Americans can help protect Tibetan rights | Power & Policy

Americans can help protect Tibetan rights

Andrea Strimling Yodsampa

By Andrea Strimling Yodsampa

Research Fellow, International Security Program, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

In a dramatic contrast to the festivities welcoming the Chinese New Year, Tibetans in Boston and across the globe have refused to celebrate Losar. Tibetans are in mourning – not only for the loss of their homeland and the threat to their culture under the Chinese Communist regime, but for the 25 monks, nuns, and lay people who have set themselves on fire over the past year.

While one may question the tactic, I understand the severe repression that is driving people to pour kerosene over their bodies and light themselves on fire. I am American by birth, but my husband and our family are Tibetan. Every Sunday, I bring our little boy to the YMCA for Tibetan Sunday School. At five years old, he already understands that he is studying Tibetan language not only for his own benefit, but to help preserve Tibetan culture. This is necessary because Tibetan religion and culture are under attack in Tibet.

Tibetan activists protest at the Massachusetts Statehouse on March 10. 2012

Last month, the Obama administration rolled out the red carpet for Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping. This may be understandable given US interests in a strong US-China relationship. But this month, with the March 10 anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising and flight of the Dalai Lama, we must remember that Tibetans are giving their lives to protest the desperate conditions in Tibet under Chinese rule.

There is a need for US diplomatic initiatives that focus less on pressuring and shaming China into submission and more on helping China recognize that the current situation is not sustainable. Ultimately, the US must help China find a face-saving way to shift policies in Tibet, including serious negotiations with the Tibetan Government in Exile.

I wrote about this issue in more detail in an op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor on March 14. You can read that longer version here.

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