The Dalai Lama has been in Seattle for five days to promote compassion and kindness. I hope he has felt the same warmth and enthusiasm from...
The Dalai Lama has been in Seattle for five days to promote compassion and kindness. I hope he has felt the same warmth and enthusiasm from Washingtonians that our 10-member bipartisan congressional delegation received when we ascended into the foothills of the Himalayas to visit him in late March.
As part of a global-warming trip to India led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, we made the sojourn to the Dalai Lama’s redoubt at 5,000 feet to discuss the Tibetan people’s struggle against religious intolerance.
We came away with an enhanced respect for the leader of this effort. We also came away with a renewed recognition that our growing relationship with China can embrace both our mutual interests in economic growth and what should be a universal respect for human dignity and religious freedom.
As the elevation increased on our drive up the serpentine road to Dharamsala, we saw the most extraordinary sight. Starting at about 4,500 feet, rank upon rank of Tibetans lined the road. Many were waving bright flags — both Tibetan and American. Others slightly bowed their heads and pressed their palms together in a most peaceful greeting. The well-wishers stretched for miles.
Finally, we were at the monastery, in a courtyard filled with about 2,000 rapturous people whose applause was sustained. Then appeared a 70ish man with a broad smile, who reached out his hand to greet us; it was the Dalai Lama himself.
At our unforgettable meeting with the Dalai Lama, he was relaxed, open and displayed the hearty sense of humor for which he is known. He made several things clear during our visit. First, he believes an international investigation into the violence in Tibet is fully warranted. Second, he’s willing to throw all his communications open to disprove the scandalous assertion that he somehow provoked the violence. Third, he is not calling for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics because he respects the Chinese people and has no desire to injure their athletic efforts or dignity as a nation. He is being eminently reasonable on all counts.
As residents of Washington, a state with close economic ties to China, we have a strong interest in selling to China Boeing jets, Microsoft software, Weyerhaeuser lumber and Yakima produce. The incredible rate of economic growth in China is a well-known, remarkable achievement.
But our growing relationship with this nation of immense opportunity has to include more than just a commercial component; it must include a willingness to address the moral as well. We need to speak out against Chinese abuses of human rights, when it comes to laborers, the environment and, especially at this time, religious freedom for Tibetans. We need to urge China to become a leader in the cause of respecting religious freedom if it truly is to realize its ambition of being seen as a mature, responsible global leader.
That’s why I wholeheartedly supported Pelosi when she took the stage in Dharamsala and announced to a listening world that the United States desires to see an investigation of the Chinese suppression of Tibetan dissent. It’s why I’ve sponsored a resolution approved by the House on Wednesday that calls on China to end its crackdown on peaceful Tibetan protesters, put a stop to cultural and religious repression in Tibet and engage in dialogue with the Dalai Lama on long-term solutions that respect the dignity of all Tibetans. And it’s why I think the president should keep open the prospect of skipping the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Summer Olympics.
I do so in full understanding that the Chinese government may look at the issue of Tibet through the lens of a nation that has spent a history seeking to control its geopolitical destiny, a history replete with foreign interference.
But raising one’s voice in favor of religious freedom and human dignity is not just a right belonging to individual nations, but rather a responsibility of all mankind. Like the Dalai Lama, we should seek, and justice demands, a newfound recognition by China that its continuing rise to the status of a great power must include the great step forward of respecting individual religious freedom and the people of Tibet.
It’s up to Washingtonians to speak out and press our trade partner, China, to live up to the ideals epitomized by this past week’s Seeds of Compassion gathering and the Olympic Games.
Correction: The Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Ala., was funded through private donations following a major legal victory by the Southern Poverty Law Center against a Ku Klux Klan group. The financing was misstated in a guest column published April 11 in The Times.
U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island, represents the 1st Congressional District.