The State Department’s new Special Coordinator for Tibet Issues on Thursday underscored U.S. support for fuller autonomy for Tibetan areas of China and for the preservation of Tibet’s traditional culture and religion, telling youth leaders ‘”the United States stands with Tibet and with Tibetans.”
“[China’s] government threatens both Tibetans’ way of life and Tibetan Buddhist practice and belief,” Robert Destro told participants in a virtual meeting of the Youth Leadership Program of the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet advocacy group.
“The United States government is not and cannot be silent on this matter,” said Destro, who was appointed by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to the long-unfilled position of Special Coordinator on Oct. 14.
“From the passage of the Tibetan Policy Act in 2002, and the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act of 2018, to the funding of vital Tibetan institutions and fellowships, we work together with the international community to fight against the deterioration and dismantling of Tibetan culture, language, and religion,” Destro said.
Under the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, signed into law by President Trump in December 2018, the United States may impose visa restrictions on Chinese officials deemed responsible for policies restricting access for foreigners to Tibetan areas of China.
Washington has long complained that Chinese diplomats, scholars, and journalists enjoy unrestricted travel in the United States, while China tightly restricts the access of U.S. counterparts to Tibet and other areas.
The U.S. may be limited in its ability to effect change in Tibet through enforcement of the Act, though, Destro said.
“We can implement every single period and comma and semicolon and verb in the Tibet Reciprocal Access Act, and the Chinese are still going to thumb their nose at you,” Destro said, addressing the Tibetan participants in the meeting, and asking for advice on how to proceed.
Destro, who is concurrently assistant secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, said he will press China to resume talks with exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
Nine rounds of talks on greater autonomy in Tibetan areas of China were held between envoys of the Dalai Lama and high-level Chinese officials beginning in 2002, but stalled in 2010 and were never resumed.
“Even under the best circumstances, the thought of meaningful dialogue is tenuous,” Destro said, noting that the Chinese Communist Party is concerned mainly with its control of Tibet, which it regards as a strategically important and inseparable part of China.
“It’s about control. And it’s always about control,” Destro said.
A formerly independent nation, Tibet was invaded and incorporated into China by force nearly 70 years ago, following which the Dalai Lama and thousands of his followers fled into exile in India and other countries around the world.
Chinese authorities meanwhile maintain a tight grip on the region, restricting Tibetans’ political activities and peaceful expression of ethnic and religious identity, and subjecting Tibetans to persecution, torture, and imprisonment, and extrajudicial killings.