In testimony to a U.S. legislative panel on Tuesday, the leader of the exiled Tibetan government warned that if China does not alter its treatment of the region’s people, their culture will “die a slow death.”
Along with thespian and longtime Tibet supporter Richard Gere, Penpa Tsering was one of several witnesses who testified before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC). Since his appointment as Sikyong, or president, of the Central Tibetan Administration, which has its headquarters in Dharamshala, India, in 2021, Mr. Tsering had not previously spoken before American legislators. For many years, Tibetan officials in Washington were ignored as the White House cultivated tighter relations with Beijing.
Tenzin Lekshay, a spokesperson for the CTA, told The Globe and Mail, “We have been actively working to raise awareness of the Tibetan issue among U.S. lawmakers.” He continued, “Now we feel like the Tibetan issue is not just a Tibetan issue but an international issue,” in part due to pressure by the Sikyong and other influential people.
However, even though suppression and integration have persisted in Tibet, they no longer receive the same level of media or public notice as they once did. As Chinese influence in Hollywood has grown, Mr. Gere, a well-known “Free Tibet” activist who has experienced career setbacks, claimed that the Communist Party’s “process of assimilation and erasure is all too often concealed by Beijing’s intricate and powerful propaganda machine.”
The Globe noted earlier this year how, as a result of tighter monitoring and a decreasing number of Tibetan exiles leaving China, Tibet has turned into a “information black hole” even for writers and advocates in the diaspora. This has led to much less media coverage and originally assisted in the concealment of practices like the residential school system, which, according to United Nations experts, has significantly grown in recent years and now includes more than a million children on the Tibetan plateau.
In February, after the release of numerous reports based on Chinese government documents and witness testimony by the Tibet Action Institute, three UN special rapporteurs on education, culture, and minority rights said, “We are very disturbed that the residential school system for Tibetan children appears to act in recent years as a mandatory large-scale program intended to assimilate Tibetans into majority Han culture, contrary to international human-rights standards.”
Uzra Zeya, the State Department’s special coordinator for Tibetan issues, is among those anticipated to testify. The CECC, a bipartisan and influential body on China policy, said Tuesday’s hearing would “explore the diplomatic and policy options for the United States and other like-minded countries to help preserve Tibetan cultural heritage and to defend against threats and intimidation targeting Tibetans in the United States and around the world.”
In remarks made last month, Ms. Zeya declared her commitment to “closely collaborating across the U.S. government and with our congressional allies to devise innovative policy and programming solutions to support our Tibetan friends.”
She continued, “We will continue to use all of the resources at our disposal to promote accountability” for China’s violations of human rights.
Concerns about what will happen after the 87-year-old Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader, passes away have led to increased mistrust of China, a drive to expose Beijing’s human rights violations everywhere they occur, and increased interest in the situation in Tibet.
Since 2007, Beijing has insisted that it must accept each Dalai Lama rebirth, and it appears inevitable that the 16th Dalai Lama will face similar opposition to his designation as the second-most revered person in Tibetan Buddhism. Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, who was six years old when the current Dalai Lama acknowledged him as the 11th Panchen Lama in 1995, vanished after that. Beijing then put forth Gyaincain Norbu as a replacement, who now holds the title inside of China and serves on a number of governmental organizations. Tibetans abroad do not acknowledge Mr. Norbu.
Mr. Tsering said he “fervently hoped” the bill would pass, adding that he believed “the Tibetan people are a people entitled to the right of self-determination under international law” and that “the legal status of Tibet remains to be determined in accordance with international law.” Lawmakers in Washington are expected to approve the bill soon.
In spite of Tibet’s past as an autonomous monarchy, Beijing increasingly asserts that it has always been a part of China, and authorities there respond furiously to any critique of their policies there. The day the CECC meeting was revealed, Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told media in Beijing that the “U.S. has never abandoned its plan to meddle in China’s domestic matters and restrain China’s growth using Tibet-related problems.