, the report highlights the fact that 9 of 10 Tibetan autonomous prefectural governments issued or drafted regulatory measures that increase substantially state infringement of freedom of religion in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and nunneries. These are clearly the basis for Tibetan grievances.

On top of these religious restrictions, Ngaba has been subject to a severe security crackdown since the pan-Tibetan demonstrations in March 2008.That same month, a 16-year-old schoolgirl, Lhundup Tso, was shot dead when Chinese police opened fire on unarmed Tibetans who had joined a protest following a prayer session at Kirti monastery.   Following the recent acts of self-immolation, the crackdown has only intensified, as evidenced by a recent secret video taken by foreign journalists, which showed a smothering armed security presence on the main street of Ngaba.

Although the recent developments have drawn our attention to eastern Tibetan areas, the fact is that all over Tibet the Tibetan people are experiencing a tense atmosphere. A climate of fear pervades in all Tibetan areas on account of  misguided policies of the Chinese government.  These policies are well documented by the CECC report and are consistent with research done by the International Campaign for Tibet.

The CECC report also clearly highlights another factor for Tibetan grievances, namely China’s insistence on wholly dominating all aspects of Tibetan culture and identity, and the lack of any positive outcome on negotiations with the envoys of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

The timing of today’s hearing is propitious.  At 2:00 this afternoon, the
elected head of the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala, India,
Dr. Lobsang Sangay, will be testifying before the Tom Lantos Human Rights
Commission.  Since the Dalai Lama relinquished his political role in the
Tibetan government in exile, the Kalon Tripa, as Dr. Sangay’s position is
called, has assumed a more important role.   I urge members and all of you
to attend this afternoon’s hearing.  Also testifying at the hearing is
Kirti Rinpoche, the spiritual head of the Kirti Monastic community, who
will speak to the conditions in which these tragic acts of self-immolation
have occurred.

As Members of Congress consider policy toward China and Tibet, the
International Campaign for Tibet lends its support to the recommendations
on Tibet contained in the CECC’s report.  I would like to highlight the
recommendation calling for “increased support for U.S. non-governmental
organizations to develop programs that can assist Tibetans to increase
their capacity” in the areas of cultural preservation, environmental
protection and sustainable development.  The U.S. Agency for International
Development currently operates a small but effective grant program that
aids marginalized communities on the Tibetan plateau, operated by The
Bridge Fund and other groups.  Continued Congressional support for this
valuable initiative is needed and appreciated.

In addition, we would like to offer some select policy recommendations to
the Committee:

1. Update and strengthen the Tibetan Policy Act.
The Tibetan Policy Act of 2002 is a comprehensive and pragmatic expression
of Congressional support for the Tibetan people. We urge the Committee to
explore further ways to strengthen the Act to take into account new
developments in Tibetan politics.  The Tibetan exile community, under the
wisdom of the Dalai Lama, has fully developed democratic self-governance.
Given the pro-democracy upheavals in the Middle East and North Africa, and
the intensive reaction of the Chinese government to suppress anything
similar at home, U.S. policy-makers should reflect on the Tibetans’
democratic achievement, assess what it means for change inside China, and
consider enhancing its relationship with the Central Tibetan
Administration.

Moreover, given the Congress’ long-standing promotion of international
religious freedom, the Committee should explore whether the Tibetan Policy
Act can be used to clarify U.S. policy on the succession or reincarnation
of the next Dalai Lama, for which the officially atheist Chinese
government is attempting to claim exclusive authority.

Lastly, the Tibetan Policy Act can be updated to include legislative
authorization and policy guidance for assistance for Tibetan refugee
settlements in the Indian subcontinent, much as the Act already provides
policy principles for support of development projects in Tibet.

The Committee has already taken a positive step in this direction.  In
June of this year, the Committee held an oversight hearing on the Tibetan
Policy Act of 2002; I refer you to the testimony of ICT’s Chairman of the
Board, Richard Gere, for several recommendations.  Subsequently, the
Committee approved H.R. 2583, the Foreign Relations Authorization Act,
which contained several amendments to the Tibetan Policy Act, including a
measure to authorize a U.S. consulate in Lhasa, Tibet.

2. Promotion of the Tibetan-Chinese Dialogue.
The Congress should continue to send the strong message to China that it
supports His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s initiative for a solution to the
Tibetan issue through dialogue with the Chinese leadership. On October 12,
2011, Dr. Lobsang Sangay issued a statement in which he reiterated his
“firm commitment in finding a mutually acceptable solution in the spirit
of the Middle-Way Approach.” He further said, “I have therefore asked the
two envoys of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to make efforts to resume the
dialogue at the earliest convenience.” Since January 2010 there have not
been another round of dialogue between the two sides.

Similarly, it has been four and half years since the US Special
Coordinator for Tibetan Issues has testified to Congress on the state of
the dialogue between the Chinese government and the envoys of the Dalai
Lama.  Special Coordinator and Under Secretary of State Maria Otero should
be invited to offer the U.S. government’s position, along with Special
Envoy of His Holiness the Dalai Lama Lodi Gyari to offer his perspective,
as has been done in the past.

Such a hearing would also provide the Committee with the opportunity to
conduct oversight of the Special Coordinator’s office, including whether
it has sufficient resources and staff to carry out the responsibilities as
laid out in the Tibetan Policy Act.

3. Restrictions on Chinese delegations from or about Tibet.
The State Department reports that three-quarters of diplomats’ requests to
visit Tibetan areas are denied, and all foreign visitors are required to
get a special permit to visit the Tibet Autonomous Region.  Here in the
United States, Tibetan Americans are subjected to a racially
discriminatory process when they apply for visas at the Chinese Embassy
and consulates and even then many do not get permission to visit Tibet.
However, China is freely able to send delegations to the United States to
denounce His Holiness the Dalai Lama and to spread its propaganda about
Tibet.   The Congress should look for ways to impose restrictions in a
situation where the Chinese government is not respecting the diplomatic
principle of reciprocity. As an example, the State Department could be
asked to deny visas to relevant officials until authorities provide a full
accounting of the forcible removal of monks from Kirti monastery,
including an explanation of the pretext or conditions under which monks
were removed and their current whereabouts.

In conclusion, I once again appreciate the opportunity to testify today
and welcome the Committee’s examination of the human rights in China and
Tibet through its oversight of the CECC annual report.

————–

Statement of Maria Otero, Under Secretary of State for Democracy and
Global Affairs, U.S. Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, and
Commissioner, Congressional-Executive Commission on China U.S. House of
Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs Hearing on
Congressional-Executive Commission on China: 2011 Annual Report
November 3, 2011

 

 

Chairman Ros-Lehtinen, Ranking Member Berman, and esteemed members of the
Committee, thank you for calling this hearing today on the
Congressional-Executive Commission on China’s 2011 Annual Report.

I would like to congratulate Chairman Smith, Cochairman Brown and my
fellow members of the Commission on an excellent report.  I especially
would like to recognize the Commission’s staff for their fine work,
expertise and diligence.  The work of the Commission, including its
published reporting and its Political Prisoner Database, is a tremendous
resource, and I am honored to serve as a Commissioner.  Political
prisoners and human rights advocates cited in the 2011 annual report
include rights defender Chen Guangcheng, lawyers Jiang Tianyong and Gao
Zhisheng, Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, journalist Memetjan Abdulla, bishop
Su Zhimin, labor advocate Zhao Dongmin, Tibetan nomad Ronggyal Adrag, monk
Choeying Khedrub, former monk Jigme Gyatso, and many others.  Shining a
light on human rights in China and particularly on conditions in Tibetan
areas is always important, and certainly could not be more important than
it is at the present time.

As U.S. Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, I would like to draw
attention to a number of the Commission’s findings on Tibet.  Over the
last year, Tibetans who peacefully expressed disagreement with government
policy faced increased risk of punishment, as the Chinese government
continued to criminalize such expression under the guise of “safeguarding
social stability.”  The Chinese government also substantially increased
state infringement of freedom of religion in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries
and nunneries.  Government security and judicial officials detained and
imprisoned Tibetan writers, artists, intellectuals, and cultural advocates
who lamented or criticized government policies.

In July, when I participated on the Commission’s panel, “The Dalai Lama:
What He Means for Tibetans Today,” I noted my deep concern with the
deteriorating human rights situation in Tibetan areas of China, and
specifically with the abuse and forcible removal of monks from Kirti
Monastery and the heavy security presence there.  The recent
self-immolations of young Tibetans, many of whom have been affiliated with
Kirti Monastery, are desperate acts that reflect intense frustration with
human rights conditions, including religious freedom, inside China.  The
Commission has thoroughly documented the policies that many believe have
created escalating tensions and a growing sense of isolation and despair
among Tibetans.  These policies include dramatically expanded government
controls on religious life and practice, ongoing “patriotic education”
campaigns within monasteries that require monks to denounce the Dalai
Lama, increasingly intensive surveillance, arbitrary detentions and
disappearances of hundreds of monks, and restrictions on and imprisonment
of some families and friends of self-immolators.

The U.S. government repeatedly has urged the Chinese government to address
its counterproductive policies in Tibetan areas that have created tensions
and that threaten the unique religious, cultural and linguistic identity
of the Tibetan people.  Senior State Department officials have
consistently and directly raised with the Chinese government the issue of
Tibetan self-immolations. We have urged the Chinese government to allow
access to Tibetan areas for journalists, diplomats and other observers.
We also have asked the Chinese government to resume substantive dialogue
with the Dalai Lama or his representatives.  When President Obama met with
the Dalai Lama at the White House in July, the President stressed that he
encourages direct dialogue to resolve long-standing differences and that a
dialogue that produces results would be positive for China and Tibetans.

I have had the honor of meeting several times with the Dalai Lama, and I
also have had the opportunity to speak with Tibetans who live in China,
and in India and Nepal.  The U.S. government believes that the Dalai Lama
can be a constructive partner for China in dealing with the challenge of
resolving continuing tensions in Tibetan areas.  The Obama Administration
hopes that Chinese leaders will pursue substantive dialogue to resolve
remaining differences and provide all Chinese citizens with peace,
prosperity, and genuine stability.

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