Top American lawmakers, across the aisle, joined by eminent experts today slammed China for the “continued repression and human rights violations” in Tibet, even as they praised India for accommodating Tibetan refugees. “Tibetans inside Tibet continue to live in very, very challenging times indeed,” top Hollywood star Richard Gere, chair of the International Campaign for Tibet, said in his testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific.
During the hearing, lawmakers and experts testifying before the subcommittee called for reciprocal access, religious freedom and human rights in Tibet. Congressman Ted Yoho, who chaired the hearing, supported the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act of 2017 which proposes to deny US visas to Chinese government officials involved in restricting access to Tibet.
Alleging that human rights and personal freedoms in Tibet were “already in a poor and worsening state”, Yoho said the government of China engages in “severe repression” of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural and linguistic heritage by and “strictly curtailing” the civil rights of the Tibetan population, including the freedom of speech, religion, association, assembly and movement.
The authorities have used “heavy-handed and violent tactics” to maintain control in Tibet, especially in response to unrest, including “extra-judicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests, extra-judicial detentions and house arrest”, he said, he said.
“Tibet remains extremely isolated. The flow of information in and out of Tibet is tightly restricted. Tibetans are prevented from obtaining passports and moving freely, and foreigners, especially journalists and officials are frequently denied access,” he said.
Congressman Brad Sherman demanded that Congress must act quickly to counter China’s “repressive tactics and policies” toward Tibet. “This is important for our own standing as leaders in world human rights,” he said, as he praised India for accommodating Tibetan refugees.
“We’re trying to build a strategic relationship and partnership with India, and we’ve got to commend India for providing refuge to over 90,000 Tibetans, including the Dalai Lama himself, who have had to flee Chinese repression,” he said.
According to Congressman Steve Chabot, China’s “decades-long oppression of Tibet is a constant example of its total disregard for religious freedom and human decency”. “Just this past weekend, another Tibetan monk set himself on fire to protest China’s ongoing tyranny. China has systematically marginalised Tibet for over 50 years now,” he said.
America’s own national security interests dictate that it oppose China’s “increasingly repressive policies” on Tibet and that the US work toward a negotiated solution and start making the treatment of the people of Tibet an important factor in our relations with Beijing, asserted Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
Congressman Jim McGovern, author of the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act of 2017, said the Dalai Lama can play a constructive role in negotiating a better future for the Tibetan people, but China “clearly doesn’t see it that way”. “China is waiting him out and counting on his eventual departure to remove Tibet from the international agenda, so we need to move now, and we need some leverage, and that is why earlier this year, along with a bipartisan group of members, I introduce HR1872, the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act,” he said.
“If China wants its citizens and officials to travel freely in the United States, Americans must be able to travel freely in China, including Tibet. “But allowing travel to Tibet is only one step China needs to take, and there are others. Most especially, China should permit His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, to return to Tibet for a visit if he so desires,” McGovern said.
Gere told lawmakers that reciprocity is an important principle in diplomatic relations that should be implemented not only when it comes to trade, but also to freedom of movement and freedom of information. “If they (Chinese) want to be the superpower they claim to be and the world leader they claim to be, these norms are to be followed,” he said.
Gere said another important part of the Tibet Policy Act was to encourage the negotiations between the Dalai Lama and his representatives and the Chinese government. “We have not done that recently, and this needs to be the forefront of what our policy is with China. It’s not unreasonable, and it’s actually good for China. To resolve this Tibetan issue is good for everyone, especially the Chinese,” he said.