Exiled leader tells US Congress Tibet faces 'slow death' under China
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Tibet is dying a "slow death" under Chinese rule, the head of the India-based organization known as Tibet's government in-exile said on Tuesday in a first address to the U.S. Congress.
Some Tibetan activists lament what they see as a fading focus on alleged abuses in Tibet amid growing concerns in Washington and other Western capitals about China's expanding military, pressure on democratic Taiwan, and crackdowns in Hong Kong and on minority groups in China's Xinjiang region.
"If PRC (the People's Republic of China) is not made to reverse or change its current policies, Tibet and Tibetans will definitely die a slow death," Penpa Tsering, known as the Sikyong of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), told a bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China hearing via video link.
The Sikyong role was created in 2012 after the Dalai Lama, Tibetans' 87-year-old spiritual leader, relinquished political authority in favor of an organization that could outlive him. A congressional source said it was the first such address by a Sikyong to a congressional body, and it is likely to anger Beijing.
Beijing has accused the Dalai Lama of fomenting separatism in Tibet and it does not recognize the CTA, which represents about 100,000 exiled Tibetans living in around 30 countries including India, Nepal, Canada and the United States.
China's Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment on the hearing.
China has ruled the remote western region of Tibet since 1951, after its military marched in and took control in what it calls a "peaceful liberation." China denies wrongdoing there and says its intervention ended "backward feudal serfdom."
Uzra Zeya, U.S. under secretary of State for democracy and human rights, told the hearing that China continued to "wage a campaign of repression that seeks to forcibly Sinicize" the 6 million Tibetans in the country and eliminate Tibetan religious, cultural and linguistic heritage.
Recent reports on government-run boarding schools and involuntary mass DNA collection in Tibetan areas "shock the conscience," said Zeya, who as special coordinator for Tibetan issues leads U.S. support for Tibetans. Beijing has refused to deal with her.
Republican Representative Chris Smith, who chairs the commission, said there was a global focus on Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang, but "we cannot take our eyes off the ongoing genocide being committed against Tibetan people."
Actor and long-time Tibet activist Richard Gere told the hearing that Chinese policies in Tibet increasingly "match the definition of crimes against humanity."
(Reporting by Michael Martina and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Leslie Adler)