By Tom Lantos
NEXT WEEK Congress will pay its highest tribute to the 14th Dalai Lama when it confers on him the Congressional Gold Medal in the Capitol Rotunda. President Bush will be on hand for the ceremony, which will be televised across the United States and seen throughout the world. Will the ceremony be shown in China? I doubt it. More likely, this will be yet one more occasion when Beijing tries to deflect criticism of the ongoing human rights catastrophe in Tibet by attempting to disparage the Dalai Lama, an unimpeachable man of peace.
Beijing's favorite attack on the Dalai Lama is to say that he aims to split China apart by seeking independence for Tibet. I have known him for over 20 years, and I know this characterization of his position on Tibet is false.
For years the Dalai Lama has pursued a negotiated solution to the Tibetan issue with the Chinese government through the Sino-Tibetan dialogue. In five rounds of discussions, His Holiness - through his designated representatives - has made it clear to the Chinese government that he does not seek Tibetan independence. Instead, he believes the best option is genuine autonomy for Tibet within the context of Chinese sovereignty and in accordance with the constitution of the People's Republic of China. However, instead of embracing the Dalai Lama's overture for peace, Beijing has resolutely refused to make any concessions.
Most disturbing is Beijing's unwillingness to engage the Dalai Lama directly on the Tibetan issue. The Chinese government says it knows the Dalai Lama's stance, yet no senior Chinese official has met with His Holiness since he was forced to flee Tibet in 1954. The Dalai Lama has repeatedly expressed his desire to travel to China and discuss Tibet face-to-face with the Chinese leadership, but so far Beijing has stubbornly declined to extend an invitation.
It is time for Beijing to realize that inviting the Dalai Lama to China not only is the right thing to do, it is also the wisest course of action. As a result of wide-ranging criticisms over issues including product safety, environmental degradation, human rights, and its economically driven foreign policy, China struggles with a poor international image.
Inviting the Dalai Lama in the beginning of next year would help set the right tone for a successful 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. In the context of this important event, a universal symbol of international harmony, direct dialogue with the Dalai Lama would be bold evidence of China's own stance that as it develops it is dedicated to peace.
Beijing must understand that the stalemate in resolving the problem of Tibet is not in China's own interests. With each day that the Chinese government fails to take tangible steps to provide true autonomy to the Tibetan people, the stain on the moral authority of China grows broader and deeper.
I hope that the Chinese leadership will come to finally understand that the Dalai Lama is part of the solution to the issue of Tibet, not the problem. And I hope the Chinese leadership will view the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony honoring the Dalai Lama for what it is: recognition of a remarkable man who has dedicated himself to promoting peace for his people and all humankind.
Representative Tom Lantos, a California Democrat, is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the founding co-chairman of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus.