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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Testimony of Dr. Lobsang Sangay Kalon Tripa, Central Tibetan Administration before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission

November 7, 2011

November 3, 2011

Chairman McGovern, Chairman Wolf, Commission Members, thank for
giving me the opportunity to testify before the Tom Lantos Human
Rights Commission.

This is my first visit to Washington, D.C., since assuming the
office of Kalon Tripa of Tibet following the historic transfer of
political authority by His Holiness the Dalai Lama earlier this

The late Tom Lantos has a special place in the hearts of the
Tibetan people.  He was a dear friend to His Holiness the Dalai
Lama and his message of compassion.  He was an eloquent and
passionate advocate for the cause of Tibet and the Tibetan people’s
quest for dignity.  We are proud that the House of Representatives
has honored his legacy by putting his name on this esteemed
commission dedicated to the promotion of human rights.

The commission itself is also special for Tibetans.  In 1987, its
predecessor, the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, was the first
parliamentary body to give His Holiness the Dalai Lama a public
audience.  For this we extend our utmost gratitude.

The United States Congress has been the vanguard of the Tibet cause
for more than two decades.  We are deeply grateful for the
invaluable support, both programmatic and policy, that you have
provided over the years.  The benefits of this support are real and
tangible.  A young Tibetan refugee who has fled her home in Tibet
is now able to get a real Tibetan education in India that is
unavailable in occupied Tibet under the People’s Republic of China.
She benefits from the United States humanitarian aid that provides
an essential lifeline to the refugees who make the dangerous
transit across the Himalayas, through Nepal, and into exile.

Take the example of the monks of Tongren, who lit fireworks last
year to celebrate the meeting between President Obama and the
DalaiLama, in defiance of Chinese attempts to undermine his
influence.They heard about this through the Voice of America and
Radio Free Asia Tibetan services, which provide a vital link to the
world in the face of Chinese attempts to seal off Tibet.

In very difficult times, American support keeps Tibetans’ spirits
up and their hopes alive – hopes that the future may bring change
that will allow Tibetans to reclaim their dignity and their
fundamental freedoms.The seven Tibet programs supported by the
United States government are very small in your budget, but their
impact in the lives of Tibetans is immense and, I believe, a smart
investment toward your country’s efforts to promote democracy and
human rights.

I come here to report to you on the state of Tibet – the daily
struggles of Tibetans inside Tibet trying to maintain their dignity
under the iron fist of repression, and the continuing efforts of
those of us living in freedom, working to preserve Tibetan culture
in exile until we can return home.

I am proud to say that the Tibetan spirit is strong.   Through the
brilliant leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama for all these
years, our issue remains alive, our hopes remain buoyant.  The rule
imposed on us by Beijing may be tough, but the Tibetan people are
tougher still.

Democratic transition.  The year 2011 has been a momentous one in
the history of Tibet.  Since the 17th century, His Holiness the
Dalai Lama has served as both the spiritual and the temporal leader
of the Tibetan people.  The current Dalai Lama, the 14th, Tenzin
Gyatso, held political office as the head of the local Tibetan
government based in Lhasa, Tibet, before he was forced to flee into
exile in 1959.

In the following decades, the Dalai Lama quietly proceeded to
dismantle the traditional theocratic ¬aristocratic system and, with
his wisdom, prepared the Tibetan people for the day when they would
have to be their own leaders.  In 1960, Tibetans in exile elected
their first parliament.  In 1991, we had the first direct election
of the chief executive.

And in March of this year, His Holiness announced he would
relinquish the last vestiges of his formal political role in the
government.  These changes, ratified by our parliament, put the
leadership of the Tibetan people in the hands of the elected
leadership – the executive branch (under the Kalon Tripa) and the

A few days after His Holiness’s announcement, the Tibetan exile
community held an historic vote.  In elections that were judged
free and fair by international observers, the Tibetans elected me
as the next Kalon Tripa, with 55 percent of the vote, and a new 44
member parliament.

Let me be clear, this does not mean that the Dalai Lama has
retired.  He remains the spiritual and most revered leader of the
Tibetan people, and is identified as such in the Tibetan Charter
(our constitution).  He continues to travel the world and meet with
world leaders, as he did with President Obama this past July.

This democratic transition is an important one for the United
States to absorb.  Recall that in 1991, in legislation signed into
law by the first President Bush, Congress declared that, “Tibet’s
true representatives are the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government
in exile as recognized by the Tibetan people.”  The Tibetan Policy
Act of 2002 directs the State Department’s Special Coordinator for
Tibetan Issues to “maintain close contact with religious, cultural,
and political leaders of the Tibetan people.”  The U.S. government
already engages with the Central Tibetan Administration, notably in
regard to the Tibetan support programs.  It is worth the effort to
consider how the world’s oldest continuous democracy can deepen its
engagement with the democratic Tibetan government.

This democratic fulfillment is also important in the context of the
“Arab spring” and the new wave of democratic, anti-despotic
movements.  The last few years have witnessed democratization not
only in the Tibetan government based in northern India, but in
Bhutan and Nepal, countries on the southern periphery to Tibet and
the People’s Republic of China.  This follows the democratic
achievements in the 1980s and 1990s in Taiwan, South Korea, and the
Philippines, on China’s eastern rim.

The Tibetan fulfillment of democracy provides inspiration to all
those inside the People’s Republic of China, not just Tibetans, who
yearn for the democratic freedoms long denied by the ruling
Communist Party.  It clearly undermines the (false) notion peddled
by Beijing that democracy is a western value not suitable to an
Asian context.

Further, this achievement sends a clear message to Beijing that
leadership of the Tibet freedom movement has been entrusted to a
younger generation.  China is calculating that the Tibetan cause
will fade when the current Dalai Lama passes.  This will not happen.

In short, American investment in Tibetan democracy is a wise one
and on the right side of history.

Of the United States and the international community, we ask you to:

(1) Affirm that Tibet’s true representatives are the Dalai Lama and
the Central Tibetan Administration as recognized by the Tibetan

(2)   Support the transfer of political power to the new Kalon
Tripa of Tibet and the Parliament in Exile of the Central Tibetan

(3) Commend the Tibetan exile community on their successful
development and implementation of democratic self-governance;

Middle Way approach on Tibet-China relations. The Tibetan people
remain firmly committed to non-violence.  We do not view China as a
nation and Chinese as a people with malice but with respect.
Tibetans and their distinct culture have lived alongside our
Chinese brothers and sisters for thousands of years.

When His Holiness appeared before the Human Rights Caucus in 1987,
he presented his “five point peace plan,” one of the first
articulations of his ‘Middle Way’ approach before an international
audience.  Guided by his wisdom, my administration will continue
the Middle Way policy, which seeks genuine autonomy for Tibet
within the People's Republic of China.  This remains the best
opportunity for a durable solution for both the Tibetan and Chinese
peoples. We believe in a peaceful resolution for Tibet, which means
a peaceful process and peaceful dialogue. We stand ready to
negotiate with the Chinese government anytime, anywhere.

Repression and religious freedom in Tibet. In 2008, Tibetans across
the Tibetan plateau rose up in dramatic and largest protest of
Chinese policies.  Since that time, more than 150 separate protests
have taken place across the Tibetan plateau. Sadly, rather than
responding to the legitimate grievances of Tibetans, Chinese
authorities responded by making a hard line harder, turning many
parts of Tibet into a virtual state of martial law.  This has
driven the Tibetan people to a desperate situation.

In 1950, when the Chinese and their Army of “liberation” came to
Tibet, they promised Tibetans a ‘socialist paradise.’ After more
than 60 years of misrule in Tibet, there is no socialism, just
colonialism; there is no paradise, only tragedy.

Political repression, cultural assimilation, economic
marginalization and environmental destruction continue in occupied
Tibet.  The new railway line from Beijing to Lhasa is exporting our
natural resources and importing more Chinese migrants.  Today,
around 70 percent of private-sector firms in Tibet are owned or run
by Chinese, and more than 50 percent of government officials are
Chinese.  Yet approximately 40 percent of Tibetans with university
and high school degrees are unemployed.

I recall a photo of a help-wanted sign from Lhasa a couple years
ago.  A shop was looking to hire Tibetans at 30 renminbi and
Chinese at 50 renminbi, a blantant case of economic discrimination.
Tibetans have been made second-class citizens in their own land.

The U.S. government has consistently found that repression in Tibet
is “severe,” as documented in annual State Department reports on
human rights and religious freedom and the reporting by the
Congressional-Executive Commission on China.  Chinese authorities
impose extremely rigid regulations on day-to-day religious
activity.  Acts of religious devotion are seen suspiciously as
expressions of political separatism.  To revere openly His Holiness
the Dalai Lama can be considered a criminal act.  Monks and nuns
routinely encounter interference in their ability to conduct
teaching and practice of Tibetan Buddhist religious traditions.

The Tibetan religious community has been particularly affected
during the recent crackdown.  A case study can be made in the town
of Ngaba (Chinese province of Sichuan, Tibetan area of Amdo).

Kasur Kirti Rinpoche who will testify after me will attest that
since 1996 Kirti Monastery, and others in the region, have been
targeted for “patriotic education,” or political
indoctrination.Local schools that were started by Kirti monastery’s
sister monastery in Kansu were forcibly shut down, cutting off
basic education to rural children, which was deeply resented by the
monastic and lay communities in the region.  Kirti Rinpoche, who
fled into exile in 1959, has only been allowed to visit Ngaba once,
in the 1980s.  His visa request to travel to Tibet has been
repeatedly denied.  Monks at Kirti monastery revere him as their
spiritual head and hold him in as high a regard as the Dalai Lama.
These policies create deep resentment among the people in the area.

It is in this context that we have seen the tragic self-immolations
of ten Tibetans, all but one from around Kirti monastery, to
protest against Chinese government policies, demand freedom and the
return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.  Tibetans are being pushed
to the brink.  We all wonder what we can do in the face of this
tragic situation.  The Tibetan Cabinet recently held a day-long
special prayer service, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama, His
Holiness the Karmapa and Kiri Rinpoche, in solidarity with those
Tibetans who have sacrificed their lives for the cause of Tibet.

The Tibetan administration does not encourage or support self-
immolations. While we feel the pain of those Tibetans sacrificing
themselves, at the same time, as Buddhists, we can’t help but wish
that their precious lives were not lost.  His Holiness the Dalai
Lama's position has been clear and consistent on any form of
drastic action. He has always appealed to the Tibetans not to
resort to such desperate acts.

We ask the Chinese government to stop its repressive
policies,including suspension of implementation of religious
control regulations, review of religious and security policies
implemented since 2008 in Ngaba, and a transparent dialogue with
the leaders of Tibetan Buddhist schools.

Of the United States and the international community, we ask you to:

(1) call on China to abide by its obligations to international
human rights conventions with respect to the religious freedoms and
basic human rights of the monastic and lay communities in Ngaba,
and seek a full accounting of the forcible removal of monks from
Kirti monastery;

(2) demand access to Ngaba by journalists, diplomats and United
Nations officials;

(3) call on the China to stop implementing counterproductive
policies and aggressive ‘patriotic education’ programs in Tibetan-
populated areas such as Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai, places where
human rights violations have created tensions; and

(4) urge the Chinese government to resume its dialogue with the
representatives of the Dalai Lama toward genuine autonomy for
Tibetans within the People’s Republic of China.

Reincarnation/succession.  No issue illustrates the Chinese
government’s desire to control the hearts and minds of the Tibetan
people, and demonstrates it moral bankruptcy, more than the attempt
to dictate the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.  It may be
complicated, but it is not esoteric.  This issue is not only a
matter of fundamental religious freedom, but it is a political one
that gets to the heart of the Tibet problem.

In 2007, the Chinese authorities approved regulations requiring
government approval for the recognitions of lamas as reincarnate
“tulkus.”  Government bureaucracies must approve reincarnations of
high lamas, and the State Council reserves the right to deny
recognition.  The rules state that no foreign entity can interfere
in the selection of reincarnate lamas, and require all reincarnate
lamas to be reborn within the PRC.

The purpose and position of the Chinese government is very clear:
only it can approve the next Dalai Lama.

This situation, of course, is absurd.  The Chinese Communist Party,
synonymous with the government, is officially atheist.  Their
leadership has never believed in reincarnation and treats religion
as poison.  They have no experience, and certainly no right, to
interfere in matter of the heart and of the spirit.

On September 24, 2011, the Dalai Lama gave a statement laying out
his position.  Citing the tenets of Tibetan Buddhism and centuries
of practice and tradition, His Holiness makes the case that (1) the
future of the institution of the Dalai Lama is up to the Tibetan
people, and (2) that he will determine whom his successor will be,
either through a process of reincarnation or emanation of his

The coming political fight is clear.  The Chinese authorities will
attempt to hijack the process for selecting the next Dalai Lama,
exactly as they did with the 11th Panchen Lama 16 years ago, in the
hopes it will extinguish the distinct Tibetan identity.  In this
they will fail.  I am confident that Tibetan people and Buddhists
around the world will whole heartedly follow the guidance of
the14th Dalai Lama, and embrace the boy or girl that is his true

Buddhism has been around for 2,500 years, the Chinese Communist
Party for merely 90.  I believe we will outlast them.
I ask members of the Commission, on behalf of the Congress and the
U.S. government, to see the battle over the Dalai Lama’s succession
as a fundamental issue of religious freedom worthy of advocacy and
protection.   On this issue, I recommend that the U.S. government:

(1) join with other governments around the world to adopt a unified
position on the successor to the Dalai Lama, based on fundamental
principles of religious freedom; and

(2) express to the Chinese government that the United States
believes that the relationship between the Dalai Lama and the
Tibetan people will be solely determined by the Tibetan people.

Refugee resettlement:  Since 1959 the Tibetan exile community has
persevered due to the tremendous generosity of our Indian hosts.The
government and people of India gave us lands to settle and to farm.
 But after half a century, these settlements are aging.
Infrastructure is crumbling.  Our human capital is thinning.  Our
sustainability is at risk.

One of the biggest challenges I face as Kalon Tripa is how to
revitalize the Tibetan refugee settlements in India and Nepal so
that they can continue to serve as the foundation for our efforts
to preserve Tibetan culture until the time we can re-import it back
to Tibet.

Education will be the number one priority of my administration.  We
seek to create 10,000 Tibetan professionals in the next two
decades.  We will establish a Tibet Policy Institute to serve as an
intellectual platform to envision, develop, and execute policies
that will strengthen Tibet.  We will create also “sister
settlements” to strengthen solidarity between Tibetans in India and
the West and launch Tibet Corps which offers talented community-
minded Tibetan professionals and college students an opportunity
and platform to serve their community through a voluntary service

Our settlements are crowded.  While we must revitalize, there is
also a need to have Tibetan refugees settle in countries outside of
India and Nepal.  As His Holiness has long advocated, a vibrant
Tibetan diaspora in the West is an essential element in our effort
to maintain global support for the Tibetan cause.

To advance these two goals, the United States has already
contributed much.  In 2009, Congress approved $2 million in the
Foreign Operations bill for settlement revitalization.  We are
currently working with USAID on the final disposition of these
funds.  We are deeply grateful for this aid.

In an act of foresight two decades ago, Congress approved
legislation granting immigration status to 1,000 Tibetans from
India.  This program was successfully implemented, at no cost to
the taxpayer.  In the current Congress, Congressmen Jim
Sensenbrenner and George Miller have introduced H.R. 699, to
initiate a new and limited immigration program for Tibetans.
Tibetan-American communities now exist across the country and are
ready and able to receive a new round of immigrants.  This
legislation would help fulfill His Holiness’ vision.

While Tibetans in South Asia are strong in spirit, self-reliant,
and determined to reunite our people, we are still refugees.  Those
in India, while appreciative of Indians’ generosity, do not enjoy
full rights.  They live in special settlements.  They cannot go
home to Tibet due to a legitimate fear of persecution.  Those in
Nepal face additional hardships.  Three quarters lack
documentation, which the government of Nepal has failed to
provide.They suffer harassment due to the heavy pressure exerted by
China in Nepal.

The U.S. government is successfully executing the resettlement of
Bhutanese refugees from Nepal, relieving the Nepalese of one
intransigent refugee problem.  The U.S. government has proposed to
resettle some Tibetans from Nepal, but this has not been approved
by the Nepalese government.

Resettlement of Tibetan refugees from Nepal, and from the most
remote and destitute settlements in India, is another path to
achieving His Holiness’ goal.  It would also serve U.S. foreign
policy goals in Nepal.  In this light, I recommend that Congress:

(1) approve H.R. 699, the Tibetan immigration bill; and

(2) urge the Administration to resettle Tibetan refugees from South
Asia, including the Nepal program that is already on the table, and
a potential India program that would target Tibet refugees in the
most marginal communities.

Tibet’s environment and strategic importance.  Tibet sits between
two of the largest countries in the world, and at a crossroads that
connects China to South and Central Asia.  The Tibetan plateau has
some of the largest deposits of fresh water outside the two poles.
It is the source of many of the Asia’s major rivers, including the
Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra), Senge Khabab (Indus), the Langchen
Khabab (Sutlej), the Macha Khabab (Karnali), Arun (Phongchu), the
Gyalmo Ngulchu (Salween), the Zachu (Mekong), the Drichu
(Yangtse)and Machu (Huang he or Yellow River), these rivers flow
into China, India, Pakistan, Nepal Bhutan, Bangladesh, Burma,
Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Combodia. These rivers system and their
tributaries sustains the lives of millions of people in the Asian

For millennia, the Tibetan people have served as the guardians of
the plateau, its rivers and environment.  China’s policies,however,
are creating potential disasters.  For one, they are forcibly
removing Tibetan nomads, the land’s traditional stewards, from the
grasslands, while at the same time promoting mining and foresting.
Changes in Tibet’s ecology could have negative effects far beyond
the plateau.  Temperatures are rising faster on the plateau than
the global average.  Glaciers are melting.  Water flows and monsoon
patterns are more variable.

At the same time, China is undertaking massive dam construction on
these major rivers.  Additional projects to divert waters to
China’s drought-ridden areas could have major consequences for
downstream nations like India, Bangladesh, Cambodia and Laos whose
livelihood depends on rivers that flow from Tibet.

The United States should work in partnership with other nations to
promote a multilateral framework on regional water sharing, in
order avoid potential conflicts over water resources.

In addition, China is building out new railway lines through Tibet
and into Nepal, expanding their economic, political and military
reach into South Asia.  Newly built airfields in Tibet offer the
Chinese military new possibilities for power projection to the
nation’s south and west.

Conclusion:  This year's dynamic events – the Tibetan election and
His Holiness’ devolution of power -- showed the world our
commitment to genuine democracy and the universal principle of
human freedom.  Through this achievement, we are demonstrating that
Tibetan unity is built upon and sustained by universal democratic
principles that transcend region, sect, gender, and
generations.With this unity, we can strengthen and sustain the
Tibet movement until the time that His Holiness returns to Tibet
and the Tibetan people regain their freedom.

China is the fastest growing major economy in the world and is
backed by the largest army in the world. Sadly, however, China
lacks moral power, which cannot be purchased in the market or
imposed with military might. It has to be earned. As long as
Tibetans are repressed, there will be resistance and a continuation
of this moral deficit. Finding a lasting solution to the Tibet
question will go a long way toward restoring China’s positive image
in the minds and hearts of people around the world, as well as
towards protecting its territorial integrity and sovereignty.  We
will continue to reach out to the Chinese people to build mutual
understanding and trust.

I look forward to the day when the United States can look with
pride that, through its political and programmatic support, it
helped nurture a lasting solution to the Tibet problem.  Such an
achievement would be one of the most defining stories of the 21st
century, as it would reaffirm faith in humanity’s capacity to build
peace, non-violence and universal freedom. This would be a victory
not only for the Tibetan people, but for all the marginalized
people around the world.

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