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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Obama's Timidity on Tibet

August 23, 2010

The Obama administration's silence only encourages China's abuses.
The Wall Street Journal
August 20, 2010

Over the past few years, Beijing's repressive
policies have increasingly alienated Tibetans.
One indication was the March 2008 uprising and
riots across Tibet. Yet Beijing responded not by
moderating its policies but by intensifying
repression—launching a "patriotic education"
campaign and targeting members of the educated
elite, many of whom have long gotten along with,
and even flourished within, the communist system.
Among these are the writer Tragyal, long
associated with the state publishing house, who
awaits trial on charges of "splittism," and Dorje
Tashi, a businessman and hotel owner, who
received a life sentence in June for allegedly
collaborating with human-rights groups abroad.

Beijing has taken the same approach to criticism
from abroad over its handling of Tibet,
significantly raising the stakes by identifying
Tibet as a "core interest." Beijing has given
notice that unless the world adopts a "correct
understanding" of Tibet by spurning any view
contrary to the Communist Party line, there will
be consequences for bilateral relations and it
will be difficult for China to cooperate on the
global economic recovery or other issues.

Washington has bent under the pressure. President
Obama refused to schedule a meeting with the
Dalai Lama until after his November 2009 visit to
Beijing, although he did speak about Tibet there.
Afterward, U.S. Ambassador to Beijing Jon
Huntsman adopted Beijing's line, stating that the
president's meeting with the Dalai Lama, and
recent U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, had "trampled
on a couple of China's core interests." These
actions have serious implications for U.S.
support for Tibet, for activists for freedom
inside China, and the Dalai Lama and his democratic government in exile.

Often, when Chinese officials present their
position on Tibet, senior U.S. officials cede
ground by saying nothing publicly. Indeed, the
words "Tibet" and "Dalai Lama" have gradually
disappeared from the administration's vocabulary.
Washington's official statements about the April
earthquake in Yushu, an area that is 97% Tibetan,
did not refer to Tibetans or Tibet.

The silence was even more troubling at the
Strategic and Economic Dialogue, major talks the
U.S. and China held in Beijing in May. State
Councilor Dai Binguo presented China's view on
Tibet in his remarks at a joint session but
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not
respond or mention Tibet publicly. It was left to
Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, to state the U.S. position.

At a routine press briefing several days later,
State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley deflected
a question about the way Tibet was handled during
the talks, saying "It's hard for me from halfway
around the world to describe everything we
discussed," despite having just given remarks on
the U.S. positions on Burma and North Korea presented during the S&ED.

The silence of the Obama administration is
peculiar since U.S. policy on Tibet is clear.
Spelled out in the Tibet Policy Act, it supports,
among other things, talks between the Dalai Lama
and Beijing and respect for Tibetans' human
rights and religious, linguistic and cultural heritage.

Past administrations have faithfully carried out
this policy. The 2009 annual report on
negotiations between Beijing and the Dalai Lama,
required under the Act, recounts extensive
contacts about Tibet between President George W.
Bush and General Secretary Hu Jintao as well as
between Chinese interlocutors and other American
officials, such as the coordinator for Tibetan
affairs, a position first created by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

The current Tibet coordinator, Under Secretary of
State for Global Affairs Maria Otero, was not
included in the giant U.S. delegation to the
Strategic and Economic Dialogue. Her predecessor
in the post, Paula Dobriansky, traveled to China
four times and met with the Dalai Lama 13 times.
The 2010 report, due in March, was only submitted to Congress on Wednesday.

The administration's downplaying of Tibet
undermines Chinese liberal intellectuals and
activists who have criticized Beijing's policies
on Tibet at great risk to themselves. After the
March 2008 uprising, a Chinese think tank called
the Open Constitution Initiative issued a report
challenging Beijing's position that the riots
were incited by the Dalai Lama and criticizing
the crackdown that followed. This organization
was later shut down and its staff harassed.

In addition, 29 intellectuals, lawyers and
activists signed an open letter in March 2008
supporting dialogue with the Dalai Lama and
urging and end to official propaganda vilifying
him and Tibetans. One of them, Liu Xiaobo was
later prosecuted on subversion charges for his
writings and sentenced to jail for 11 years.

American officials should know by now that
nothing is gained by acquiescing to China's
overbearing behavior on Tibet or any other issue.
Adapting to Beijing's "correct understanding" of
Tibet undermines not only the Dalai Lama and
human rights for Tibetans, but also America's own
"core interest" in seeing these respected in
Tibet and China as well. To be credible, America
must clearly and publicly pursue a well-established policy on Tibet.

Ms. Bork is director of democracy and human
rights at the Foreign Policy Initiative.
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