The American ambassadors to the world’s two largest countries recently made comments that are of interest to the Tibet issue. I thought they were worth sharing.
First, Tim Roemer, U.S. Ambassador to India, traveled to Dharamsala on February 23-24. He inaugurated the new Tibetan Refugee Reception Center there, which was build with support from the State Department’s refugees bureau. Here is ICT’s coverage of it. Ambassador Roemer also met with His Holiness Dalai Lama (they had previously met in New Delhi). Ambassador Roemer’s comments on his blog were:
He is a Nobel Prize winner. He is a recipient of the distinguished Gold Medal award by the U.S. Congress. Some identify him as a living Buddha, a “god-king,” or a world hero. In my meeting with his Holiness, the Dalai Lama, what strikes you about this man is his humility, his grace, and his easy-going nature. He has an infectious laugh, and a wonderful sense of humor. He communicates by contact – direct eye contact and warm and lengthy handshakes. We met for 60 minutes and discussed several world issues, ecological concerns, and spiritual insights. I am constantly inspired by his words: “My children, the more I look at you, the happier I feel. You represent the hope for a better tomorrow, and you will manage to overcome the difficulties ahead. You are at the threshold of existence; you should become stronger each day…”
The Embassy also posted pictures of the Ambassador meeting with Tibetan refugees at the reception center and students at the Transit School (which provides vocational education to new arrivals in the 18-25 age range), which can be viewed here.
Second, Jon Hunstsman, the outgoing U.S. Ambassador to China, gave a farewell speech in Shanghai, which was portrayed in the press as uncharacteristically critical of China’s human rights record. I write uncharacteristic in that ambassadors tend to shy away from confrontation in big picture speeches about the overall bilateral relationship. However, Hunstman is viewed as having developed a good track record of advocacy on rights cases during his tenure. And the time for criticism is ripe, considering the latest crackdown by Chinese authorities on writers, artists and bloggers.
Huntsman is stepping down from his post to return to the United States, where he is considering a run for President in 2012 against the man who appointed him Ambassador.
In his pointed comments on human rights, Ambassador Huntsman said:
It should come as no surprise, for example, that the United States will continue to champion respect for universal human rights, which is a fundamental extension of the American experience and a bedrock of our world view.
Long after I depart Beijing, future Ambassadors will continue to visit American citizens like Dr. Feng Xue, who was wrongfully convicted of stealing state secrets and is now serving an eight-year sentence in prison far from his family in the United States. They will continue to speak up in defense of social activists, like Liu Xiaobo, Chen Guangcheng and now Ai Weiwei, who challenge the Chinese government to serve the public in all cases and at all times.
He took head-on the Chinese effort to move human rights off the bilateral agenda by saying:
Avoiding direct engagement on sensitive issues will only undermine the respective interests of both of our countries. We cannot move forward if, when differences emerge, only one of us is fully committed and fully engaged.
Ambassador Hunstman did mention Tibet once, although it was a mixed bag. He commented on his visit to Yushu (Kyegu) to survey the damage from the April 2010 earthquake. While it is positive that he took the initiative to visit the disaster site on the Tibetan plateau and to speak out about it, it is unfortunate that he referred to “Chinese lives” being saved. The vast majority of victims were Tibetan, not Chinese, as the prefecture is 97 percent Tibetan.
I know from visiting the Yushu earthquake site on the Tibetan Plateau last year that U.S. humanitarian assistance has saved Chinese lives. When we travelled there we walked the streets of what had once been a thriving community, stood next to the ruins of a Buddhist monastery and listened as one man after another told us how his village had been destroyed and his culture threatened by the devastating earthquake. I also saw families eating food provided by American relief workers and children using school supplies donated by the U.S. Embassy.
More images of Ambassador Roemer’s visit to the new reception center can be seen here.