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Actor Richard Gere: In Tibet, 'oppression cannot be tolerated'

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Richard Gere / Photo:{ }House Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) – Members of the House Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific met Wednesday to discuss U.S. policy toward Tibet.; more specifically, working toward greater access, religious freedom and human rights for Tibetan citizens.

Two bills pending before the subcommittee were highlighted. The H.R.1872 —Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act of 2017 would require the U.S. State Department to submit a list to Congress of senior Chinese officials in leadership positions for review. Congress would then determine the officials' level of access to the United States contingent with the access U.S. officials are granted to Tibetan areas in China.

The second bill, H.Con.Res.89, maintains that United States policy toward Tibet and treatment of the Tibetan people should remain a factor in U.S. relations with China.

Subcommittee Chairman Ted Yoho, R- Fla., discussed the ways in which the Tibetan people have had their human rights and civil liberties encroached upon.

“Human rights and personal freedoms in Tibet are already in a poor and worsening state,” Yoho said. “According to a 2016 Human Rights report, the government of China engages in the severe repression of Tibet’s unique cultural and linguistic heritage by among other means strictly curtailing the civil rights of the Tibetan population, including the freedoms of speech, religion, association, assembly and movement.”

The congressman added that the flow of information is heavily restricted to Tibet by China.

“Tibet remains extremely isolated. The flow of information in and out of Tibet is tightly restricted,” Yoho said. “Tibetans are prevented from obtaining passports and moving freely and foreigners especially journalists and officials are frequently denied access.”

Ranking Member of the Subcommittee Brad Sherman, D- Calif., said in 2015 China expressed they had no intentions of granting autonomy to Tibet.

“China’s suppression of Tibet has continued and intensified. China has not held discussions about Tibet’s status with the Dalai Lama’s representatives since January 2010,” Sherman said.

Sherman then asked the lawmakers to take a stronger stance with China when conducting trade business.

“To think that we allow China to exercise that kind of control while giving them free access to our markets is something Congress needs to review,” Sherman said.

Chairman Emeritus of the Committee on Foreign Affairs Ileana Ros Lehtinen, R- Fla., also made a statement: “Tibet has been pushed to the periphery of U.S. foreign policy.”

One of the hearing’s key witnesses was award-winning actor Richard Gere. Human rights advocacy is a subject Gere has testified on before Congress in previous hearings. He also famously took a moment during the 1993 Oscar awards to ask former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping to “take his troops, take the Chinese away from Tibet and allow these people to live as free and independent people again.”

During Wednesday’s hearing, Gere spoke to the committee as the chair of the board of directors for the International Campaign for Tibet. He told lawmakers he was touched by their support from both sides of the aisle.

“I am totally knocked out by the words I’m hearing from all of you,” Gere said. “I think everyone in this room is feeling this from a deep place. How important this is maybe not strategically but humanly and what it means to us as Americans to be coming from this place of universal responsibility protecting the welfare and human rights of everyone on this planet.”

He thanked Congress for awarding the Dalai Lama with the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007. He emphasized that the current human rights issues in Tibet strike at the core of American values.

“The respect for the identity of a people, of their religion, is something the American people understand very well and deeply care about,” Gere said. “Before being politicians or actors, we are human beings who understand that oppression cannot be tolerated; you understand that all human beings have the right to the pursuit of happiness and to avoid suffering.”

Gere also said that while President Donald Trump did discuss human rights with China during his most reason trip to Asia, he did not publicly highlight Tibet and the need for reopening a dialogue between Chinese officials and the Dalai Lama. He said it important for there to be reciprocity in diplomatic relations, not only in trade -- but in freedom of movement and information.

Hearing Witness Director of the Tibetan Service, Radio Free Asia, Tenzin Tethong, spoke candidly about the difficulty in getting fact-based news reports to the Tibetan people and the struggle their reporters go through to gain access to Tibet.

“It’s extremely difficult for any of our journalists to have normal access to Tibet, which ranks among the world’s worst media environments after North Korea,” Tethong said. “Nevertheless, many of them maintain various levels of contact with vast networks of trusted sources inside who can provide tips, leads, images, video, and confirmation of events.”

Tethong claims that China has become more forceful with comprehensive censorship and propaganda in Tibet.

Hearing witness and President of the National Endowment for Democracy Carl Gershman, asserted that China’s behavior toward Tibet has actually worsened in comparison to previous leaders.

“In fact, the threat posed by China to the world order has increased with its growing economic power, and repression is worse today than at any time since the death of Mao Zedong four decades ago,” Gershman said. “In addition to the systematic effort to destroy the Tibetan religion, language, culture, and distinct national identity, China has flooded Tibet with Han Chinese settlers, placed monasteries under direct government control, arrested and tortured writers, and forcibly resettled more than two million nomads in urban areas, destroying their traditional way of life and disrupting the fragile ecosystem of the Tibet Plateau”

Gershman called on the United States to state clearly that Tibet was not part of China before the invasion, while also declaring that China has violated international law.

“We also need to remember that the struggle for Tibetan rights cannot be separated from the fight for human rights and freedom in China,” Gershman said.