Agam's Gecko
Thursday, March 15, 2007

n Tuesday, March 13, the US Congress' House Foreign Affairs Committee began a round of hearings looking at the US relationship with China, with the first session devoted to the issue of Tibet. Specifically, the committee wanted to know about the status of the "Sino-Tibetan Dialogue" soon to enter its sixth year since the latest "opening" of contact in 2002.

Witnesses called to testify to the committee, under chairmanship of Tom Lantos (a longtime friend of Tibet, and of His Holiness the Dalai Lama), were Paula J. Dobriansky, the Bush administration's Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues (as well as Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs); Mr. Lodi G. Gyari, the Special Envoy of His Holiness the Dalai Lama; and Mr. Richard Gere, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the International Campaign for Tibet.

It was a very excellent hearing indeed. I was able to watch about half of it via satellite yesterday, as it was included among the videos broadcast by the American Embassy Network (2 hours each weekday, usually speeches, parts of hearings, etc. related to the State Department - and sometimes even Tony Snow with the White House Press Kindergarten). The whole hearing video is available at the committee's website (scroll down to 3/13/2007) along with the transcripts, or just launch it right here. [caution: RealPlayer link] It's a little over two hours, including a good round of questions to the panel.

Tom Lantos is the new chairman of this committee, and in his opening statement referred to his long involvement in bringing the Tibetan issue to the fore:
No one epitomizes the wisdom and power of peace more than my friend, His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Two decades ago, when His Holiness presented his Five Point Peace Plan for Tibet to the Human Rights Caucus that I had the privilege of founding, no other U.S. government body would give him an audience. Twenty years later, his characteristically quiet plea on behalf of his people is heard loud and clear by the President of the United States and government leaders around the globe.

Full Statement of Chairman Lantos
Under Secretary Dobriansky then spoke on recent developments in China and Tibet, the current situation, and US government actions aimed at achieving progress, both for Tibetans under Chinese rule as well as assistance and programs for Tibetan refugees.
The situation on the ground in Tibet remains extremely serious. The State Department’s annual Human Rights Report for 2006 states that tight controls on religion and other fundamental freedoms remain serious problems. The report describes in detail widespread human rights and religious freedom abuses, including instances of arbitrary arrest, detention, torture in prison, and official controls over Tibetan monasteries and institutions. There are over 100 Tibetan political prisoners who are in jail for expressing their peaceful views.


As China’s role on the international stage grows and as the 2008 Beijing Olympic games approach, China should begin to live up to the obligations expected of a responsible global stakeholder and international leader. Beijing may find that a more enlightened policy toward Tibet would be an important step toward enhancing and complementing the respect it has earned from its economic transformation. As President Bush has said, “China’s leaders will discover that freedom is indivisible – that social and religious freedom is also essential to national greatness and national dignity.” It is in China’s self-interest to defuse tensions in Tibet by moderating their repressive and assimilationist policies; by substantively engaging the Dalai Lama or his representatives; and by inviting the Dalai Lama to China.

The Dalai Lama seeks to resolve longstanding differences with the Chinese. His position has been consistent and clear, he wants genuine autonomy for Tibet, not independence. Moreover, he can be an asset to the difficult challenge of regional and national stability. He indisputably represents the opinion of most Tibetans, and his moral authority transcends Tibetan interests.

Full Statement of Paula J. Dobriansky
Lodi Gyari, the Special Envoy of the Dalai Lama, is the lead negotiator in the dialogue with Beijing. He also visited Tibet in the early 1980's when Deng Xiao Peng briefly allowed representatives of His Holiness to travel there. The emotional reception by masses of Tibetan people severely frightened the communists, who then barred further visits. He spoke to the committee on current diplomatic efforts to move the process forward, and on the atmosphere of the talks to date.
It is gratifying to know that other governments are also registering their support for Tibet. In the last two months alone, a comprehensive resolution on Tibet passed in the European Parliament, and motions on Tibet in Canada, Austria, Scotland, and initiatives in several other countries were launched. These signal interest around the world in seeing a mutually beneficial resolution of the Tibet issue.
On the process itself:
Mr. Chairman, our differences in viewpoints are numerous: some are indeed large and fundamental. The good news is that even my Chinese counterparts agree that it is a positive development that we each now have a clearer grasp of one another’s divergent perspectives.

As a result, we have now reached the stage where if there is the political will on both sides, we have an opportunity to finally resolve this issue. Mr. Chairman, I can assure you that we have the political will to do so and that we will not give up. We have over and over again demonstrated this by our actions, in spite of difficulties, provocations, and the legitimate frustrations of our people.


We have no illusions that coming to a negotiated solution will be easy. Having identified each others’ position and differences, it is now our sincere hope that both sides can start making serious efforts to build trust and find common ground. In furtherance of this goal, His Holiness has made the offer to go personally to China on a pilgrimage. He believes one of the strongest common bonds between the Tibetan and Chinese people is their shared Buddhist faith. There has been some initial reaction to this offer from certain Chinese officials that was favorable to this proposal. Unfortunately, these have been overshadowed by the recent harsh criticism of His Holiness from other quarters.
On the strategy of some Chinese officials, to wait things out until the Dalai Lama dies -- believing that the issue would then be finished:
It is certain that the Tibetan issue will become more difficult to resolve with his absence, and that having had their beloved leader pass away in exile will create deep and irreparable wounds in the hearts of the Tibetan people. In the absence of His Holiness, there is no way that the entire population will be able to contain their resentment and anger. And it only takes a few desperate individuals or groups to create major instability. This is not a threat – it is actually something I fear – and it is also a statement of fact. His Holiness’s world view, his special bond with the Tibetan people and the respect he enjoys in the international community all make the person of His Holiness key both to achieving a negotiated solution to the Tibetan issue and to peacefully implementing any agreement that is reached. This is why I have consistently conveyed to my Chinese counterparts that far from being the problem, His Holiness is the solution.

Full Statement of Lodi G. Gyari
Lodi Gyari also mentioned that, while a date for a sixth round of talks has not been set, he is in contact with his Chinese counterparts, and he expects to have the next round within a month or two.

And finally, ICT Board Chairman Richard Gere testified on the current realities for Tibetans inside China, Chinese people's growing interest in Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism, and the window of opportunity afforded by next year's Beijing Olympic Games.
Even as Chinese leaders may be weighing the pros and cons of genuinely engaging the Dalai Lama as a partner, there is a growing interest among the Chinese people themselves in Tibet’s culture, religion, and still largely pristine lands. The Chinese people are hungry for spiritual sustenance after sixty-years of official and enforced atheism. They are rediscovering deep Buddhist roots in China and are finding them compatible with their modern lives and future aspirations. Today, it is not uncommon to see Chinese on pilgrimage to Tibet’s holy places and Chinese monks are known to study the timeless Buddhist principles of wisdom and compassion with Tibetan Buddhist masters.


Mr. Chairman, the Dalai Lama is willing to make a visit to China. I strongly believe such a visit would build confidence and trust between the two parties and would certainly allay Chinese fears concerning the Dalai Lama and what his presence in Tibet would portend. Those of us who know His Holiness could never doubt his sincerity. We must use every opportunity available to us to impress upon President Hu Jintao and other Chinese officials the importance of extending an invitation for this visit. It is imperative for the human rights of the Tibetan people, for the survival of their unique identity, and for the legitimacy of China that the Dalai Lama is meaningfully involved in decision making on Tibet's future. China could have no better friend.


To be honest, there is an extraordinary yet narrow window of opportunity between China’s National Party Congress and the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. President Hu is presented with a unique moment in history to define his legacy. Let us hope and pray he takes advantage of it.

Full Statement of Richard Gere
Richard Gere, whatever one thinks of his acting ability, showed a solid understanding of the issues between China and Tibet, and was extremely informative in fielding questions from committee members -- a couple of whom exhibited a woeful non-understanding of these issues. One fellow even referred to Mr. Gere's "frequent trips to Tibet" as though he was under the impression that that is where the Dalai Lama lives! The Chinese would never allow Richard Gere into Tibet, and I'm doubtful they'd ever allow him into China proper (since the release of "Red Corner," which is banned there). Excellent statements also from co-chair Ileana Ross-Lehtinen, and her fellow Republican Christopher Smith. But you'll have to watch the hearing video for those.

The US Congress will bestow the Congressional Gold Medal, its highest honour, upon His Holiness the Dalai Lama in October. The Tibetans have many friends around the world, but none more steadfast than the American people, the administration of President Bush, and the US Congress. This is one of those committments which transcend political divides, in which Democrats and Republicans are working hard together for a common goal. Deep thanks to Chairman Tom Lantos for making this hearing possible.


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