When it comes to human rights offenses, the U.S. has never shied away from an opportunity to show the international community that it is a beacon of hope and morality for all oppressed peoples. But when it comes to Tibet, the U.S. has managed to take an extremely loose stance on the blatant human rights violations incurred as a result of Chinese occupation.

It is undeniable that, despite seemingly superficial meetings with the Dalai Lama and Chinese officials on many occasions, the U.S. has systematically disregarded the cultural genocide of the Tibetan people in favor of strong economic ties with China. These priorities were made abundantly clear after a summit between the 14th Dalai Lama and U.S. President Barack Obama in February 2014.

With China condemning the U.S. for hosting diplomatic talks with the Dalai Lama and the U.S. ultimately dismissing any idea of Tibetan independence in said talks, the U.S. subtly stated that it would support China in its claim to Tibet. And, although the Dalai Lama himself has expressed that independence is now an unrealistic goal for the exiled Tibetan government, the U.S. has essentially abandoned an occupied, oppressed state.

Although this is a particularly polarizing topic due to the debate over the legitimacy of China’s claims to the Tibetan plateau, where the real debate should lie is in the U.S. turning a blind eye to the blatant destruction of Tibetan culture. In essence, the conversation must shift from “should China have a right to occupy Tibet” to “what should that occupation look like?”

“Under the banner of maintaining social stability, the (Chinese) government engaged in the severe repression of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural, and linguistic heritage by, among other means, strictly curtailing the civil rights of China’s ethnic Tibetan population, including the freedoms of speech, religion, association, and movement,” a 2012 report issued by the U.S. State Department claimed. “Other serious human rights abuses included extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial detentions, and house arrests.”

This report, sent to President Barack Obama, should have been enough to indicate the seriousness of the cultural genocide taking place in Tibet. That report, in combination with the 139 known self-immolations of Tibetan monks since February 2009 (as recorded by the International Campaign for Tibet) (no italics), should be more than enough information to stir political action.

But, according to the World Bank, the GDP of China in 1990 was about $390 billion. In 2011, the GDP nearly $7 trillion. In 1990, China was the 11th largest economy in the world; in 2011, it was just behind the U.S. in second place. So, it would appear that the U.S. is far more interested in the report issued by the World Bank, rather than that issued by its own State Department.

One critical aspect of this conflict that has remained unaffected by the growth of China as an economic ally, however, is the popular desire abroad for the independence of Tibet and the official recognition of the Tibetan government-in-exile as a legitimate political power. As China has grown exponentially in economic and political influence, so has the world’s response to Beijing’s blatant human rights violations and regional belligerence.

It is only through a grassroots, civil mission for the recognition of these human rights violations that there could potentially be legitimate change. One thing is clear: the U.S. has lost its status as a beacon of righteousness and aspiration for the Tibetan people.

Although not directly involved in such heinous human rights violations, the U.S. has served as a facilitator, and must be held accountable. Washington cannot preach intolerance for human rights violations while simultaneously facilitating such violations just because its most important economic ally commits them.

(Written by Isabella Speciale, edited by Terril Y. Jones; Nov. 23, 2015)


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