Dr. Lobsang Sangay (Sikyong, Central Tibetan Administration):
Thank you, Chairman Michael Levitt and members of the human rights subcommittee.
It's a great honour to be back at the subcommittee today. I'll speak about the current human rights situation in Tibet.
Historically, Tibet was an independent country. It's under occupation now and there is political repression, economic marginalization, social discrimination, cultural assimilation, and environmental destruction.
The size of Tibet is also important, because some people think it's a small place in the Himalayas, but it is as big as western Europe or, in an American context, California and Texas combined. It is 2.5 million square kilometres of land. It is also called the third pole because after Antarctica and the Arctic, it has the highest reserve of ice. The top 10 major rivers of Asia flow from the Tibetan Plateau: Indus, Sutlej, Bhahmaputra, Mekong, Salween, Yangtze, and Yellow River, among others. Hence, Tibet, as far as size is concerned, is big. Environmentally speaking it is vital, and from a civilization point of view, it's very old, ancient, and its culture is also very rich.
As the chairman just mentioned, when I came last time, there were self-immolations taking place and, the number of them has now reached 145. Among the self-immolators, there were young and old, teachers, students, monks, nuns, nomads, farmers, people from all walks of life and all parts of Tibet. That clearly shows the desperation and determination of the Tibetan people, and it is still going on. It also reflects that the repressive policies of the Chinese government are so severe that people resort to burning themselves. Of the 145, more than 120 have died.
I must make it very clear that of the 145 Tibetans who have committed self-immolation, none of them have harmed even a single Chinese person or property. Self-immolation is a violent way to die, but it's not violence because it has not caused any harm to any Chinese person or property.
Similarly, there is almost the same level of repression that there was in the cultural revolution era. As you know, after the occupation of Tibet in 1959, by 1962, the Communist Party of China and the Chinese government had destroyed 98% of monasteries and nunneries; 99.99% of monks and nuns were defrocked, sent to prison, tortured, or made to do forced labour, and many died.
Now, there is almost a revival of that situation, because, as we speak, the Larung Gar monastery and Yachen Gar are being destroyed, are being demolished. It is estimated that there are around 20,000 monks and nuns in that area. Voluntarily, Tibetans and Chinese have come to build their own shelters and shacks to be with their religious teachers.
In 2001, the Chinese government destroyed a major portion of the Larung Gar monastery and, as we speak, a second phase of destruction is going on because the Chinese government wants to reduce the number of monks and nuns from 30,000 to 6,000.
We fear that this is just the beginning of the destruction, because they will continue similar destruction to other monasteries and nunneries all over Tibet.
I think the Chinese government has a draft of a religious policy that is very repressive, that is very restrictive. If this Larung Gar monastery goes on, followed by destruction of other monasteries, I think then the very repressive religious policy will be introduced. That's our biggest fear.
I hope the current Government of Canada, which advocates human rights, religious freedom, and environmental protection, will take this situation into consideration and speak for the Tibetan people who are suffering in Tibet.
Also on the economic front of human rights, if you go to the capital city of Lhasa, I think 75% to 80% of shops, restaurants, and businesses are owned or run by Chinese, and at least 10 to15 years ago there were signboards outside, clearly inviting people to apply for jobs within. The salaries, if you were Chinese, were $50 a day, but if you were Tibetan, were $30 a day. Imagine in Ottawa if there were shops with a sign saying that if you are Chinese we'll give you $50 a day but if you're Canadian we will give you $30 a day. How would you feel?
Not only is there domination or control of the economy by Chinese in urban areas, and now increasingly in certain rural areas but also there is blatant discrimination, so economic marginalization in Tibetan areas is also real.
The Chinese government has come out with a grid system, which is very intrusive. For example, every nomad and farmer is issued an ID card with second-generation biometric chips in it. Having an ID card with biometric chips sounds kind of logical, but what it does is to monitor the movement of nomads and farmers. Each time you travel within Tibet, there are very many Chinese police checkpoints. You keep swiping your ID card and some days they'll track you down, and ask where you're from and where you have been, and that could land you in trouble as well.
Surveillance is taking place all over Tibet. I have seen photographs of kind of small remote villages, and they have a gate on top of which they have put cameras. The surveillance, the grid system, and the biometric ID chips are very intrusive and repressive for the Tibetan people.
On the economic front, in the Tibet Autonomous Region, which was historically known as central Tibet, they have “upgraded” the Tibetan towns or prefectures to a city level. From a developmental point of view, upgrading a town to a city looks like progress, but in towns there are certain regulations that protect the local residents and also provide some subsidies to local residents. When you upgrade to a city level, it opens it up for Chinese migrants to come in and dominate the economy and control the system.
From a developmental point of view, when you say you have upgraded Tibetan towns into cities, it looks like progress, but in actuality it helps Chinese migrants to come and control business and the economy. Hence, in that way also Tibetans are facing discrimination as far as the economy is concerned.
I would like to touch on Tibet being vital, as far as the environment is concerned, but there's also a human rights element to it. As we speak, in Deqin County in Yunnan province, there are Chinese, but in the Kham area, the nomads, mainly farmers, are also protesting against Chinese companies that have come to mine a sacred mountain in the area. A Chinese company wants to go and exploit the minerals that are there in the mountain. Farmers have come out and they're protesting, but now they're being beaten up; some are being arrested, and some are being put behind bars and labelled as splitists. This is a political act.
Actually, Tibetans are simply protecting a sacred mountain, which they worship, which they regard and respect very highly. That kind of exploitation is going on. Unfortunately, it's not only in Deqin County. The mineral extraction that is going on in the Tibetan areas is happening without due regard for the sustainability and protection of the local environment, without being culturally sensitive, and worse, without benefiting local Tibetans. The Chinese companies bring their own workers; they exploit it; and they take the minerals back to China without much benefit to the Tibetan people.
This is serious, because Tibet is the water tower of Asia. As I said, Tibet is the “third pole” according to some Chinese environmentalists as well, because after the Antarctic and the Arctic, Tibet has the third-highest reserve of ice. I think 14.5% of glaciers are in the Tibetan plateau. The difference is that in the Antarctic and the Arctic, when the ice melts, it goes to the ocean, but when the Tibetan glaciers melt, they form fresh water and turn into rivers; hence all the top major rivers of Asia flow from the Tibetan area.
That fresh water provides water to 1.4 billion people in Asia. According to Chinese environmentalists, 50% of the Tibetan glaciers have already melted. By 2100, 80% of the glaciers will disappear. If that happens and Tibet dries up, what will happen to the 1.4 billion people downstream who are basically surviving on Tibetan water, whether they're in agriculture, fisheries, or any kind of businesses depending on Tibetan fresh water? Tibet is thus vital from an environmental point of view as well.
Finally, I want to conclude by asking where the solution is. How can we move forward? I propose the middle way approach, which is to seek genuine autonomy for the Tibetan people. The middle way approach is the middle of two extremes, two views.
There is repression going on. We say that the Chinese government should end the repression of the Tibetan people and grant genuine autonomy, as per Chinese laws, and within China. If that happens, we will not seek separation from China or independence from China. This is a win-win proposition, and I think Canada can play an instrumental role because of its own experience towards minorities here in Canada.
The Canadian government stance towards first nations and Quebec is that the Canadian government is willing to address and solve these issues and to grant as much autonomy as possible and permitted within the Canadian constitution. Similarly, a middle way approach seeks genuine autonomy within the framework of the Chinese constitution. We say that if the Chinese government implemented its own laws, we could take that as genuine autonomy and we would not seek separation from China.
This is a win-win proposition for the Chinese government and the Tibetan people. This is my request to the Government of Canada. It could play a very important role, given the experience that Canada has, which it could share with the Chinese government.
To do that, we must have dialogue between the envoys of the Dalai Lama and Chinese representatives. From 2002 to 2010 we have had nine rounds of dialogue. The envoys of the Dalai Lama have talked to Chinese representatives nine times, but the last discussion was in January 2010. We have to continue the dialogue, and I hope the Government of Canada will play an instrumental role in reviving that dialogue.
With that, Mr. Chairman, I will end my short presentation.
Dr. Lobsang Sangay:
On the one hand, yes, Tibet is a sad story. It's a tragic story. I go to these kinds of committees and share the human rights violations in Tibet. But within Tibetan people there is a sense of resilience and perseverance, because we are a proud people with a great civilization and a long history. We can compare with any civilization, any nation. Hence I always say—I'm not trying to politicize it—Tibetans do not fear China, because nowadays there's talk about what would China do. Everybody is scared of China. We say we do not fear them it we have lived side by side with it for thousands of years.
At one time when Tibet was a great empire, we invaded China and occupied the capital Xi'an for a couple of months and imposed a puppet emperor also. This time, it's doing it to us. We have been in close proximity, so we are in some ways genetically adapted to dealing with it and confronting it. When I talk about human rights violations in Tibet, please don't take that as a sad story but rather as a reflection of our determination and resilience.
As I mentioned, in the 1960s, it destroyed 98% of monasteries and nunneries. From the time we were exiled under the leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, we have rebuilt all the major monasteries in India, Nepal, and Bhutan. The Nalanda tradition—the famous Nalanda monastery of India was burnt down 300 years or so ago—was revived in India by exiled Tibetans and we educated hundreds and thousands of monks and nuns in exile. Many of them have gone back to Tibet now illegally. There's a long story of how they go back.
Now we have revived Buddhism in Tibet. The famous Nalanda-based tradition, the teaching, is alive because of exiled Tibetans. So when I say we are resilient, we are fighters. We are. We have proven it, and also in exile. I'm the political head of the Central Tibetan Administration. We run our administration like any other government. We have an education department that runs about 70 schools—primary, middle, and high school—and mostly it's subsidized and free, and we provide scholarships. Our foreign office has 13 offices around the world, including those in D.C., Geneva, Brussels, and Tokyo. We run our own settlements. We run our hospitals and clinics. So we function as does any other government even though we are in exile.
You read about the 60 million or so refugees in diaspora communities around the world, about Syrian refugees, about the 500,000 refugees in Kenya still living in tents after 20 years, but our way of thinking is very different. We are refugees for political reasons but we are human beings, capable human beings, and resilience and self-reliance are the norm and the practice. We run our own thing. We are still here after more than 50 years. I've come back to this subcommittee and I'll keep coming back until the voices are heard loud and clear from Ottawa to Beijing and basic freedom is restored to the Tibetan people.
Dr. Lobsang Sangay:
Tibetans inside Tibet will accept the middle way approach as the policy. They will support it also, because His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the undisputed leader of the Tibetan people, inside and outside. The Chinese government denies that sometimes, but if they are willing and open, we could have a referendum in Tibet and give them the choice of whether or not to accept the middle way policy. I often say this. The middle way approach is envisioned by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, hence Tibetans and Tibet fully support it.
One clear bit of evidence is that the secretary of the Communist Party in Tibetan areas is the most powerful position, but the party secretary of the Communist Party of the Tibet Autonomous Region, for example, has never been a Tibetan. It's always been Chinese. Recently, the party secretary was promoted. He was third in line behind two Tibetans, but the Han Chinese was promoted to the position of party secretary. After party secretary, there's a deputy party secretary and the governor, who are Tibetans. Once they retired from the official position, the very next day, they wrote to the Chinese presidents Jiang Zemin, Deng Xiaoping, and Hu Jintao. They said His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the solution to the Tibet issue.
I am talking about the highest Tibetan office-holders. They all have said in writing to the Chinese government and Chinese leaders that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the solution, that he is not a problem, and that the Chinese government should listen to him and talk to him. This is in writing. So clearly, if the highest Tibetan Communist party members have explicitly written to the Chinese government saying his Holiness is the solution, clearly, the people who are religious, who have complete loyalty to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, will accept the middle way approach.
The middle way approach is very much provided for in the Chinese constitution of 1982 and the Minority Nationality Act of 1984, so we are saying that if the Chinese government implements its own laws, we will take that as autonomous. So it is as reasonable and as moderate as one can get. The Chinese government should have no objection whatsoever. If it objects, it's objecting to its own constitution and its own laws. That way, the middle way, is acceptable to Tibetan people inside and outside and should be acceptable to the Chinese government also.
Another piece of evidence is that of the universal plea of the 145 self-immolators who burned themselves was for the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet and for freedom for the Tibetan people. That's the universal plea, so when Tibetans are dying, burning themselves, and uttering that they want to see the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet, it's clear evidence that Tibetans and Tibet accept His Holiness the Dalai Lama as their leader and not the Chinese government.
There is no competition that if a referendum were held to choose between the Chinese president and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, I think 99.9% of Tibetans would support His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Sometimes I also say, given my elected position, that any day, if the Chinese leader, whoever is there, wants to have an election, I am willing to be the other candidate, and I'm pretty sure I'd win hands down, because ultimately Tibetan people would prefer to have a Tibetan guy administering the region rather than a Chinese person. That's what I believe, and if the Chinese government doesn't accept it, then Canada can be an observer and organizer of an election and we can have an election.
Dr. Lobsang Sangay:
As another member previously said, on the one hand, it's a sad story. For example, in the 1960s, along with the destruction of monasteries and nunneries, four things were banned or discouraged—religion, culture, language.... Tibetans were even made to wear suits like those worn by Mao Zedong. They all had to wear Chinese dress.
Now, 50 years hence, the Tibetans in Tibet are wearing traditional dress. For example, we observe every Wednesday—today is Wednesday—a “White Wednesday”. On White Wednesday in Tibet, they all wear Tibetan dress. They think Tibetan, eat Tibetan, do Tibetan. That's going on.
When friends and families call each other, they have a box into which, each time they use a foreign word or a Chinese word, they put a set penalty. A week or two later, they take that box to a monastery or to a school as a donation.
The rich business people have, just as we have American Idol or Canadian Idol, a competition for the best Tibetan writers and best Tibetan speakers. You get cars or bicycles. This is going on at the people's level.
Normally on Wednesday I wear traditional dress in India. Today I am here in subcommittee. so respecting your etiquette, I'm in my western dress, but in solidarity with them, every Wednesday I wear traditional dress.
As I said, Tibetans are a very resilient people. No matter how repressive and systematic the violation, Tibetans fight their way out. We're talking about third-generation Tibetans wearing Tibetan dress and speaking the Tibetan language. As I mentioned, of the 145 self-immolators who burned themselves, many were very young. They know what they are doing, and they are dying for a cause. In that sense, we are fighters with courage.
Martin Luther King talked about once we climb the mountaintop. When I heard his speech, I said we are genetically adapted to climbing mountains. We thought that was easy. That's how we think.
At the grassroots level, we have rebuilt the monasteries; we are wearing our own dress and speaking our own language, so we are recreating the nation, culture, and civilization.
We have been on the Tibetan plateau for thousands of years; we will be there for thousands of years. For the Chinese to settle there permanently will take hundreds of years of genetic adaptation, because they are from the lowland area. In summer, urban areas have a Chinese majority, because many of them come to do business and are subsidized by the Chinese government. In winter now, Tibet has a Tibetan majority.
I believe in global warming, but I'm not a big fan of global warming. We want global warming to slow its pace. As long as Tibet is cold and has a high altitude, fewer Chinese will migrate and settle there.