Reflections on Tibet Lobby Day 2022

By Lobsang Kyizom. Lobsang Kyizom is studying at New York University under the Tibetan Scholarship Program of the United States government. She currently interns with ICT.

As a Tibetan in exile, the number one challenge I face in advocating for Tibet is defending that what is happening in Tibet is indeed terrible and wrong. Wherever I go, I am required to defend my identity (that despite being born in Nepal, I am a Tibetan), my history (that China occupied Tibet and that’s how my parents ended up in exile), and my life goal (that reclaiming my ancestral homeland is justified). This is a common experience among those of us in exile.

Tibet lingers on the periphery if at all when it comes to “global” news. We have become used to our tribulations being overlooked and trivialized. This trend perhaps started with Tibet’s occupation when, despite the Tibetan government’s repeated appeals to the United Nations, no actions were taken. Except for some countries like El Salvador, the first to support Tibet’s case in the UN General Assembly in 1961, the consensus in the United Nations was that the Tibetan appeal shouldn’t detract focus from the Korean War, which dominated the debate at the time.[1] A bigger blow had come earlier in 1954 from Tibet’s longtime neighboring friend, India, when it signed the Panchsheel Agreement with China, formally legitimizing the Chinese claim on Tibet to the world.

Dawa Norbu, author of “China’s Tibet Policy” among other books, interprets Han nationalism as a response to a complex politico-cultural crisis Confucian China underwent during the 19th century after its sour encounters with colonial powers leading to a realignment of its strategic focus from culture to military and politics.[2] As part of this realignment, Tibet’s “priest-patron” relationship with China was politicized even before the end of the century to accomplish this new objective of an emboldened China. In this context, one could make sense of Mao’s 1939 manifesto that compounds the Tibetans as a minority nationality of the Han Nation. In the next century, after winning the civil war against the nationalists in 1949, Mao established the People’s Republic of China and declared that the People’s Liberation Army’s immediate military tasks would be to “liberate” Taiwan and Tibet.[3]

A pervasive Sino-centric narrative and power politics muddle the subject of Tibet’s occupation today

We often hear world leaders condemn the human rights abuses in Tibet without ever acknowledging their root cause—Tibet’s colonial occupation. The international community has yielded to a Sino-centric narrative which is reinforced by a combination of Chinese state media, propaganda, censorship and state-sponsored “research.”

Therefore, the introduction of new legislation on Tibet titled the Promoting a Resolution to the Tibet-China Conflict Act in the US Congress this year is a huge milestone for Tibet. This legislation is a step toward righting the wrongs that the international community, including the United States, has committed by condoning the Chinese invasion of Tibet.

Why Tibetan Americans should recognize their political privilege and use it

For a group of people the majority of whom are still stateless refugees, Tibetans in exile have proven themselves to be a strong and resilient community under the leadership of the Dalai Lama, which has now dispersed around the world. One factor in this is the increasing voice of the Tibetan American community. A 2020 CTA population study[4] estimates that there are over 27,000 Tibetans in the United States alone, the highest outside of South Asia.

Last month, over 100 Tibetans and Tibet supporters from across the United States participated in the annual Tibet Lobby Day in Washington in person after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. I was able to attend the event with the International Campaign for Tibet, which was a unique experience for me as an international student in the States. While there are Tibetans all over the world, Tibetans in the United States possess a special political privilege that affords them the opportunity to make a lasting impact on the future of Tibet. Since its inception in 2008, Tibet Lobby Day has become a powerful means for Tibetan Americans and Tibet supporters in the United States to advocate for the Tibetan cause and spur the movement forward.

It was empowering to see Tibetans of all ages and genders coming to speak up for Tibet and lobby for the new Resolve Tibet bill. I accompanied a group that included constituents from three different states: a high school senior from Utah, a retired VOA journalist from Virginia and a research scientist from Montana.

Our first appointment was with the office of Sen. Burgess Owens. On our way there, Dr. Liz McClain from our group (pictured second from left) slipped off the stairs of the Longworth House Office Building and broke her femur. In her eighties, she took a lone journey of three days on the train to come to Washington, DC to take part in her fourth Tibet Lobby Day. Despite her accident, she persisted and attended all the meetings for the day with us before taking off for urgent care. A big shoutout to Liz!

I got the opportunity to talk alongside the constituents to the staffers of the Senators and Representatives at their respective offices. Not only are they willing to listen to our stories, but they are also interested in what we have got to say about Tibet. I was surprised by the kind of attention and welcome gestures with which we were received at each office. The staffers carefully noted down things as we introduced the bill and talked about the current situation in Tibet. Despite being a non-citizen, I was able to speak about all that I knew that had been going on within occupied Tibet and urged the offices to support the Resolve Tibet bill.

The only qualm that I bear today as I write this blog is why this bill is not receiving the attention, appreciation and endorsement it deserves from within our own community. As His Holiness has turned 87 this year and as we receive bits and pieces of information about the kinds of atrocities that Tibetans inside Tibet are undergoing back home, it is not only critical but urgent to take action.

Tibetans in exile and particularly Tibetan Americans should understand the significance of the Resolve Tibet bill and do everything in our power to ensure that this crucial bill is passed in Congress next year.

[1] Tsering Shakya, The Dragon in the Land of the Snows, 1st edition. (New York: Columbia University Press), 56.
[2] Dawa Norbu. China’s Tibet Policy, 1st edition. (Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press), 91-92.
[3] Michael M. Sheng, 2006 “Mao, Tibet, and the Korean War,” Journal of Cold War Studies. 8, no 3 (2006): 15–33.
[4] Lobsang Choedon Samten and Tenzin Dolkar Sharngoe, 2020 “Baseline Study of the Tibetan Diaspora Community Outside South Asia” (Dharamshala: SARD): 44-45.

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The International Campaign for Tibet's blog periodically features guest blogs by individuals who can provide unique insight to ICT programs and current events.

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