Friday 21 January 2011

US President urges Tibet talk

(, Jan21, 2011) US President Barack Obama on Jan 19 made a rare and direct public call on Chinese President Hu Jintao in regard to the Tibet issue, urging him to talk with the Dalai Lama to resolve the outstanding differences between the two sides. “Even as we, the United States, recognize that Tibet is part of the People’s Republic of China, the United States continues to support further dialogue between the government of China and the representatives of the Dalai Lama to resolve concerns and differences, including the preservation of the religious and cultural identity of the Tibetan people,” various news services, including Radio free Asia online (RFA, Washington), Jan 19 quoted President Obama as saying during a rare joint press conference with Mr Hu.

The RFA report said some saw Mr Obama’s move to publicly raise the Tibet issue as an attempt to make amends for what was widely considered to be his snub of the Dalai Lama during the Tibetan leader’s visit to the White House in Feb’10. At that time the Dalai Lama was given a backdoor exit with trash bags seen lying around. That briefest of meeting took place after Mr Obama had failed to meet the Tibetan leader in Washington Oct’09.

Mary Beth Markey, president of the International Campaign for Tibet (Washington) has admitted it was atypical of Obama to make such a strong statement about Tibet on the public stage and that this was enormously gratifying. However, she has noted, his message was “nothing new”.

She felt that given President Hu’s exclusive authority over Tibet, “it would have been much more gratifying to then have President Hu say something” positive on his country’s future policy on Tibet. She has added, however, that “the Chinese do not like to appear to be acting at the behest of US concerns for Tibet.”

Hu did not respond to Obama’s comment about Tibet. He did respond to the US president’s remarks on the human rights situation in China, but only in a general and the well known evasive way, saying that as a developing country with a large population and in the midst of reform, China could do better to protect the rights of its people. “China still faces many challenges in economic and social development.  And a lot still needs to be done in China, in terms of human rights,” he was quoted as saying.

Hu’s remark came after President Obama had said, "History shows that societies are more harmonious, nations are more successful and the world is more just when the rights and responsibilities of all nations and all people are upheld, including the universal rights of every human being."

There was no mention of Tibet in the joint US-China statement issued later in the day, noted PTI news service Jan 20.

It has also been suggested that Obama’s comments on Tibet and human rights will not necessarily be seen by Hu and China as a snub. The Jan 19 quoted Elizabeth Economy, director of Asia studies at the US-based Council on Foreign Relations, as saying, "As both a winner of the Nobel peace prize and the president of the United States, it was incumbent upon Obama to make such a statement, and I think he did it in a way that was clear and compelling without being insulting.”

As Obama and Hu fielded questions at the joint press conference, hundreds of Tibetan and other demonstrators converged on Lafayette Park outside the White House, protesting against China’s repressive rule in their homeland.

The protests, involving hundreds of Chinese, Tibetans and others, actually began the day before, on Jan 18, when Mr Hu arrived in the USA and was hosted a private dinner by President Obama. A state dinner followed on Jan 19. House Speaker John Boehner, declined to attend the dinner.

The pomp and pageant, as well as the state dinner, was something President Hu particularly looked forward to. In Apr’06, former President George Bush had denied him a state visit status and dinner but only offered him lunch.

Students for a Free Tibet (SFT) said it was organizing a march from the Chinese Embassy to the White House, and vowed to follow Hu around Washington, denouncing his country's policies at eight separate rallies coinciding with his meetings. Tibetan activists vowed to stage protests over three days during Hu’s visit in the capital area.

President Hu remains the most unpopular and controversial global leader to visit the USA, with protesters following him wherever he went during his Jan 18-21 visit. The protesters included human rights and political activists, including international human rights groups, Taiwanese, Tibetans, Uyghurs, the Falun Gong and a host of other interest groups and their American supporters. Human rights in general and the status of Taiwan and China's treatment of its Tibetan and Uighur minority in particular have long been sore points in relations between the US and China.

In the US Congress, Hu faced sharp, bipartisan criticisms. Senate Majority Leader Harry M Reid (D-Nev.) called Hu a "dictator" in an interview with a Las Vegas news station, reported Washington Post online Jan 19. It added that on Capitol Hill, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, compared Hu to ancient Chinese emperors. A blog posting on the web site cited Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) as having said China should be treated as a "gangster regime that murders their own people."

As part of its propaganda war, China organized its own welcome groups to cheer Mr Hu, although they did not appear to have made much impact. Chinese Student and Scholar Associations (CSSAs) and other front groups of the Chinese Communist Party in Washington, DC area were mobilized by the Chinese Embassy to give Hu a big welcome. The participating students worked in shifts, were shuttled to and from the site, and provided with meals and beverages as well as plenty of red banners. Some student participants received cash payments of up to $80 for the trouble.

In emails and bulletin boards at universities in the greater DC area and beyond, the CSSA was undertaking to foot the bill, although the money was apparently coming from elsewhere, according to the Epoch Times online Jan 18. It cited a George Mason University (GMU) as saying the Chinese Embassy in Washington was in “tight control” of the entire process. These were reported to include the carrying out of head count by the embassy staff, verification of identities, and apportion money to CSSA leaders based on the headcount.

China said the aim of Hu’s state visit was “to enhance mutual trust, promote friendship, deepen cooperation and move forward the positive, cooperative and comprehensive China-US relationship for the 21st century”.

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