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A Crucial Message from Tibet Lobby Day

posted Mar 30, 2012, 6:34 PM by The Tibetan Political Review
By Todd Stein
International Campaign for Tibet

I had a chance this week to go through the responses from participants in last week’s Tibet Lobby Day in Washington.  Combined with my own experience of sitting in on meetings in Congressional offices and the feedback I heard from participants last week, the responses confirm that it was a very positive and productive affair.  Please read my colleague Leslie Butterfield’s blogpost review of Tibet Lobby Day 2012.

(Note: S. Res. 356, a Senate resolution regarding the situation in Tibet, was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee one week after Tibet Lobby Day participants lobbied for it.)

As I reviewed the feedback, I realized something was missing.  Nowhere in the responses from participants was it reported that Members of Congress or their staffs say something like:
  • The self-immolations are instigated by the Dalai Lama and Tibetan exiles; 
  • Tibetans seem content and grateful for the economic development provided by the Chinese government; 
  • I am skeptical of the Dalai Lama’s position on Tibet.  Doesn’t he really want to restore theocracy and feudalism in Tibet?; or 
  • Tibet has been an inalienable part of China since ancient times. 
These are the standard propaganda lines on Tibet of Chinese propagandists.  But they are not accepted in Congress, despite the massive investments by the Chinese party/government to sway global opinion toward its narrative on Tibet through:
  • “Tibetologist” delegations (academics and government officials) sent to Washington (including Congress) and other national capitals to explain the “reality” in Tibet and correct Western “mis-conceptions” about Tibet; 
  • Paying the Washington Post to insert a “China Daily” supplement in the newspaper and (insidiously) to integrate its online version into the Post’s website; 
  • Establishing Confucius Institutes at universities to teach Mandarin (but not Tibetan) and discourage objective discussion of the Tibet issue; and 
  • Setting up a 24-hour state-run Chinese news channel modeled after CNN and BBC America, with a bureau in Washington. 
Despite all this effort, the Chinese narrative on Tibet is not making headway in Washington. Why is this?  I think because any American with a slight bit of sense and a passing attention to international affairs realizes that much of what comes from the Chinese government deserves a high degree of skepticism.  Put more bluntly, it’s a load of crap. 

Some of the staffers that the participants met with were experienced Asia policy experts, some were new to Capitol Hill and new to the Tibet issue, and many were in between.  But even those unfamiliar with Tibet expressed no skepticism on the stories that Tibetan-Americans and Tibet supporters told. 

Members of Congress and their staff members are smart enough to recognize when a big country is beating up on a little country, and that autocratic regimes tend to abuse those that dare challenge their policies.  This is not due to an “anti-China bias,” as the propagandists would say.  It is because Americans, with our open society and free media, can see these dynamics happening (unfortunately) all over the world – in Bashir’s Sudan, in Assad’s Syria, in Putin’s Russia and in the CCP’s China. 

In essence, sympathy for Tibet is the default setting in Washington.  Partly, this is because the Tibetan case is compelling.  But more importantly, it is because American policy-makers are astute enough to discern between truth and propagandistic un-truth.

So what comes next?  Maybe one day we will see the Chinese Embassy launch a “China’s Tibet Lobby Day,” bringing in (and paying for) Chinese students under their government-run Chinese overseas student associations to lobby against the Dalai Lama.  I’m not eager for it, but I wouldn’t lose sleep.  In our open system, propaganda tends to reveal itself. 

In fact, I would welcome the opportunity to have Tibetan-Americans and the Chinese students come together to discuss genuinely the issue of Tibet.  I hope that the Chinese Embassy would agree to facilitate such a discussion.  Moreover, I would hope that the Embassy would agree to allow American students in Beijing to lobby members of the National People’s Congress on human rights abuses and religious freedom in Tibet.  If they want open access to our halls of government, it’s only fair to expect open access to theirs, right?

Republished in TPR with permission of ICT.  Originally published at:

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