Top US lawmaker criticises China’s ‘negative and silly Tibet obsession’
Elliot Engel’s remarks against China are significant given Beijing’s insecurities about the Dalai Lama.
A senior US lawmaker who was in Dharamshala earlier this month with a congressional delegation to meet Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama has lashed out against Chinese criticism of the visit at the time, calling it “negative and narrow-minded … (and) silly”.
The delegation, comprising eight members of the House of Representatives was led by minority leader Nancy Pelosi and had extended and public engagements with the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan community over two days, drawing petulant criticism from the Chinese.
“That’s the negative and narrow-minded attitude that the Chinese government has taken,” Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives’s powerful Foreign Affairs Committee, said in an interview to Hindustan Times, in the sharpest response yet to Beijing from a member of the delegation.
“If they have nothing to hide, then they shouldn’t mind us going. We can’t let the Chinese through political pressure or economic pressure make us forget about the plight of the Tibetan people, or make us forget about human rights and religious freedom issues,” he added.
Engel, who has been a member of the House of Representatives from New York since 1989, also said “it’s very irritating” the way Pakistan “has behaved itself” on terrorism and added, “It can either contribute to, with effort to reel in terrorism or it can be exposed as a spoiler. And we’re not afraid to move in now. And you, I’m sure, saw what’s congress’s decision on the F16. We’ll play bad cop if we have to. And at the same time, we want to make sure that actions with the targeted sanctions or a decrease in security assistance, or even a terrorism designation.”
He was referring to Obama administration’s proposal to sell Pakistan eight F-16 fighter jets, which was essentially killed by bipartisan opposition in Congress that might have been started at a particularly bruising hearing, in absentia, for Pakistan of the House Foreign Affairs Committee of which Engel is the top Democrat and essentially deputy chair.
Engel, who co-founded the India Caucus in the House of Representatives in 1993, also said that during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s coming visit to the US to meet President Donald Trump, he would like to see progress, among other things, on a quadrilateral engagement between India, United States, Japan and Australia.
Generally, he said, the two countries must focus on economics and trade. But, he also stressed on the role of the diaspora — the Indian American community which “comes into play in a helpful way (to) deepen people-to-people ties. I think that’s important.”
Engel’s remarks against China were most significant, however, given Beijing’s obsessive insecurities about the Dalai Lama. “Chinese government is a strong government. Their military is strong. I don’t think that the Dalai Lama, aged 82 (he is actually 81), represents any sign of threat to them,” Engel said.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson had said the visit “to meet the Dalai Lama sent a very wrong signal to the world about Tibet independence and goes against the United States’ promises on Tibet. China firmly opposes this and has lodged solemn representations with the US.”
The spokesperson had added: “We urge relevant Congress people in the US to carefully handle the Tibet issue, stop all communications with the Dalai Lama and take immediate measures to deal with the negative impact of the visit.”
Calling the statement “silly and narrow-minded”, Congressman Engel said, “We support a One-China policy. But again, the Dalai Lama is not asking to be a separate country, he’s just asking for autonomy within China, within Tibet. And I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”
He went on to endorse the Dalai Lama’s demand that Tibetans should choose his successor, and not China. “I don’t think that the Chinese in Beijing should determine who the next Dalai Lama is … let people to do that,” Engel said.
Asked if he would like India and the US to coordinate their actions on Chins, he said, “I don’t think we want to be enemies with the Chinese. But I think we both look at some of their more aggressive moves with consternation. And that’s why I’d like (to talk about) the manoeuvres being done between India and United States, Japan and Australia. And I’ve been pushing for that. I mentioned that to Prime Minister Modi as well.”