WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) today sent the following letter to President Bush, calling on him to employ every diplomatic tool to persuade Chinese President Hu Jintao to make significant progress in resolving the Tibet issue. Given the recent events in Tibet and the upcoming Beijing Olympics, Obama asks President Bush to encourage the Chinese government to negotiate with the Dalai Lama, guarantee religious freedoms for the Tibetan people, protect Tibetan culture and language, and support the exercise of genuine autonomy for Tibet. Obama also supports Bush’s insistence that foreign press and diplomatic personnel have free access to Lhasa and other Tibetan cities and villages to ensure that repression and human rights violations cannot escape the world’s notice.
The text of the letter is below:
Dear Mr. President:
The situation in Tibet is deeply disturbing, and requires that all of us, regardless of party, do what we can to try to influence it for the better. I understand that you discussed the subject on Wednesday with President Hu Jintao. The United States has many issues for which China’s cooperation is important, including denuclearization of North Korea, ending Iran’s nuclear program, stopping the genocide in Darfur, confronting repression in Burma, and combating global warming. However, it is important that we give high priority to the plight of Tibetans and make clear to President Hu that the way in which China treats all Chinese citizens, including Tibetans, profoundly affects how China is viewed in the United States and throughout the international community.
Resolution of differences between the Chinese Government and the Dalai Lama is the key to progress in Tibet. The Dalai Lama, as you have said, is “a good man.” He is revered by virtually all Tibetans, and his absence from his homeland creates an incurable wound in the heart of Tibetan Buddhism. Tibet’s unique cultural and religious heritage cannot be preserved if he is demonized and kept at arm’s length. He has accepted Beijing’s precondition for a solution, namely recognition that Tibet is part of China, and has clearly stated that he is seeking religious, cultural and linguistic protection and autonomy for the Tibetan people, not independence. More recently, he indicated his belief that despite recent events, the Chinese people deserve to host the Olympics this summer.
I hope you made clear to President Hu the American view about the importance of the following: a negotiation with the Dalai Lama about his return to Tibet; guarantees of religious freedom for the Tibetan people; protection of Tibetan culture and language; and the exercise of genuine autonomy for Tibet. That is the path to the stability and harmony that the Chinese leaders say they are seeking in Tibet.
In addition to your personal intervention with President Hu, there are other steps I hope you will take to highlight our concern. I support your call for the foreign press and diplomatic personnel to have free access to Lhasa and other Tibetan cities and villages to ensure that repression and human rights violations cannot escape the world’s notice. Beijing has committed to the International Olympic Committee to allow foreign journalists free access to cover stories throughout China, including Tibet. We should hold them to that commitment. The U.S. and our democratic allies and friends should also urge the UN Human Rights Council to send an investigatory team to Tibet. China should be encouraged to allow the International Committee for the Red Cross to visit prisons in Tibet to ensure that detainees are not held under inhumane conditions, tortured, or mistreated.
Like you, I want to take steps that increase the chance of a negotiated solution between Beijing and the Dalai Lama, and that have the best chance of improving the lives of ordinary Tibetans. Therefore, I support your effort to aggressively use your relationship with President Hu to achieve these goals. Should it appear, however, that the Chinese are taking private diplomacy as a license for inaction or continued repression, I would urge you to speak out forcefully and publicly to disabuse them of the notion that they can thus escape international censure.
Despite the high emotions of the present time, I hope you can persuade the Chinese leadership that in this the year of the Beijing Olympics they have a unique opportunity to make dramatic progress in resolving the Tibet issue. Chinese leaders have it within their power to achieve that worthy goal if they take steps to change the situation in Tibet for the better and by reaching an accommodation with the Dalai Lama. Progress in Tibet would profoundly affect the world’s perception of China as it prepares to host the Olympic Games in August.
United States Senator
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