By P. Parameswaran
Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama gestures as he speaks during a function marking the 48th anniversary of the 1959 uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet, 10 March 2007, at the Tsuglakhang Temple in Dharmsala, India. The United States expressed concern Tuesday that a critical dialogue between representatives of the Dalai Lama and China has stalled for more than a year.(AFP/File/Tenzin Lhawang)
WASHINGTON - The United States expressed concern Tuesday that a dialogue between representatives of Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and China has stalled for more than a year amid "extremely serious" human rights abuses in the Himalayan territory.
The two sides have held five rounds of talks since 2002, most recently in February 2006, as the Dalai Lama pushed for "genuine autonomy" for Tibet against Beijing's moves to tighten its control of the territory, a US diplomat told a congressional hearing on the status of the Sino-Tibetan dialogue.
But Beijing has failed to reconvene the talks, and has personally attacked the 71-year-old Dalai Lama, who is waging a non-violent campaign for greater rights for his six million people, US Under Secretary of State Paula Dobriansky said.
While Washington was greatly encouraged by the promise of the discussions, she said, "recently, we have become more concerned that they have not produced results."
"In the past year, the dialogue has not advanced, and the Chinese government has ramped up negative rhetoric concerning the Dalai Lama," Dobriansky said, citing China's recent dismissal of the Dalai Lama's "middle way approach" as "splitism."
"Comments like these and others from Beijing cast doubt on the seriousness of the negotiations," she added.
Lodi Gyari, the Dalai Lama's special envoy and top negotiator with Beijing, told the hearing he expected the sixth round of talks to be held "within a month or two."
"We have now reached the stage where if there is the political will on both sides, we have an opportunity to finally resolve this issue," he said.
Chairing the hearing, senior House of Representatives Democratic legislator Tom Lantos said lawmakers were preparing a letter to Chinese President
Hu Jintao asking him to invite the Dalai Lama to Beijing for a dialogue ahead of the 2008 Olympics.
"We are asking President Hu to invite His Holiness to China before the Olympics for a serious, cordial, civilized discussion," Lantos said. "It will set a proper tone for the Olympics."
US lawmakers will present the Dalai Lama with a "Congressional Gold medal" in October this year to highlight the plight of the Tibetans, he said.
World-renowned actor Richard Gere, a longtime Tibetan human rights campaigner, said direct talks between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese leadership would result in a "positive resolution for both parties."
"A win-win is possible," said Gere, chairman of the International Campaign for Tibet.
The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 when Beijing crushed an anti-Chinese uprising and set up his government-in-exile in the northern Indian hilltop town of Dharamsala.
China sees its occupation of Tibet since 1950 as a liberation of the region that has saved the Tibetan people from feudal oppression.
Dobriansky, the special coordinator for Tibetan issues in the administration of President George W. Bush, said that the situation on the ground in Tibet was "extremely serious."
She cited "widespread human rights and religious freedom abuses, including instances of arbitrary arrest, detention, torture in prison and official controls over Tibetan monasteries and institutions."
She singled out China's shooting of unarmed Tibetans fleeing into Nepal last fall. Video footage shot by a Romanian film crew showed Chinese troops firing directly at Tibetan refugees as they fled through the mountains, killing a nun.
US officials and lawmakers have repeatedly asked Beijing for an explanation but so far, none has been provided, she said.
Dobriansky also asked Beijing to allow international access to a "detained" child chosen by the Dalai Lama as his successor.
Believed to be the world's youngest political prisoner, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was six years old when he disappeared from public view in 1995 after being appointed by the Dalai Lama. He is believed to have been under a form of house arrest ever since.
"The Chinese maintain that he is a 'normal schoolboy' living in China. However China has refused to permit anyone from the international community to visit the boy and his family in order to confirm his welfare and well-being," Dobriansky said.
"Verbal assurances are not sufficient to allay international concerns. Agreement to such a visit would send a very positive signal to the world about China's intentions with regard to religious freedom," she said.