Democratic Party presidential candidate Joe Biden said he would take a strong stand against China’s human rights abuses in Tibet, and take measures to support Tibetans’ cultural and religious rights, including meeting exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
“As President, I’ll put values back at the center of American foreign policy,” Biden said in a Sept. 3 statement.
“I’ll meet with [exiled Tibetan spiritual leader] His Holiness the Dalai Lama, appoint a new Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, and insist that the Chinese government restore access to Tibet for U.S. citizens, including our diplomats and journalists,” Biden said.
“My administration will [also] sanction Chinese officials responsible for human rights abuses in Tibet, and step up support for the Tibetan people, including by expanding Tibetan language services at Radio Free Asia and Voice of America to get information from the outside world into Tibet,” Biden said.
Biden also pledged to work with U.S. allies to press Beijing to return to talks with “representatives of the Tibetan people” to achieve greater freedoms and autonomy in the formerly independent Himalayan country, which China took over by force nearly 70 years ago.
Nine rounds of talks were held between envoys of the Dalai Lama and high-level Chinese officials beginning in 2002, but stalled in 2010 and were never resumed.
The Dalai Lama has met with the last four U.S. presidents, sometimes in unofficial drop-by encounters during scheduled meetings with other senior U.S. government figures, but has not yet met with Donald Trump, who has not invited him to the White House, media sources say.
Reached for comment, Karma Choeying—a spokesperson for the Central Tibetan Administration, Tibet’s India-based government in exile—welcomed Biden’s statement, noting that successive U.S. administrations and the U.S. Congress have “continuously supported the just cause of Tibet.”
“Today, the U.S. Democratic Presidential Candidate is promising to do the same, and we welcome his statement,” Choeying said.
“Whether it is religious freedom in Tibet, human rights, the preservation of culture and protection of the Tibetan people’s values, or expansion of the Radio Free Asia and Voice of America Tibetan language services—all of these agendas listed in Joe Biden’s statement are needed and good,” added Pema Jungney, Speaker of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile in Dharamsala, India.
“If he wins, I hope he will do what he’s promised,” Pema Jungney said.
“For now, [Biden] is a candidate and not yet elected,” Nima Dorjee, a Tibetan resident of Dharamsala, said. “And the words of a presidential candidate and a sitting president have different weight. If he wins and stays true to his words, this would be good news.”
Visas for Chinese officials restricted
Tibet policy initiatives of the Trump administration have drawn support from the India-based CTA and the Washington-based Tibetan advocacy group the International Campaign for Tibet.
On July 7, 2020, U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo announced U.S. visa restrictions on selected Chinese officials deemed responsible for policies restricting access for foreigners to Tibetan areas of China, pursuant to the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act signed into law by President Trump in December 2018.
The law also requires the State Department to provide to the Congress each year a list of U.S. citizens denied entry into Tibet.
Washington has long complained that Chinese diplomats, scholars, and journalists enjoy unrestricted travel in the United States, while China tightly restricts the access of U.S. counterparts to Tibet and other areas.
A formerly independent nation, Tibet was invaded and incorporated into China by force nearly 70 years ago, following which the Dalai Lama and thousands of his followers fled into exile in India and other countries around the world.
Chinese authorities maintain a tight grip on the region, restricting Tibetans’ political activities and peaceful expression of ethnic and religious identity, and subjecting Tibetans to persecution, torture, imprisonment, and extrajudicial killings.
Reported and translated by Rigdhen Dolma for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.