The United States is closely monitoring incidents of human rights violations in Tibet by the Chinese government. In an exclusive conversation with India Today TV, top US official and newly appointed special coordinator for Tibet issues in the State Department, Assistant Secretary Robert Destro said that the “cancer” of “labour camps” in China had spread from Xinjiang to Tibet.
In the first interview to an Indian media house after assuming charge, Secretary Destro spoke on the US, in a first and historic decision, inviting the Head of the Tibetan government-in-exile Dr Lobsang Sangay to the state department.
The invitation is being seen as Washington’s recognition of the Tibetan government-in-exile.
“We were very pleased to have Dr Sangay to visit here at the State Department and it reflects the fact that we take Tibet very seriously. We are in full agreement with His Holiness the Dalai Lama that there is a third way. We want to see the Chinese government more engaged with the CTA and the HH the Dalai Lama himself,” said Robert Destro.
Speaking on US’s stand, Destro advocated the ‘third way’ as proposed by Dalai Lama, which is absolute “autonomy” for Tibet.
“Part of my job is to work on that (autonomy). I have committed to the Tibetan advocates, to the Tibetan diaspora that I will be spending a lot of my time on this topic. We can all hope and pray that this is how it will end up. The third way that His Holiness (the Dalai Lama) has suggested we think is a very good way,” Destro told India Today TV.
He said that China has been “difficult” to deal with on the issue of allowing autonomy to Tibet. “We will do our best to work closely with them (China) to see how far we can take this,” he asserted.
On the issue of reports of half a million Tibetans pushed into forced labour in labour camps that have been established within Tibet, he said Washington has been disturbed by the reports.
Calling it a “cancer”, the official said, “We have heard. There are more and more Tibetans being pushed into labour camps. We are trying to confirm or deny what’s going on but those are the reports.”
“They are very disturbing. They would be very consistent with the reports coming out of Xinjiang. In fact, the cancer of forced labour is spreading from Xinjiang into Tibet,” he added.
Washington DC has been taking many steps and sanctioning Beijing on various counts, including on running such ‘labour camps’.
“We have taken very strong action against forced labour wherever it takes place and we would be taking the same actions. If we find out that goods are being produced by forced labour, they can be excluded from coming into the country. We have imposed visa and other sanctions on Chinese officials,” said Destro.
A draft resolution was recently introduced in the US Senate titled “Condemning the Chinese Communist Party’s use of forced labour and other coercive measures to destroy religious freedom in Tibet” by Republican Senator Josh Hawley and cosponsored by 10 other Senators.
The bill also called on the US government to support the Tibetan Policy and Support Act (TPSA) of 2002 and urged the international community to stand against “Party’s hegemonic agenda”.
On the issue of reincarnation which has been a matter of longstanding debate between Beijing and the Dalai Lama camp, US has clarified that the only one to decide successor to the Dalai Lama is the religious leader himself.
“This is an issue of religious belief for and about the Tibetans. The United States has taken a strong position in favour of religious liberties and one of those key concerns is to allow religious organisations to choose their own leadership,” the top US official reiterated DC’s stand.
In a veiled threat of serious ramifications to any forced decision on the Tibetan people, he said, “We would object to any attempt by the Chinese Communist Party to interfere in the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.”
While the Tibetan Policy and Support Act (HR 4331), the most comprehensive policy bill on Tibet since the Tibet Policy Act- 2002, has been passed by the House of Representatives, it is yet to be passed by the Senate and signed by the President.
It is unlikely to happen now since the US will go to polls on November 3. But, to a question on actions taken by the State Department to further the bill, Destro said, “We here at the State Department don’t take any position on pending legislation. That is a question we would have to leave to the White House. That is up to them. We will take any position when we are given clearance to do so. Right now, that is a decision for the Congress to make and we respect that separation of powers.”
The other important issue has been concerns of transparency and access to Tibet. Washington has taken some stringent action on lack of access provided by the CPC to Tibet.
On the fallout, if any, of the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act of 2018 that President Trump signed into law despite Chinese protests, the Assistant Secretary said, “We have taken a very strong position that all people should be allowed access to Tibet, that Americans should be allowed access to Tibet, that Tibetans should be freely allowed to go back and forth. We are in favour of access and that is what the law was all about.”
Finally, to a question on whether solution to the India-China border conflict is to resolve the Tibet question, he said that it was a “bilateral” issue but the US would extend any help required to resolve the problems between New Delhi and Beijing.
He added, “That would be beyond my expertise. China and India have to work out their own problems. Obviously, both countries have an interest in that region. The United States is willing to work with both countries to see that it gets resolved.”
Dr Lobsang Sangay, President of the Central Tibetan Administration, had once said in an interview to India Today TV that India shares a border with Tibet and not directly with China. An autonomous Tibet would ensure peace at the Line of Actual Control (LAC).