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Tibet Policy Has Administration Cau
October 21, 1997
Tibet Policy Has Administration Caught Between China and Congress
Related Articles China Discusses Possibility of Releasing Prominent
Dissident Albright to Name Special Aide on U.S. Policy Toward Tibet (July
By STEVEN LEE MYERS
WASHINGTON -- With only a week to go before the visit of China's president
to the United States, the Clinton administration finds itself in a
diplomatic predicament of its own making over its pledge to appoint a
"special coordinator" to oversee American policy toward Tibet.
The appointment is bringing protests from Beijing, which regards the
planned office as interference with its internal affairs, while members of
Congress are accusing the State Department of dithering. The administration,
caught in the middle, is scrambling to avoid a confrontation just as
President Jiang Zemin arrives for a weeklong tour of America, starting on
"The question is: Is there a way to deal with this appointment without
poisoning the overall atmosphere of the summit?" asked Jonathan D. Pollack,
a senior adviser at the Rand Corporation.
Under pressure from Democrats and Republicans in Congress, Secretary of
State Madeleine K. Albright announced three months ago that she would create
the office to raise the profile of Tibet in the making of foreign policy.
The problem, diplomatically, is that she pledged to do so by Nov. 1, the
final day of Jiang's visit, which both sides intend to be a culmination of
months of efforts to improve relations.
With the visit and deadline approaching, the State Department has yet to
announce an appointment, though Albright's spokesman, James P. Rubin, said
she would make it as promised.
But other officials in the department and at the White House have strongly
suggested -- in interviews and in discussions with members of Congress --
that the appointment will be put off until after Jiang's visit or at least
after the Washington part of it ends on Oct. 30.
While the administration has sought to engage China's Communist government
on a variety of fronts, a vocal faction in Congress has accused it of
putting pragmatic concerns like trade over issues of principle involving
human rights and religious freedom.
Tibet, which has sought a greater degree of autonomy from China since
Chinese troops violently established Communist rule over the region
beginning in 1950, has long been a sensitive subject for the Chinese. The
debate over creation of the position comes as awareness of Tibet's cause has
mushroomed here, in part through popular depictions in Hollywood.
An appointment on the eve of the visit, the administration officials said,
would almost certainly be seen by the Chinese as an affront to Jiang. And
that could upset the progress the administration hopes to make on a variety
of matters, including a pledge by China to stop selling missiles and nuclear
technology to countries like Iran.
"It definitely is not very good for the atmosphere," an administration
official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The Chinese have objected to the creation of the coordinator's office.
Senior officials from Beijing have repeatedly raised the matter in the
flurry of preparatory meetings leading up to Jiang's visit -- most recently
during one between Albright and Foreign Minister Qian Qichen in New York
City late last month.
"Our position is very clear," said Yu Shu Ning, a counselor at China's
Embassy in Washington. "We are opposed to any interference in China's
The administration's failure to fill the job by now is already drawing
criticism from Tibet's supporters in Congress, who say Beijing is brutally
repressing Tibet's unique culture, language and religion. Sen. Jesse Helms,
R-N.C., sent a letter to Albright two weeks ago pointedly, if politely,
recalling the deadline and urging the appointment of "someone of stature who
will command respect." Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., sent his own
letter last Friday.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, a D-Calif. who is one of the most outspoken critics of
China in Congress, said the administration risked losing a perfect
opportunity to highlight Tibetan issues in a way the Chinese could not
"I think if the administration is serious about the Tibet coordinator," she
said, "that person would be appointed before the Jiang Zemin visit so that
he or she could be present at the table."
The United States does not regard Tibet as an independent country, nor does
it support its independence from China. But it has long been supportive of
Tibet's spiritual leader, the dalai lama, who was awarded the Nobel Peace
Prize in 1989 for peacefully advocating more autonomy for his homeland.
In addition to coordinating policy toward Tibet, which now falls between
the separate bureaus in the State Department that oversee China and human
rights, the new office is supposed to promote talks between the dalai lama's
representatives and the government in Beijing. Albright promised that the
coordinator, while not an ambassador with diplomatic credentials, would
travel to the region.
Rubin, Albright's spokesman, said Monday that there were "intensive
discussions" under way to select the coordinator by Nov. 1. And he played
down any connection between the appointment and the visit.
"The purpose of the special coordinator is to promote our interest in the
human rights of the people of Tibet and a dialogue with the authorities in
Beijing," he said.
Jiang is likely to be dogged by protests throughout his trip, which
includes stops in Williamsburg, Va., Philadelphia, New York City and Los
Angeles, as well as a speech at Harvard and the official visit in Washington
on Oct. 29. On the night of Jiang's state dinner, for instance, the
International Campaign for Tibet plans to have a protest dinner.
The campaign's director, John Ackerly, said President Clinton and Albright
should not simply paper over differences with China. "They will leave
themselves vulnerable," he said, "if they try to push aside too many of the
Other Places of Interest on The Web Tibet Issues from the Chinese Embassy
in Washington, D.C.. Issues & Events Briefings, from the Chinese Embassy,
Washington, D.C. U.S. State Department China Home Page.
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