Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy On The Tragic Developments In Tibet

As Submitted To The Congressional Record

Mr. LEAHY.  Mr. President, I want to draw the Senate’s attention to the ongoing, intensifying and intolerable oppression occurring in Tibet.

Over the past year, at least 32 Tibetans, most of them young men and women, have set themselves on fire to protest Chinese policies that are infringing on Tibetan self-governance, cultural traditions and religious beliefs and practices.  Of them, it is believed that at least 23 have died.  Eleven have self-immolated in the past two months alone.  These incidents do not represent a temporary deviation from a peaceful norm but are instead the latest response to a tragic, and unfortunately lengthy, history of religious and cultural controls, human rights violations and oppression of the Tibetan people.

Reports from Tibet indicate that the Chinese government is further restricting access to foreign journalists and tightening security throughout the region.  Chinese police and other officials in Tibet are forcing some nuns and monks to publicly denounce the Dalai Lama.  Schools in some provinces have been forced by the government to switch their official language of instruction from Tibetan to Mandarin Chinese.  These policies, among others, have incited Tibetans to protest and fight for the survival of their cultural identity and basic freedoms.

In recent weeks, a state-run Chinese website and news agency accused the Dalai Lama of encouraging Tibetans to set themselves on fire and of advocating “Nazi” racial policies.  Mr. President, many of us in the Senate have had the privilege of meeting the Dalai Lama and I am proud to consider him a friend.  It is baseless, offensive, and deplorable to slander the Dalai Lama in this way or to suggest that he is inciting violence.  He is a man whose entire life has been devoted to peace.     

For decades, the Dalai Lama has sought to work with the Chinese government to reach a peaceful resolution over Tibet’s political status.  The Dalai Lama has, time and time again, extended a hand of friendship to Beijing, which has consistently responded by drastically misrepresenting his views and accusing him of inciting violence, perhaps to draw attention away from their own brutal actions.  The Chinese government must know that violent crackdowns and cultural genocide will never be condoned.

We share many interests with China and the future can bring our two countries closer.  China’s tremendous economic transformation in the past few decades has brought great benefits to the Chinese people and has spurred economic development in other countries.  That said, the economic emergence of China and its increased presence on the world stage must be accompanied by respect for human rights.  China cannot be a global leader while crushing peaceful dissent in its own backyard, destroying the culture of the Tibetan people, and imprisoning Tibetan leaders.

I want to mention one of these imprisoned leaders, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche.  Tenzin Delek was recognized by the Dalai Lama as a reincarnate lama in the 1980s.  He was detained in April 2002 on charges of exploding bombs and spreading politically charged leaflets and, following a closed trial, sentenced to death on December 2, 2002.  After appeal, Tenzin Delek’s sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.  No evidence of his involvement in any illegal activity has ever been made public.  In fact, before being detained, Tenzin Delek was well-known for educating children in rural areas and helping to build monasteries.  Tenzin Delek’s imprisonment is just one of the many examples of persecution of Tibetan leaders that appear to be motivated by a desire to curb Tibetan religious and cultural expression.

Many Tibetan protestors, both imprisoned and free, are not seeking independence from China. Tibetan leaders, including the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Prime Minister, Lobsang Sangay, who I was pleased to meet earlier this year, have explicitly stated that they support the ‘Middle-Way’ policy, which seeks autonomy for Tibet within the People’s Republic of China.  Tibetans are not fighting for separation from China; they are fighting for the freedom of religious belief guaranteed to them by the Chinese Constitution.  They are fighting for the security of their monks and monasteries.  They are fighting for freedom of expression, association, and assembly, for personal liberty, for unrestricted media access, and for the fundamental principles of democracy that we in the United States take for granted. 

We cannot and will not abandon the Tibetan people, who have long been our unwavering friends.  We will stand by them to protect the principles of democracy in the face of China’s repressive policies.  Together, the Tibetans and the Chinese can peacefully reach a solution that meets the needs and aspirations of both peoples.  It is imperative that we support peaceful dialogue and discourage violent confrontation whenever it occurs, whether supported by the Chinese authorities or Tibetan protestors.

I am a cosponsor of Senator Feinstein’s resolution, S. Res. 356, A Resolution Expressing Support for the People of Tibet, and I urge other Senators to do so.  We can foster closer, cooperative relations with China, but until China works with Tibetan leaders to pursue a new way forward, their reputation in the community of nations, and their ability to act as a global power, will remain tarnished.  I hope that, in the years to come, the young Tibetans who sacrificed their lives in the past year will be remembered as the catalysts for a political dialogue that cemented a peaceful future for both Tibet and China.

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