Peggy Chang | Voice of America
WASHINGTON — Congressman Jim McGovern is calling for a new U.S. policy on Tibet, saying “the status quo isn’t working” and urging U.S. businesses to raise the issue of human rights in Tibet with Chinese business partners.
“It’s important that the U.S. have a policy toward Tibet because the status quo isn’t working,” McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts, told VOA Mandarin. “The Chinese government is just getting worse on a whole range of issues — jailing more and more Tibetans in Tibet and in the Tibetan region, so I think we need to re-assess. … We need to start walking the walk.”
China says the Himalayan region has been part of its realm for more than seven centuries and considers the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, to be a dangerous separatist.
Many Tibetans insist they were essentially independent for most of that time and have protested what they regard as China’s heavy-handed rule since Chinese army units crossed the Yangtze River into eastern Tibet in 1950.
Last month, McGovern traveled to Nepal and the north Indian hill town of Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama has been in exile from Tibet for almost 60 years. The eight-person House delegation led by Rep. Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, wanted to make China aware that they would not stand down in their campaign for human rights in Tibet.
The delegation, including a lone Republican, Wisconsin’s Jim Sensenbrenner, met with the Dalai Lama.
“His Holiness is not a separatist … but he wants to go home and so do his people,” McGovern said.
“China is one of the great powers of the world, they’re doing great things on climate change,” he said, adding he’s always puzzled that China “is paranoid over this monk, and paranoid over his message.”
McGovern is the sponsor of the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act of 2017. He introduced the bipartisan bill in the House in April with Congressman Randy Hultgren, a Republican from Illinois. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, and Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin, introduced a companion bill in the Senate.
Travel in US
McGovern described his bill as saying “we will treat you like you treat us” in that it calls for restricting where Chinese can visit in the United States in the same way China restricts United States officials, journalists and other citizens in Tibetan areas of the People’s Republic of China.
“If China wants its citizens and officials to travel freely in the U.S., Americans must be able to travel freely in China, including Tibet,” McGovern echoes on his website.
He also wants the U.S. to “publicly call on the Chinese government to restart the direct dialog that used to exist between the Chinese government and the Tibetan people. That needs to be restarted.”
McGovern said he wants the United States to appoint a special coordinator on Tibet as soon as possible to help elevate these issues.
“We’ve also talked about working with other countries and establishing what we call A Group of Friends on Tibet who would meet regularly and publicly to assess the situation in Tibet, and whether there’s been progress or not,” he added.
McGovern, who is co-chair of the bipartisan Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, told VOA that while U.S. and Chinese companies profit from trading with each other, if U.S. companies “know what’s happening and you don’t say anything [about human rights in Tibet], then you’re complicit. China wants to do business with you. You want to do business with China but that doesn’t mean you can’t raise the issue of human rights.”
In the interview with VOA Mandarin, McGovern, who has been arrested three times protesting human rights violations in Sudan, said he is also concerned about human rights in Hong Kong, and China’s treatment of the ethnic minority group, the Uighurs.
‘We’re not perfect’
Listing hate crimes and attacks against members of the Muslim community, threats against Jewish community centers, McGovern said he also worries about human rights in the United States, “so we’re not perfect.”
None of that, however, should lessen the attention paid to Tibet, McGovern said.
“I think the Chinese government thinks this issue will just go away. The Dalai Lama is in his 80s, and they think at some point he won’t be around and everybody will forget,” McGovern said.
But, he stressed, “we’re not going away, and this issue is not going away, and we’re going to keep on bringing it up over, and over, and over again until there’s some change.”