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Washington DC — Members of the US House Foreign Relations Committee's Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific met Wednesday, December 6, to discuss U.S. policy toward Tibet.; more specifically, the urgent situation prevailing inside Tibet under China and working toward greater access, religious freedom and basic human rights for the people of Tibet.

Tibet-US-House-Sub-committee-2017Washington DC — Members of the US House Foreign Relations Committee's Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific met Wednesday, December 6, to discuss U.S. policy toward Tibet.; more specifically, the urgent situation prevailing inside Tibet under China and working toward greater access, religious freedom and basic human rights for the people of Tibet.

The two-hour long hearing on the US government's Tibet policy, was hosted by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs' subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific.

The Hearing is being held at a critical moment for evaluation of U.S. government Tibet policy following President Trump's visit to China, where he failed to speak publicly about human rights and Tibet. It follows the introduction of a bipartisan Concurrent Resolution to the Senate on November 16, 2017 asking the Trump Administration to make Tibet an important factor in US-China relations, and calling upon the Trump Administration to fully implement the US Tibetan Policy Act, to promote access of US citizens to Tibet, and to encourage China to speak to the Dalai Lama leading to a negotiated agreement on Tibet.

Two bills pending before the subcommittee were highlighted. The H.R.1872 —Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act of 2017 would require the U.S. State Department to submit a list to Congress of senior Chinese officials in leadership positions for review. Congress would then determine the officials' level of access to the United States contingent with the access U.S. officials are granted to Tibetan areas in China.The second bill, H.Con.Res.89, maintains that United States policy toward Tibet and treatment of the people of Tibet should remain a factor in U.S. relations with China.

Subcommittee Chairman Ted Yoho, R- Fla., discussed the ways in which the Tibetan people have had their human rights and civil liberties encroached upon. "Human rights and personal freedoms in Tibet are already in a poor and worsening state," Yoho said. "According to a 2016 Human Rights report, the government of China engages in the severe repression of Tibet's unique cultural and linguistic heritage by among other means strictly curtailing the civil rights of the Tibetan population, including the freedoms of speech, religion, association, assembly and movement."

The congressman added that the flow of information is heavily restricted to Tibet by China. "Tibet remains extremely isolated. The flow of information in and out of Tibet is tightly restricted," Yoho said. "Tibetans are prevented from obtaining passports and moving freely and foreigners especially journalists and officials are frequently denied access."

"Amid the ongoing turbulence in the Asia-Pacific, China's growing oppression in Tibet has not received sufficient international attention. Observers believe the Tibetan people's struggle for survival, dignity and autonomy is approaching a crossroads. The question of the Dalai Lama's succession is growing, bringing uncertainty for the peaceful resistance movement." China may seek to designate its own chosen successor, which could cause Tibet to boil over. In the intervening period, China has sought to consolidate its control, with dire consequences for religious and cultural practices, human rights, freedom of movement and the access of journalists and others to Tibet. In this hearing, the Subcommittee will hear from experts on the current situation, their projections for the future and recommendations on how to promote access, religious freedom and human rights in Tibet."

The hearing also discussed the Reciprocal Access to Tibet bill introduced by Representative Jim McGovern, which calls for access to Tibetan areas of China for U.S. officials, journalists, and average citizen. The bill also calls for restricting access to America for those Chinese officials responsible for blocking travel to Tibet.

Ranking Member of the Subcommittee Brad Sherman, D- Calif., said in 2015 China expressed they had no intentions of granting autonomy to Tibet. "China's suppression of Tibet has continued and intensified. China has not held discussions about Tibet's status with the Dalai Lama's representatives since January 2010," Sherman said.

Sherman then asked the lawmakers to take a stronger stance with China when conducting trade business. "To think that we allow China to exercise that kind of control while giving them free access to our markets is something Congress needs to review," Sherman said.

Chairman Emeritus of the Committee on Foreign Affairs Ileana Ros Lehtinen, R- Fla., also made a statement: "Tibet has been pushed to the periphery of U.S. foreign policy." She said said that Americans "must stand strong in our commitment to the people of Tibet."

One of the hearing's key witnesses was award-winning actor Richard Gere. Human rights advocacy is a subject Gere has testified on before Congress in previous hearings. He also famously took a moment during the 1993 Oscar awards to ask former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping to "take his troops, take the Chinese away from Tibet and allow these people to live as free and independent people again."

He thanked all members of the Committee for their to the Tibet cause. Pointing at a portrait of the late Congressman Tom Lantos, Gere also remembered Tom Lantos for his profound moral convictions and his deep commitment to human rights.

During Wednesday's hearing, the "Pretty Woman" star Gere spoke to the committee as the chair of the board of directors for the International Campaign for Tibet. He told lawmakers he was touched by their support from both sides of the aisle. "I am totally knocked out by the words I'm hearing from all of you," Gere said. "I think everyone in this room is feeling this from a deep place. How important this is maybe not strategically but humanly and what it means to us as Americans to be coming from this place of universal responsibility protecting the welfare and human rights of everyone on this planet."

He thanked Congress for awarding the Dalai Lama with the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007. He emphasized that the current human rights issues in Tibet strike at the core of American values. "The respect for the identity of a people, of their religion, is something the American people understand very well and deeply care about," Gere said. "Before being politicians or actors, we are human beings who understand that oppression cannot be tolerated; you understand that all human beings have the right to the pursuit of happiness and to avoid suffering."

"Human rights and personal freedoms in Tibet are already in a poor and worsening state. According to the State Department's 2016 human rights report, the government of China engages in the severe repression of Tibet's unique religious, cultural, and linguistic heritage by, among other means, strictly curtailing the civil rights of the Tibetan population," Yoho, the subcommittee's chairman, said.

Gere, chairman of the board of directors for the International Campaign for Tibet, said, "I've seen this evolve over decades now, how people talk about Tibet and from what part of their being they speak. And this is coming from a deep place in all of you. I think everyone in this room is feeling this from a deep place, how important this is — maybe not strategically, but humanly."

"Before being politicians or actors, we are human beings who understand that oppression cannot be tolerated," Gere, 68, told lawmakers in prepared remarks. "We understand that all human beings have the right to the pursuit of happiness and to avoid suffering. This is what his holiness the Dalai Lama continuously reminds us of, to look at what unites us as human beings, as compassionate people sharing our time and space on this small and very beautiful planet."

While Gere praised President Trump for reportedly raising the issue of human rights with Chinese authorities during a trip last month to China, the actor knocked the commander in chief for not going far enough. "President Trump and Secretary [of State Rex] Tillerson did not publicly highlight the lack of respect of human rights in Tibet or the need for China to restart the dialogue process with the Dalai Lama. Now, this is out of line, completely, with the provisions of the Tibetan Policy Act," said Gere, a longtime advocate for human rights in the region and frequent visitor to the Hill.

Holding a photo of Tenga, a Tibetan Buddhist monk who recently set himself on fire in protest against the Chinese government, Gere said "It is now critical that the U.S. Congress takes concrete initiatives to make sure that the Tibetan Policy Act, which is law, is fully implemented and that China is consistently reminded that the U.S. stands with the Tibetan people in full support of their peaceful aspirations."

Hearing Witness Director of the Tibetan Service, Radio Free Asia, Tenzin Tethong, spoke candidly about the difficulty in getting fact-based news reports to the Tibetan people and the struggle their reporters go through to gain access to Tibet. "It's extremely difficult for any of our journalists to have normal access to Tibet, which ranks among the world's worst media environments after North Korea," Tethong said. "Nevertheless, many of them maintain various levels of contact with vast networks of trusted sources inside who can provide tips, leads, images, video, and confirmation of events."

Tethong said that China has become more forceful with comprehensive censorship and propaganda in Tibet. Hearing witness and President of the National Endowment for Democracy Carl Gershman, asserted that China's behavior toward Tibet has actually worsened in comparison to previous leaders.

"In fact, the threat posed by China to the world order has increased with its growing economic power, and repression is worse today than at any time since the death of Mao Zedong four decades ago," Gershman said. "In addition to the systematic effort to destroy the Tibetan religion, language, culture, and distinct national identity, China has flooded Tibet with Han Chinese settlers, placed monasteries under direct government control, arrested and tortured writers, and forcibly resettled more than two million nomads in urban areas, destroying their traditional way of life and disrupting the fragile ecosystem of the Tibet Plateau"

Gershman called on the United States to state clearly that Tibet was not part of China before the invasion, while also declaring that China has violated international law. "We also need to remember that the struggle for Tibetan rights cannot be separated from the fight for human rights and freedom in China," Gershman said.

Earlier on Wednesday, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) stood alongside Gere as he delivered a message about the "human rights and oppression" in Tibet. He also met with Dr Lobsang Sangay, president of the Central Tibetan Administration; and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to discuss the deteriorating human rights situation in Tibet, and ways for the U.S. to address these concerns in the context of the U.S.-China bilateral relationship.

"We had a very important meeting today about Tibet and the cause of really what's a human dignity, human rights – what's happening there, an entire culture that is being threatened by the Chinese Communist Party, religious liberties that are being oppressed, and why the U.S. needs to be a leader on it. So we have a bill on reciprocity that we hope we can get more support for here, and I think we will. We have some ideas about appointing someone to the vacant position at the State Department that elevates this cause. But ultimately, this goes to the heart of who are we as a nation. Do we believe in the founding principles of this country, and do we want to make sure we defend and extend that to people all over the world? And that's the thing that we are really focused on here. We'll continue to work hard on this cause. I hope you'll care about it. Go on our website and learn more about it."

Earlier this year, Rubio met with Gere and the Dalai Lama's Representative to the U.S. to discuss the Chinese government's gross human rights violations in Tibet. Rubio also introduced bipartisan legislation to hold Chinese government officials accountable for severely restricting access to Tibet for Tibetan-Americans, diplomats, journalists and non-governmental organizations.

Matteo Mecacci, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: "This hearing is being held at a critical time for Tibet, and for the world, given the implications of Chinese President Xi Jinping's consolidation of power and vision of global dominance. In Tibet, Xi Jinping is presiding over an alarming direction in policy that exceeds merely repressive measures to the imposition of an unprecedented depth of control over people's lives." "At this stage in Tibet's history, which the Dalai Lama has described as almost the darkest period in around 2,000 years, Chinese Communist Party policies represent the most serious threat to the survival of Tibetan Buddhist culture, identity, as well as its fragile high altitude environment. Xi Jinping's 'control state' is also a clear and present danger to all of us, not only to Tibet," Mecacci said after the hearing on the US government's Tibet policy.

"The Dalai Lama is a much loved figure of rare religious and moral authority in the world today, revered by people across the U.S.A. While he is in his eighties, he is still vigorous and deeply engaged. It has never been more important for Congress to express its unwavering support, reflecting the decades-long and broad bipartisan support that exists for the Dalai Lama and Tibet among the American public. This should serve as a strong statement to Chinese leaders that the international community will continue to hold them accountable for the violation of the Tibetan people's rights."

Tibet was invaded by the Communist regime in China, starting in 1949. Since that time, over 1.2 million out of six Tibetans died as a direct result of China's invasion and continued occupation of Tibet, over 6000 monasteries have been looted and destroyed.

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