China Language Policies, Travel Restrictions in Tibet Condemned at US Panel

Eugene Whong
2020-09-30
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A classroom in a school in Tibet's regional capital Lhasa is shown in a 2015 photo.
AP

The Chinese government is guilty of gross human rights violations in Tibet, particularly in the manner that Beijing restricts access to the region and its push to replace Tibetan language instruction in schools, human rights organizations and Tibetan activists said during a U.S. hearing Wednesday.

At the bipartisan Congressional Executive Commission on China’s hearing on the rights situation in Tibet, witnesses said that the polices were an engineered attempt to eradicate Tibetan culture and enforce silence about Beijing’s various abuses.

“More than 60 years have passed since the Dalai Lama escaped into exile, and today Tibetans in China are still struggling to exercise their basic rights: to speak and teach their language, protect their culture, control their land and water, travel within and outside their country, and practice their religion as they choose,” said CECC chairman, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.).

China’s Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law says that ethnic autonomous areas have the right to make decisions about education, including the language used in classroom instruction.

But Beijing has recently backed policies pushing Chinese as the medium of instruction in many of China’s autonomous regions, not only in Tibet, but also in regions home to Mongolian and Koreans.

In Tibet, the government’s policy is veiled under the name “Mother Tongue Education for Tibetans,” according to Sophie Richardson, China director at New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW)

“The Chinese government’s use of the term is deeply misleading. It is not the case that students across Tibetan areas are being taught equally in both languages. State policies are in fact leading to the gradual replacement of Tibetan by Chinese as the medium of instruction except for in a single Tibetan language class,” she said.

Richardson cited HRW findings that the policy in Tibet has expanded gradually over the years.

“So-called bilingual education” was originally limited to urban secondary schools, but now it’s in primary schools and kindergartens and across rural areas, she said.

“Regional policies promoting what are referred to as mixed classes or concentrated schooling, mix together Tibetan and Chinese speaking children, which is fine, to justify the use of only Chinese in the classroom, which is not,” she added.

Richardson raised concern that there is also a shortage of available Tibetan-language materials, saying that the use of Chinese-language materials not only eliminates fluency in Tibetan among the young, it also instills political views favorable to the Chinese government.

Zeekgyab Rinpoche, an abbot at the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, said China’s linguistic policies were essentially genocidal.

“It is clear that the Chinese policy over Tibet is a deliberate attempt to remove from the face of the Earth our racial and cultural identity. This is clearly seen in the way the Chinese government interferes and intervenes in the functioning of the monastic education system, by imposing restrictions on our monks and nuns,” he said through an interpreter.

“Even in our schools we see this maligned design to wipe out our unique identity in the form of restructuring the curriculum and banning the learning of Tibetan language. In short, there is a continuous and systematic destruction of our culture, religion, language and environment in Tibet,” said Zeekgyab Rinpoche.

China has been able to control the human rights narrative by silencing its critics and restricting access to Tibet and other areas under its control, the panel was told.

Tenzin Dorjee of the Tibet Action Institute told the commission that Beijing is able to use its status in the world to oppress rights even outside of its borders.

As China becomes a global power, the threat it poses to freedom and human rights goes far beyond Tibet. Beijing’s surveillance and influence operations are undermining the liberty and security of those living in America. China uses a sophisticated set of tools, tactics and strategies to conduct what I would call Repression Without Borders,” he said

“One strategy is the weaponization of access. Access to markets, to family, to funding. By carefully controlling access, China buys the silence of American individuals and corporations, even Hollywood and the NBA,” said Tenzin Dorjee.

Tenzin Dorjee said Chinese consulates and embassies silence ethnic Tibetans outside of China through discriminatory visa issuance practices.

In what he called the “visa as bait” strategy, Tenzin Dorjee said exile Tibetans must write personal statements on their entire life histories, including past participations in protests, as well as names and IDs of relatives in Tibet.

So, the Chinese government knows who you are, and who your relatives are. Now the fate of your relatives is somehow your responsibility. They’re the hostage; you’re the target,” he said.

Tenzin Dorjee also said that control over exile Tibetans to divide the community and stifle the pro-Tibet movement was increasingly facilitated by WeChat, which he called “the ultimate platform of censorship and state surveillance.

Launched by Tencent in 2011, WeChat now has more than 1.1 billion users, second only to WhatsApp and Facebook, but the company keeps users behind China's complex system of blocks, filters and human censorship known as the Great Firewall, even when they are physically in another country.

The app is also used by China's state security police to carry out surveillance and harassment of dissidents and activists in exile who speak out about human rights abuses in the country, or campaign for democratic reform.

Wednesday’s CECC hearing followed the release this week of “Surveillance and Censorship in Tibet,” a report by the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) on mass high-tech monitoring of Tibetans by China.

China has in the past decade built “a systematized social control mechanism that ignores human rights such as the freedom of speech, religion, and peaceful assembly,” the report by the Dharamsala, India-based TCHRD says.

“Online surveillance, CCTV cameras, bugged homes, and checkpoints provide simple instruments of observation and monitoring to expand the influence of the state,” it said.

China has expanded to Tibetan urban and rural areas, as well as to Buddhist temples, the mass surveillance aided by artificial intelligence that is has rolled out in other parts of China – sparking self-censorship among local people, the report said.

“Any talk of politics or critique of state policy is considered for a charge of separatism; posting, possessing, or even clicking on images of the Dalai Lama is grounds for a charge of religious extremism. To speak of such matters with outsiders is often a more extreme crime in the eyes of the state, and Tibetans are routinely discouraged from contacting the outside world in any way whatsoever,” it said.

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