U.S. State Department Geographic Bureaus: East Asia and Pacific Bureau

U.S. Department of State
95/09/07 Testimony: Kent Wiedemann on policy toward Tibet
Bureau for East Asia and Pacific Affairs



September 7, 1995


Mr. Chairman, I welcome the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss U.S. Government policy toward Tibet. This hearing is especially timely in view of current and prospective developments, such as China's commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the Tibet Autonomous Region on September 1, public demonstrations by supporters of Tibetan independence at the NGO Forum associated with the Women's Conference in Beijing, and the upcoming visit to Washington of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. This hearing, therefore, provides a good opportunity to review U.S. policy. I will focus my remarks on policy matters. I hope, however, to make a comment or two on the current situation in Tibet before addressing your questions. Because of the importance of the human rights issue with respect to Tibet, I have asked my colleague Gare Smith to come along to summarize for you and for the record relevant facts on the human rights situation in Tibet, as reflected in this year's Country Report on Human Rights in China.

U.S. Policy Toward Tibet

The United States considers the Tibet Autonomous Region or TAR (hereinafter referred to as "Tibet") as part of the People's Republic of China. This longstanding policy is consistent with the view of the entire international community, including all China's neighbors: no country recognizes Tibet as a sovereign state. Moreover, U.S. acceptance of China's claim of sovereignty over Tibet predates the establishment of the People's Republic of China. In 1942, we told the Nationalist Chinese government then headquartered in Chongqing (Chungking) that we had "at no time raised (a) question" over Chinese claims to Tibet. Because we do not recognize Tibet as an independent state, the United States does not conduct diplomatic relations with the representatives of Tibetans in exile. However, the United States urges China to respect Tibet's unique religious, linguistic and cultural traditions and the human rights of Tibetans. The United States continues, moreover, to encourage China and the Dalai Lama to hold serious discussions aimed at resolution of differences at an early date, without preconditions, and on a fixed agenda. We have consistently asserted that the question of Tibet's status should be resolved by dialogue and negotiations between the Tibetans and the Chinese.

U.S. Relationship with the Dalai Lama

Respected around the world for his spiritual leadership, the Dalai Lama has also been honored with the Nobel Prize for Peace for his advocacy of nonviolent change and resolution of disputes. To show respect for his religious leadership and courtesy to adherents of Tibetan Buddhism, the President and Vice President received the Dalai Lama at the White House in 1993 and 1994. In addition, administration officials at appropriate levels occasionally meet the Dalai Lama's representatives informally, to exchange views about conditions in Tibet. These informal meetings are a routine part of normal U.S. diplomacy, and do not imply recognition of the political goals of Tibetan exile groups.

Tibet and Human Rights

The United States stands for the protection of human rights throughout the world, and the human rights issue remains a key element of our bilateral relationship with China. Our policy seeks to improve respect for the human rights of ethnic Tibetans, and for all Chinese citizens. Our intensive efforts calling upon the Chinese government to cease using force against peaceful demonstrations in Tibet have arguably shown some results. We have appealed for the release of Tibetan prisoners of conscience. We have also called upon China to improve prison conditions and to end the abuse and torture of prisoners.

We have raised our concerns about Tibet consistently and vigorously during bilateral talks. Since the beginning of the year,

-- Assistant Secretary John Shattuck raised our concerns in detail during his January visit to Beijing to conduct the seventh session of our bilateral dialogue on human rights matters.

-- The Vice President raised China's human rights practices with Chinese Premier Li Peng in Copenhagen in March.

-- Secretary of State Christopher reiterated our views on this subject during talks in New York with Vice Premier and Foreign Minister Qian Qichen in April.

-- The Secretary also discussed Tibet again with Vice Premier Qian in Brunei in July.

-- Under Secretary Tarnoff raised Tibet issues with his Chinese counterpart during his visit to Beijing in August.

In addition to our bilateral efforts, we have also addressed our concerns about human rights in Tibet through multilateral channels. We worked with the European Union and other concerned countries again this year on passing a resolution at the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva on the human rights situation in China, including Tibet. As tabled, the resolution not only acknowledged the special concern of the international community for Tibetans but also the community's concern for China's 54 other minorities. The language of the resolution with respect to Tibet was acceptable to Tibetan exile leaders. In a vote on March 7, the Commission --for the first time since 1990-- defeated a Chinese-sponsored "no action" motion, permitting the resolution itself to go to the floor for debate and a vote. Unfortunately, the resolution itself failed by a single vote on March 8. Nonetheless, the message to China was clear; no country is immune from the international community's scrutiny of its human rights practices.

Other U.S. Activities

U.S. officials from the Embassy in Beijing and the Consulate General in Chengdu visit Tibet periodically to assess the political, economic and social situation there and to demonstrate our continuing interest in Chinese human rights practices in Tibet. U.S. diplomats from the Consulate General in Chengdu visited Tibet most recently between August 16-22.

The United States provides humanitarian assistance to Tibetan refugees in India and also contributes to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to assist Tibetans transiting Nepal. Most U.S. government funding to the refugees in India goes to the Tibet Fund, a U.S. private voluntary organization, to underwrite assistance programs for Tibetan refugees in India. These programs support reception centers, preventive health care, income generating projects and supplying basic food, clothing, and clean water.

As part of the Immigration Act of 1990, 1,000 "displaced Tibetans," were given special immigrant visas, and have since resettled throughout the United States. The United States Information Agency provides scholarships for Tibetan students and professionals to study in the United States. 120 students who have participated in this program since 1988, and 87 have completed their studies and returned to India and Nepal to contribute to the welfare of the Tibetan refugee communities there.

The Tibetan Service of the Voice of America broadcasts two hour-long programs in the Tibetan language each day. Often, it interviews ethnic Tibetans, and has interviewed the Dalai Lama on at least five occasions. VOA Tibetan Service broadcast signals have been subjected to interference, with mixed success, almost from the first VOA Tibetan language broadcast. We have pressed the Chinese to cease interference with those broadcasts and have sought to resume technical-level talks to resolve the dispute over interference with VOA broadcast signals. Although China agreed to resume these technical talks during our October 1994 bilateral human rights dialogue, recent problems in the bilateral relationship have prevented further progress on this issue.

The Situation in Tibet

Apparently reflecting the heightened state of Chinese concern over political activism within the Tibetan religious community, the Chinese authorities continue to restrict religious activity in Tibetan monasteries. Government religious authorities have suppressed the public veneration of the Dalai Lama, and hamper the free practice of religion by imposing limits on religious education and by limiting the size of the monastic community compared to traditional norms. In addition, monks at some Tibetan monasteries known for their opposition to Chinese rule face severe travel restrictions. These tactics are consistent with the tougher line Beijing has been taking since last summer's Third Work Conference on Tibet.

In practice, however, the situation is more complex. After years of actively discouraging vocations to the Buddhist clergy, Chinese authorities have permitted a modest increase in the numbers of monks in Tibet's monasteries. During an August visit to the Jokhang and Drepung monasteries and the Potala palace, for example, U.S. officials saw pilgrims crowded in front of the Jokhang to perform ritual prostrations, but thought that tourists and Han Chinese outnumbered the handful of monks. Reports about the number of monks at this monastery were inconsistent. One monk said that the government had limited the number to 46 monks. But during an April 1995 visit, however, another monk at Jokhang told U.S. officials that 109 monks were in residence there and that the limit at the time was 100 monks. At the Drepung monastery, two different monks put the number of monks in residence at 500 (in addition to 100 students), fewer than the 7,700 monks said to have been the traditional number at the monastery, but more than in recent years. In addition, although there were fewer pictures of the Dalai Lama on display outside monasteries than normal, U.S. officials saw pictures of the Dalai Lama on display prominently inside nearly every chapel at all three religious sites.

Aside from a conspicuous security presence in the Barkhor square area outside the Jokhang monastery, U.S. officials saw no signs in August of an overt security presence at the Drepung monastery or the Potala. Access to the Drepung, Potala, and Jokhang did not appear to be restricted. U.S. diplomats saw a number of monks under the age of 10 at the Drepung, suggesting that Tibetan Buddhism continues to attract young men for the clergy. Moreover, the annual Tibetan Sour Milk festival, featuring Tibetan opera and group prayers, was to begin at the Drepung on schedule on August 27, just days before the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Economic development in Lhasa has clearly changed the city's landscape. More generally, throughout Tibet a growing economy appears to be improving the lives of many Tibetans, even as traditional ways of life are affected. In some instances, the government has tried to adopt policies responsive to Tibetan sensitivities, but has not always succeeded in addressing the dilemma of how to respect Tibetan culture without damaging the interests of Tibetans. For example, there is a two-track school system in Tibet, with one track using standard Chinese and the other teaching in the Tibetan language. Students can choose which system to attend. (The same dual system is used in Xinjiang and other provinces with large non-Han populations.) One negative side effect of this policy, which is designed to protect and maintain minority cultures, has been reinforcement of a segregated society. Under this separate educational system, those graduating from schools taught in languages other than standard Chinese are at a disadvantage in competing for jobs in government and business, which require good spoken Chinese. These graduates must take remedial language instruction before attending universities and colleges.

Thus, despite continuing curbs on political expression, and on religious practice when it has political overtones, at least some Tibetans seem to have realized benefits from modernization. At the same time, poverty in both Lhasa and the Tibetan countryside remains a vexing problem. T.A.R. officials admit that there are at least 51,000 Tibetans in Lhasa living below the Chinese-defined poverty line. The depth of this urban poverty is evident to many who visit Lhasa and Xigaze.

Han Migration into Tibet

Tibetans fear the Chinese government is encouraging Han Chinese migration to Tibet to make Tibetans a minority in their own land. To the best of our knowledge, however, the Chinese Government has adopted no policy to support, encourage or subsidize permanent population movements into the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). The increasing numbers of ethnic Han small businessmen and traders who have moved to Tibet in search of economic opportunity have benefitted from China's nationwide policies of relaxed travel restrictions and encouragement of private enterprise. Chinese officials assert that 95 percent of Tibet's officially-registered population is Tibetan, with Han, Hui and other ethnic groups distinctly in the minority. In Lhasa and other cities and towns, however, Han and Hui peoples constitute as much as 35 percent of the population.

A group of 62 public works projects designed to increase economic development in Tibet was approved by a government work conference on Tibet held in September 1994. These projects, including a long-planned railroad from Qinghai province into Lhasa, depend on central government financing that is by no means assured, and will take decades to complete. If they proceed according to the plan, the projects will likely draw a number of additional ethnic Han technical personnel into Tibet, and may also draw an additional "floating" population of ethnic Han and Hui Chinese seeking to take advantage of related economic opportunity.


I hope the foregoing demonstrates that the Administration shares the concerns about Tibet voiced by many Americans and their elected representatives.

We believe that the United States can be most effective in dealing with China by staying engaged with the Chinese government on a broad range of issues, including Tibet. Through this engagement, and particularly through our human rights dialogue with China, we have made clear to the Chinese government that the United States cannot ignore continued human rights abuses in Tibet, and that increased respect for human rights in Tibet will help foster a climate in which Sino-U.S. relations can improve.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would be delighted to answer the Committee's questions.


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