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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Next President Needs More Substantive Tibet Policy

September 22, 2008

Huffington Post

[Friday, September 19, 2008 09:49]
By Frances Katz

Democrats and Republicans agree that China must moderate its 
aggressive, oppressive policies concerning religious and personal 
freedom in Tibet and establish some kind of detente between the 
Chinese government and the Dali Lama. There is no doubt that Tibet 
will remain a central part of foreign policy in the new administration 
regardless of who wins the November election. The question most want 
answered is will the U.S. help formulate a substantive plan for 
religious and political autonomy for Tibet.

Just this week both Barack Obama and John McCain outlined their 
proposed China policies in the American Chamber of Commerce in China's 
monthly magazine for the American ex-patriate community. Sen. Obama 
argues that the protection of human rights in China and Tibet "Will 
not weaken China as its leaders may fear, but will provide long term 
stability and prosperity ... Protection of the unique cultural and 
religious traditions of the Tibetan people is an integral part of such 
an agenda." In April, Obama echoed this theme in a personal letter to 
Tibetan religious leader, the Dali Lama, saying "The right to practice 
their religious beliefs without punishment or obstruction is one that 
should be accorded the people of Tibet, and I will continue to 
encourage the Chinese government to put aside its suspicions and act 
in accordance with its own Constitution."

In his essay, Sen. McCain takes a similar stance on human rights but 
uses broader strokes. He writes that "combined with its rapid military 
modernization, lack of political freedom ... tend(s) to undermine the 
very international system upon which its rise depends." Although he 
doesn't go into detail here, McCain has a strong record on human 
rights for Tibet. He has called for reconciliation between China and 
the Dali Lama. He has also publicly demanded the release of Tibetan 
prisoners and genuine autonomy for Tibet. McCain has also said good 
relations are welcome between the U.S. and China, but the suppression 
of rights there must be addressed.

The religious and political conflict between China and Tibet is often 
overshadowed by and confused with the widespread Western interest in 
Tibetan Buddhism and its spiritual leader the Dali Lama. Most nations, 
including the U.S., consider Tibet part of China, as does the Dali 
Lama himself. He has expressly disclaimed any intention to seek 
sovereignty or right of nationhood for Tibet - only greater autonomy 
and freedom for Tibet within China.

Elliott Sperling, director of the Tibetan Studies program at Indiana 
University explains the conflicting historical claims of the Tibetans 
and the Chinese In an Op-Ed column for the New York Times. In the 
modern era, from 1912 until the invasion by Mao Tsedong's People's 
Republic of China in 1949, The Dalai Lama's government alone ruled the 
land until 1951 when it was forced into exile. Religion is tightly 
regulated as is the number of men who may become monks. Any references 
to the current Dali Lama including photographs are forbidden. Foreign 
tourists are advised to remove information about Tibet's history and 
religion from guidebooks and from talking politics or religion with 
the locals - to do so could lead to detention and arrest. The Chinese 
have established a strong military presence in Lhasa, Tibet's capital 
and spiritual center. There is also a rapid influx of Chinese to the 
region that bring with them shopping malls hotels and high end 
restaurants. There is concern that Chinese may eventually squeeze out 
native Tibetan culture by assimilation if not by force.

Policy analysts who have been involved with human rights issues in 
Tibet know the U.S. wants China to ease its grip on Tibet, but are 
concerned that neither side has an articulated policy beyond urging 
the two sides to meet. For many Americans, both campaigns offer more 
of the same. Commenting on the essays in AmCham, the China Law Blog, a 
business law blog run by Harris & Moure, a Seattle law firm is much 
more cynical, as are many China-watchers and Americans living in 
China. They wrote: "The summary of both is that China has done great 
things(duh!), still has a ways to go(duh!), and the US should 
cooperate, except where it does not make sense to do so (duh!). Yada, 
yada, yada."

"Both will explore the realm of the possible and will put their weight 
behind it. All of the recent administrations have met with the Dali 
Lama and have spoken out on human rights in Tibet," said Mary Beth 
Markey, vice president for International Advocacy for the 
International Campaign for Tibet in a phone interview. Markey has more 
than 20 years experience in the area of China and Tibet policy and 
believes the candidates' intentions are good - as far as they go. 
"Obama has a world vision," she says. "And McCain believes very deeply 
about people who are deprived of freedom. Both will explore the realm 
of the possible," she said, " They will certainly meet with the Dali 
Lama - every recent administration has met with the Dali Lama -- and 
they will put their weight behind the realm of the possible... the 
question is, will they push the envelope beyond the possible?"

"I'm looking to see if they could do something more substantive," said 
Michael C. Davis, a law professor at Chinese University in Hong Kong 
and author of numerous articles and papers on human rights policy and 
territorial sovereignty in China. "The message to China so far is 
'talk to the Dali Lama.' It's a nice sentiment, but [U.S. policy] 
never goes any farther than that."

China began to emerge as an economic power 20 years ago and there have 
been many other milestones since then such as China's entry into the 
World Trade

and political autonomy for Tibet.Organization. At that time Markey 
said the U.S. was in a position to be more forceful and have a greater 
effect on China-Tibet relations. "We would have created a more open 
system in China today, but we were thinking about short term gain. 
"Now we see a China that has emerged as a China that can say no."

"Hardliners are in charge of the Tibet policy," Davis said. "There are 
some people in the Chinese government who understand the overseas 
argument, but the people in charge of the policy don't get it at all 
and they aren't willing to give up anything."

He said the protests during the Olympic Torch Relay earlier this year 
raised hopes that the Chinese would respond to the global outcry. 
Instead, the Chinese people saw the protests as an insult to the 
Chinese people and culture as a whole and China remained unmoved.

Davis leans toward a policy similar to Obama's which will show the 
Chinese the benefits of relaxing its grip on Tibet. Davis said if the 
U.S. is going to move forward on Tibet, it is going to have to 
articulate a policy that allows China to deal with Tibet in a special 
way. "We have to start putting meat on the bones of our policy and 
have a vision of what a solution will look like. "Otherwise this will 
just spin out of control."

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