By Dechen Tsering
On March 10, 2010, I was sworn in as a U.S. citizen. Flush with confidence stemming from the perceived legal protection of American citizenship, I joined the Bay Area Tibetan community in the annual March 10th protest. Tibetans and Tibet-supporters faced the Chinese Consulate building with tight fists held high, shouting, among other slogans: ENOUGH is ENOUGH! – the same demand millions of Americans are making today to call an end to four years of President Donald Trump.
On Tuesday, November 3, 2020, the United States of America will undergo the most critical presidential election in its modern history. Never in my 10 years as a U.S. citizen, have I felt that my vote matters more than this year! Former President Barack Obama summarized Trump’s presidency as resulting in “170,000 [now 205,000] Americans dead, millions of jobs gone, our worst impulses unleashed, our proud reputation around the world badly diminished and our democratic institutions threatened like never before”. Trump’s deliberate mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the U.S. to have the highest COVID-19 deaths in the world and the steepest economic downfall of any developed country. In four years, we have watched the world’s wealthiest and once-most powerful country plummet into a nation that the global world “started to feel sorry for,” wrote Timothy Egan of the New York Times.
I have seensocial media posts where many Tibetans considera vote for Trump is good for Tibet, because they perceive him as being ‘tough on China’. As a Tibetan-American, I can empathize with the feeling that we share the ‘same enemy’, given Trump’s perceived‘tough on China’ stand. We want China to be held accountable for its human rights violations and repressive policies in Tibet, East Turkistan, and Hong Kong, and its coverup of the coronavirus that spearheaded the current global pandemic. However, your-enemy-is-my-enemy mentality is not to our long-term benefit because Trump has neither said nor done anything concrete for Tibet during his four years in office that is over and beyond what any other president has done. On the contrary, I believe that under Trump, the U.S. is:
- Pursuing a ‘tough-on-China’ policy that is ineffective for Tibet,
- Implementing immigration policies that hurt Tibetans’ chances of coming to the U.S.,
- Isolating itself from our allies and helping China become the leading world power,
- Becoming a significant violator of human rights and environmental protections, thus, disqualifying it from holding China accountable for its violations in Tibet,
- Undermining its own democracy and its ability to advocate for freedom for Tibet, and
- Costing unprecedented numbers of citizens their health, life, and economic stability.
Let me elaborate on some of the issues that, I believe, impact Tibetans and Tibet the most in this election.
President Trump’s ‘Tough on China’ Policy Is Ineffective and Unhelpful for Tibet
President Trump marched into the trade deal with China alone and failed to rally U.S. allies to leverage his negotiations with China’s President Xi Jinping. When the deal fell short, Trump imposed trade tariffs (import taxes) on China in early 2020. We hoped that China would see a dramatic decrease in exports. Trump assured us that the10 percent tariff on $300 billions of Chinese imports would end our chronic trade deficits and China’s unfair trade practices,” wrote Philip Gordon, former senior State Department official. In practice what this means is that U.S. companies importing products from China pay an importtax to the U.S. Treasury. These U.S. companies then pass the cost of these tariffs onto their customers by raising the prices of their products that we buy! In other words, China does not pay the tariffs; we do! Ultimately, the tariffs hurt America’s consumers, like you and me, more than China.
Trump’s ‘America First’policy and acting unilaterally is backfiring due to its lack of coordination with U.S. allies. Trump’s bullying tactic including tariffs, sanctions, and other economic threats against allies, like the European Union, India, Japan, and Canadais, in fact, aiding China’s increase in exports as former allies are now strengthening their economic ties with China. Gordon reported that Trump not only “weakened alliances in general, but specifically failed to use them to enhance leverage in negotiations with China.” Trump’s withdrawal from international treaties and organizations including the World Health Organization (amidst a pandemic) left a void of global leadership, allowing Xi to expand his sphere of influence in global leadership. Bloomberg reported that China, in fact, wants Trump re-elected because the erosion of America’s alliances would outweigh any damage U.S. tariffs will have on China. With its 1.4 billion population, China is the world’s largest exporter at $2.5 trillion with an economy second only to the U.S.According to Reuters, President Xi’s new “self-reliance initiative” is “looking to reduce China’s reliance on overseas markets and technology for its economic development” and build its domestic market and production. SaveTibet.org reported that China’s economic growth does not benefit Tibet and Tibetans inside Tibet; rather, it enriches Chinese businesses and workers and exploits Tibet’s rich resources. Like most Tibetans, I want very much to see a U.S. that is tough on China.Trump’s hawkish talks and trade tariffs on China, while hopeful on the surface, lack strategy and effectiveness. Instead, Trump is creating divisions that benefit China while substantially damaging America’s leadership role and its credibility. To be tough on China, the U.S. alone is no longer in a position to make any effective change. In contrast, a Biden administration could see the U.S. teaming up with allies to curtail Beijing’s widening influence. It is not in the interest of Tibet and Tibetans to elect a U.S. President who aids China’s rise to the global superpower.
Tibetans know what authoritarian looks like. To the Tibetanleaning towards Trump, I urge you to reflect on Trump’s tendencies toward authoritarian leadership and his admiration for dictators. Trump courted, praised, and congratulated Xi for consolidating his presidential power for life. In fact, Washington Post and multiple sources reported, Trump called for “twelve more years” of his own presidency (U.S. constitution limits the presidency to two consecutive terms of four years each) and tweeted that he might not give up the presidency even if he loses the upcoming election! In an attempt to negotiate a trade deal with China, Trump toned down hisresponse to Beijing’s termination ofHong Kong’s autonomy and massive human rights abuses of peaceful protestors. New York Times reported Trump was silent on “ideological and behavioral indoctrination” and internment camps aimed at reducing the population, language and culture of 10 million Uighurs in Xinjiang, similar to China’s genocidal policies in Tibet. Trump’s former National Security Advisor, John Bolton disclosed that in 2019 Trump approved and in fact, encouraged Xi: “Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which Trump thought was exactly the right thing to do.” Trump’s pattern of admiring and flirting with dictators like Chinese President Xi, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and North Korean Dictator, Kim Jong Un is dangerous for the U.S. and by extension, dangerous for Tibet and Tibetans.
President Trump’s Immigration Policies Do Not Serve Tibetans
President Trump’s racist immigration policies offend the dignity and threaten the rights of immigrants and refugees. Majority of Tibetans came to the U.S. as asylum seekers and through family reunification. Between 1992-2002, approximately 8,650 Tibetans were settled in the U.S. through the family reunification visas. These opportunities, under Trump’s policies are quickly shrinking.Currently, the U.S. is home to approximately 24,000 Tibetans. Trump’s suspension of asylum and reunification visas directly impacts us. Under Trump, asylum policies have become very restrictive, allowing border officials to deny entry, rather than allowing the asylum seeker to enter and seek a decision on his/her case from a judge. This change would have prevented many Tibetans who, today, are U.S. citizens to make our case to U.S. immigration officials. Currently, under a Trump executive order, U.S. embassies overseas are not accepting any green card applications. The Trump administration is restricting the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. While 45,000 refugees were admitted in 2018, that number shrank to 30,000 in 2019, and 18,000 in 2020. Similarly, Trump banned H-1B visas for the remainder of 2020 and announced his intention to limit student visas to two or four years, depending on the student’s country of origin. Such policies threaten prospects for Tibetans.
Tibet Needs the U.S. to be the Leader of Human Rights and Democracy
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the most ardent supporter of Tibet and Tibetans, said: “As Americans, we must protect human rights both at home and abroad, the right to live freely without the threat of violence or repression, the right to live with dignity and respect. The world needs America to lead. We must work towards a sustainable foreign policy that reflects American values.” On the contrary, president Trump’s playbook for governance in the last four years resembles Xi Jinping’s more than it reflects American values; rife withresurgence in nationalism, a crackdown on human rights, and a disregard for constitutional law.
Rather than protecting the human rights of all Americans, Trump continues to promote hate in America by pushing white nationalist agenda and exclusionary policies that discriminate on the basis of faith, national origin, and immigration status. In 2018, the Southern Poverty Law Center recorded the largest number of hate groups (940) in its history, including 50 percent increase in white nationalist groups that promote hate and disinformation. In the midst of systemic racism and police brutality, Trump appeared eager to stoke racial divisions, by using racist rhetoric such as “kung flu” or “China flu” fueling hostile anti-Asian sentiment. I was on the receiving end of one such racist hostile incident in March even in progressive Bay Area. Under Trump’s watch, Black Lives Matter (BLM) is also revealing how systemic racism and police brutality impacts minorities in this country, much like in Tibet. I empathize with the BLM movement because, we, Tibetans, know the suffering caused by state-sanctionedracist policies inflicted by Han-dominated Chinaagainst Tibetans in Tibet. We saw 154 self-immolations by Tibetans desperate to draw attention to the oppression under Xi’s China.Trump’s America stokes white nationalism, racism, and hatred against minorities, rather than promoting human rights, peace, and justice. It is little wonder, therefore, that Trump’s ‘tough on China’ is weakened by his ability to effectively and credibly advocate for human rights abroad, including in Tibet.
Trump is a Public Health Hazard
Instead of showing leadership and advising personal responsibility to flatten the curve in the U.S. during the current COVID-19 pandemic, Trump called the coronavirus “just a minor problem” that would “disappear like a miracle by April”. As I write this in September, the U.S. has 7.14 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and over 205,000 COVID-19 deaths. These precious human lives were lost as a result of this president’s disregard for science and dismissive of expert advisors. An article in Health Affairs found that state mask mandates may have prevented more than 230,000 coronavirus infections! Instead of mandating mask wearing and ordering mass production of personal protective equipment (PPEs), Trump politicized the pandemic, calling it a “Democratic hoax”. What I find most egregious is that we now know from the journalist, Bob Woodward’s recorded interviews, that Trump knew as early as January 2020, how dangerous the coronavirus is and that it is an airborne virus! Yet, he chose to deliberately lie to us about the dangers of the coronavirus for months. In doing so, Trump intentionally chose to put our lives in danger and continues to do so.When asked by Axios Jonathan Swan, what he thought about 1,000 American lives lost per day due to COVID-19, Trump yet again, shocked us with his heartless response- “It is what it is”. Trump has made numerous shocking statements and the Washington Post identified 20,000 false or misleading claims Trump made during his presidency.
Rallying to Oppose Trump
Trump is sowing doubt and confusion about the 2020 election, claiming without any evidence, that it will be invalid due to fraud. His appointed U.S. Postmasterremoved mail sorting machines and post boxes, resulting in a slow-down of mail. Even as I write this, Trump tweeted threatening to reject the election results, which is a violation of the U.S. constitution and possibly the end of democracy in the U.S. Trump is creating fertile ground for an authoritarian regime, which is not in Tibet’s best interest.
Trump’s reputation among longtime Republicans has suffered. Over 200 Republicans launched the Lincoln Project to oppose “Trump and Trumpism” and to support the Democratic presidential candidate, former vice president Joe Biden in the 2020 elections. Lincoln Project reported: “The President of the United States must be a leader, have integrity and intelligence, act decisively, practice accountability, and empower others, but perhaps most importantly: our president must be a good person.Trump fails that most basic test.” Fintan O’Toole of the Irish Times captured the sentiment from abroad: “The country Trump promised to make great again has never in its history seemed so pitiful.”
Fortunately, we have a very hopeful alternative to President Trump: Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who served as the vice president for eight years in the Obama administration, and his running mate, California Senator, Kamala Harris, the first Asian-American and African-American woman ever to be nominated for the Democratic vice president seat. The values and vision of the Biden-Harris team align with human rights, social justice, respect for the environment, empathy, and basic human decency; values that are essential for rebuilding America’s prestige and credibility around the world and for strengthening our international alliances to keep China in check.
VOTE 2020: Democracy Itself is at Stake.
Our democracy is at stake and we can change that with our right to vote, a hard-fought win for American women in 1920 (women’s suffrage movement) after nearly a century of advocacy. Many before us fought to win this right that we have. Your vote is a powerful tool to strengthen civic society, influence elections and pass local policies that impact millions of lives. Your vote is your voice! Your voice is your power! Every March 10th we march for freedom, liberty and justice in Tibet. Given the stakes in this election, we may think of our act of voting as voting for the present communities we are living in and for the future of Tibet.
Call-To-Action: Your Vote Matters!
Tibetan-Americans, please participate in the most consequential election in modern U.S. history:
- To check if you have registered: https://www.vote.org/am-i-registered-to-vote/
- Register to voteby texting “VOTE” to 30330.
- VOTE in-person if you can due to the uncertainties in the U.S. postal system.
- Please VOTE BLUE for the Biden-Harris team – Save Our Democracy!
- Please VOTE BLUE (Democratic) in all the House Representatives and Senate races.
- Encourage your friends and family to register and VOTE.
- Visit the JoeBiden.com website: https://joebiden.com/take-action/# to volunteer.
- Questions or discussions about this article:firstname.lastname@example.org
Your Vote Matters! And Here’s Why
In 2016, presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, actually gained 3 million more popular votes than Trump but he won the electoral college votes (yes, an obscure system). In some precincts, these electoral votes would have gone to candidate Clinton had fewer than 100 people voted differently!
Your vote, your family’s votes, and your friends’ votes can make all the difference to save American democracy and by extension – Tibet’s greatest ally!
(Views expressed are her own)
The author is a social justice activist and has an MA in public health from Tulane University. She lives in
Berkeley, CA U.S. with her partner.