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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."

Opinion: A Trip to Tibet

February 9, 2010

Obama deserves praise for committing to meet with the Dalai Lama
Harvard Crimson
February 8, 2010

Last week, President Obama agreed to a meeting
that set presses running around the world. His
controversial decision to speak with the Dalai
Lama generated anger and threats from China.
However, despite this vehement response, Obama’s
choice to stick by his word and meet with the
Tibetan spiritual leader was an admirable one. We
agree with the president that the United States
should not acquiesce to China’s demands.

On his trip last year, Obama announced to China
that he would meet with the Dalai Lama. He then
declined to meet in October due to the Chinese
government’s anger. These past four months,
however, did not signal an attitude change on the
part of the Chinese government. The country’s
resistance to climate change negotiations and
refusal to float its currency remain large
concerns for the United States. Since ignoring
the Dalai Lama has not been effective in
establishing a more bilateral relationship with
the Chinese government, it is no longer in the
United States’ interest to avoid dialogue with
Tibet in hopes of pleasing China.

We recognize the economic security that the
Chinese government has provided the United States
during this recession and understand that China
remains our largest creditor. Thus, Obama must be
mindful of how his meeting will be portrayed by
the media; it would be prudent for him to choose his words carefully.

While China has the potential to act vindictively
and refuse to cooperate with the United States in
light of the Dalai Lama visit, there is no reason
for the meeting to impact the two countries’
economic and environmental conversations. The
Chinese government should not conflate these separate issues.

Obama’s recent Nobel Prize, coupled with the
Dalai Lama’s moral leadership, should propagate
robust ways in which to address the deplorable
situation in Tibet. While the presidential visit
does not aim to snub China and bring complete
autonomy to Tibet, it does have great potential
to create a dialogue about human rights
violations in the area.  In the past year, Tibet
has been a grand beneficiary of infrastructure
programs from the Chinese government. While these
efforts have helped bring homes to the region,
Tibet still suffers numerous human-rights
violations, ranging from torture to large numbers
of missing people. Obama has a responsibility to
bring these issues to the international
community, and meeting with the Dalai Lama is the first step in this direction.

For too long, the United States has been yielding
to the Chinese government with regards to the
issue of ethnic minorities and human rights. Last
year, Hillary Clinton even stated that addressing
Chinese human rights couldn’t take precedent over
other crises. This is simply not an acceptable
diplomatic message to send, especially from a
nation that prides itself on protecting
freedom.  Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama is
not just a formality; it sends a strong signal
that human rights issues will be addressed, even if China demands otherwise.
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