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Congressional hearing examines Chinese repression in Tibet

During a congressional hearing Tuesday on China’s growing repression in Tibet, U.S. Rep. Zach Nunn likened Beijing’s policy to an idea from an ancient Chinese essay about political strategy – sacrificing the plum tree to preserve the peach tree.

“What they mean by this is that you can sacrifice in the short-term those who are the most vulnerable for the strength of those who are in power,” said Nunn, a Republican from Iowa, referring to a phrase from Wang Jingze’s 6th-century essay, The Thirty-Six Stratagems.

“We are seeing this played out constantly in the autonomous state of Tibet today by the Chinese government,” said Nunn, a former intelligence officer.

The hearing examined China’s increasing restrictions on linguistic and cultural rights in Tibet, its use of what commission members call “colonial boarding schools” for Tibetan children and attempts to clamp down on Tibetans abroad.

It was held as both houses of Congress consider legislation that would strengthen U.S. policy to promote dialogue between China and Tibetan Buddhists’ spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, or his representatives.

The Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration, Tibet’s government-in-exile in Dharamsala, India, have long advocated a middle way approach to peacefully resolve the issue of Tibet and to bring about stability and co-existence based on equality and mutual cooperation without discrimination based on one nationality being superior or better than the other. 

There have been no formal talks between the two sides, and Chinese officials have made unreasonable demands of the Dalai Lama as a condition for further dialogue.

Chinese communists invaded Tibet in 1949, seeing the region as important to consolidate its frontiers and address national defense concerns in the southwest. A decade later, tens of thousands of Tibetans took to the streets of Lhasa, the regional capital, in protest against China’s invasion and occupation of their homeland. 

People’s Liberation Army forces violently crackdown on Tibetan protesters surrounding the Dalai Lama’s summer palace Norbulingka, forcing him to flee to Dharamsala, followed by some 80,000 Tibetans.

U.S. bill on Tibet

The Promoting a Resolution to the Tibet-China Conflict Act, introduced in the House in February and in the Senate in December 2022, also direct the U.S. State Department’s Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, currently Uzra Zeya, to ensure government statements and documents counter disinformation about Tibet from Chinese officials, including disinformation about the history of Tibet, the Tibetan people and Tibetan institutions.

In recent years, the Chinese government has stepped up its repressive rule in Tibet in an effort to erode Tibetan culture, language and religion. 

This includes the forced collection of biometric data and DNA in the form of involuntary blood samples taken from school children at boarding schools without parental permission.

Penpa Tsering, the leader, or Sikyong of the Central Tibetan Administration, testified virtually before the commission, that reports by the United Nations and scholarly research indicates that the Chinese government’s policy of “one nation, one language, one culture, and one religion” is aimed at the “forcible assimilation and erasure of Tibetan national identity.”

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Rep. Zach Nunn participates in a congressional hearing on Tibet in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, March 28, 2023. Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe/RFA

As examples of the policy, Tsering pointed to the use of artificial intelligence to surveil Tibetans, the curtailing of information flows to areas outside the region, interference in the selection of the next Dalai Lama, traditionally chosen based on reincarnation, the forced relocation of Tibetans to Chinese developed areas inside the region and “unscrupulous” development that damages the environment.

“If the PRC [People’s Republic of China] is not made to reverse and change its current policies, Tibet and Tibetans will definitely die a slow death,” Tsering said.

American actor and social activist Richard Gere, chairman of the International Campaign for Tibet, told the commission that the United States must “speak with a unified voice” and engage European like-minded partners against China’s repression in Tibet.

China’s pattern of repression in Tibet “gives reason for grave concern and it increasingly expands to match the definition of crimes against humanity,” Gere said. 

Forced separation

China’s assault on Tibetan culture includes the forced separation of about 1 million children from their families and putting them in Chinese-run boarding schools where they learn a Chinese-language curriculum and the forced relocation of nomads from their ancestral lands, he said.

Lhadon Tethong, director of the Tibet Action Institute, an organization that uses digital communication tools with strategic nonviolent action to advance the Tibetan freedom movement, elaborated on the separation of school children from their families.

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Agents of the Chinese government are using manipulation and technologies of oppression “To bully, threaten, harass and intimidate” members of the Tibetan diaspora into silence, said Tenzin Dorjee [right] a senior researcher and strategist at the Tibet Action Institute. Richard Gere, chairman of the board of the rights group International Campaign for Tibet [left] and Lhadon Tethong, director of the Tibet Action Institute, also spoke at the congressional hearing in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, March 28, 2023. Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe/RFA

“[Chinese President] Xi Jinping now believes the best way for China to conquer Tibet is to kill the Tibetan in the child,” she told the commission.

“He’s doing this by taking nearly all Tibetan children away from their families and from the people who will surely transmit this identity to them — not just their parents, but their spiritual leaders and their teachers — and he’s handing them over to agents of the Chinese state to raise them to speak a new language, practices a new culture and religion — that of the Chinese Communist Party.”

Tethong’s colleague, Tenzin Dorjee, a senior researcher and strategist at the Tibet Action Institute, discussed how China has extended its repressive policies beyond Tibet to target Tibetan diaspora communities in India, Nepal, Europe and North America through surveillance and harassment.

Formal and informal agents of the Chinese government use manipulation and technologies of oppression “To bully, threaten, harass and intimidate” members of the diaspora into silence, he said.

“The best way to counter China’s transnational repression is to proactively support the Tibetan, Uyghur and Hong Kong peoples’ transnational, de-colonial advocacy for human rights and self-determination,” Dorjee said.

Edited by Malcolm Foster.

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