Sunday, March 18, 2007

Human Rights in China: Hearing on Tibet: Statement by Richard Gere

On 13 March Richard Gere appeared before the Committee on Foreign Affairs, US House of Representatives. Following is an excerpt from his statement:

"...As China rises to accept its very public role as host to the 2008 games, our political leaders have a responsibility to help us understand China and prepare us for the sure-to-be-radically changed post-Olympics China that will follow. Instinctively, Americans realize that China will emerge as either our greatest partner or greatest competitor and in the weeks and months ahead this must be addressed in both parties' platforms and clearly articulated in the upcoming presidential campaigns.

Among the many areas where congressional leadership has shaped US China policy, Tibet stands out. Mr. Chairman, for twenty years, you and I have been meeting to discuss Tibet, mostly with heavy hearts. I have listened with appreciation and admiration as you and your colleagues register outrage over human rights abuses and urge strategies to move China towards genuine, systematic reform but we still face an uphill battle and the human rights situation for Tibetans has not improved.

Nonetheless, the tremendous outpouring of international support for Tibet and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, including and I believe most-significantly, congressional actions, have had a bearing on Beijing, so much so that we have come to believe the Tibet issue we are facing can be resolved.

Confidence in this premise has inspired legislation crafted in this Committee and in its Senate counterpart to mandate the appointment of a Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues with the responsibility to promote a negotiated solution for Tibet. Three successive appointments of high level officials to this position by US Secretaries of State have been committed to the engagement of Chinese officials and the envoys of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in a process of dialogue.

You have heard from Under Secretary Dobriansky on the initiatives taken by President Bush and his administration and from Lodi Gyari on his discussions with the Chinese. Their testimonies suggest a way forward, given sufficient political will in Beijing which thus far has been sadly lacking. I think it is fair to say that all parties are considering when and how the direct participation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama can be engaged to achieve a positive resolution for both parties. A win-win is possible. For those of us who know His Holiness, it is impossible to conceive that his involvement would be an impediment or a stumbling block. In fact, the Nobel Peace Laureate is the perfect partner for an equitable solution. So why has Beijing been so unwilling to embrace this simple truth'

China craves success and respectability. Its economic success is in most ways indisputable and certainly hosting the Olympics is a high-prestige occasion. But what concerns me and other Americans is how China is winning respectability and extending its influence as a global player. And at what cost to us'

However, with regard to Tibet, respectability rests on legitimacy, and China has come to its claim on Tibet by invasion and occupation and not through the Communist revolution that provided the legitimacy for that party's rule in China.

The Dalai Lama embodies China's lack of legitimacy and it is therefore reasonable to assume that Chinese leaders fear that a return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet and the emotional welcome that would greet him, would only underscore this point. But that's clearly a short sighted point of view that belies President Hu Jintao's commitment to a 'harmonious society' which is inclusive of Tibetans and all other ethnic minorities in China. Ironically, the Dalai Lama actually affords China the opportunity for a lasting and peaceful solution with the Tibetan people that would otherwise be impossible. The stability and legitimacy the Dalai Lama would bring is very good indeed for China's short and long term interests.

Unfortunately, nothing illustrates China's failure of respectability more vividly than its current policies and actions in Tibet. Since the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1949-50, Tibetans who did not escape into exile with the Dalai Lama have been systematically brutalized and increasingly marginalized. China's breakneck economic success has, in Tibet, led to inappropriate economic and social policies that make certain the even-further and perhaps permanent marginalization of Tibetans. These policies, which are rapidly transforming Tibet, are based on an urban, technocratic model that favors Chinese settlers and does not take into account Tibetans' needs, views or the way of life that has sustained them successfully on the highest plateau of Asia for centuries. These policies present the most serious threat by the Chinese yet to the survival of Tibet's unique religious, cultural and linguistic identity."

If you are interested in supporting activities to free Tibet please visit the Australia Tibet Council website.

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