The US Senate has urged China to ease restrictions on Tibetans, free prisoners and allow access by foreign media to address grievances following a wave of self-immolation protests.
In a voice vote without objections Thursday, the Senate approved a resolution that deplored “repressive policies targeting Tibetans” despite warnings from China, which said the bill interfered in its internal affairs.
The Senate called on China “to suspend implementation of religious control regulations” imposed since major protests in 2008 and to resume dialogue with representatives of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader.
In the resolution, the Senate urged China to free all people who have been “arbitrarily detained; to cease the intimidation, harassment and detention of peaceful protesters; and to allow unrestricted access to journalists, foreign diplomats and international organizations to Tibet.”
The resolution also urged barring China from opening further consulates in the United States until Beijing lets Washington start a mission in Tibet’s capital Lhasa. However, the Senate measure is not legally binding.
At least 30 Tibetans have set themselves ablaze since last year, activists say, in dramatic protests against what rights groups say is China’s religious and political repression against the mostly Buddhist people.
“The Senate has sent a clear message to the Tibetan people: we stand in solidarity with you as you strive to preserve your culture and practice your faith freely,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein, a main sponsor of the resolution.
“It is my fervent hope that passage of this resolution will convince China to engage the Dalai Lama through dialogue and negotiation on addressing the legitimate grievances of all Tibetans,” said Feinstein, a member of President Barack Obama’s Democratic Party who represents California.
China held nine rounds of talks with the Dalai Lama’s representatives between 2002 and 2010. But there was little visible progress, leading some Tibetans to believe that Beijing wants to drag out diplomacy until the globally revered 76-year-old Dalai Lama dies.
Senator Joe Lieberman, an independent who co-sponsored the resolution, said that the United States also wanted to congratulate exiled Tibetans for moving toward democracy with an election last year for prime minister.
“This is a critical moment for the Senate to reaffirm that the treatment of Tibetans in China and denial of fundamental human rights there is a source of deep concern for the United States,” Lieberman said.
The Senate moved ahead despite criticism a day earlier by Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei, who said that Beijing was committed to all ethnic groups’ rights and accused the US lawmakers of interference.
“We urge these congressmen to recognize facts, discard prejudice and stop interfering in China’s internal affairs. They should do more things to contribute to China-US relations instead of the contrary,” he said.
China contends that it has provided development to Tibet and accuses the Dalai Lama, a Buddhist monk who fled into exile in 1959 and later won the Nobel Peace Prize, of fomenting unrest.
In the latest case, a rights group and exiled monks said that a 20-year-old monk named Sherab burned to death on Wednesday after setting himself on fire in Sichuan province’s Aba county.