Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I am very pleased to have the opportunity to address the committee on the subject of Tibet today.
First, permit me a disclaimer: the committee has asked to hear from an expert on Tibet from Global Affairs Canada. Unfortunately, the limited access Canadian officials have to the Tibet Autonomous Region in China means that few officials have first-hand experience with the situation in Tibet.
Access to Tibet remains strictly controlled by the Chinese government, and on the rare occasions when official visits are allowed, they are highly scripted. In recent years, Tibet’s central government has made it more difficult for diplomats, journalists and foreigners overall to visit. A travel permit and an invitation are necessary. Canada consistently and frequently requests visits to the Tibet Autonomous Region. Permits to visit Tibetan regions in other Chinese provinces are not required, but those visits can also be heavily restricted.
This session is particularly timely. Canada’s ambassador to China, Dominic Barton, just returned from a visit to the Tibetan capital of Lhasa and nearby Shannan prefecture, at the invitation of the Chinese government. The trip was with a group of other diplomats and took place from October 26 to 30. This was the first visit by a Canadian official since 2015.
The lack of meaningful access to Tibet is one aspect of severe restrictions imposed by Chinese authorities on the Tibetan people. The Government of Canada remains deeply concerned about the human rights situation affecting Tibetans. In line with reports such as those by NGOs and by the UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination, human rights issues include restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief and the protection of linguistic and cultural rights.
We maintain engagement with members of the Tibetan diaspora, including Tibetan Canadians, and with organizations that study and conduct and support the Tibetan community abroad. Contact with this community remains important to the Government of Canada and informs our approach to advocacy for rights and freedoms in Tibet.
Canada bestowed honorary Canadian citizenship on Tibetan spiritual leader His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama in 2006. While we know there are longstanding grievances between the Chinese government and the Central Tibetan Administration or government-in-exile and His Holiness, Canada supports meaningful dialogue between these parties toward a resolution of issues acceptable to both sides.
Tensions between the Chinese government and Tibetans have remained high and ongoing over several decades, and the last 10 years present no exception. The government has continued to intensify its crackdown on Tibetans with increased surveillance and forced patriotic education. Acts of protest by Tibetans can result in detention or worse. To the world’s horror, there have been more than 150 self-immolations by Tibetan Buddhists during this period.
Canada has a long history of support for Tibetans. The government began work to resettle some of the first Tibetan refugees to Canada in the 1970s. There have certainly been more immigrants and refugees since that time.
Within the last decade, the Government of Canada has established special measures to facilitate the private sponsorship and emigration of up to 1,000 displaced Tibetans from India. Individuals were matched with sponsors through Project Tibet Society, with the resettlement of 1,000 refugees completed in 2017.
These Tibetans and more than 7,000 others—in fact, according to the 2016 census there were more than 8,000 Canadians identifying as Tibetan—are contributing to our country’s multicultural fabric, including through participation in public life.
In line with diplomatic relations, Canada recognizes the People’s Republic of China as the governing body of the Tibet Autonomous Region. In line with China’s own constitutions and its international obligations, we call on the government to respect religious freedoms and end repressive policies in Tibet. While there is economic development in Tibet, it does not mask the need for the protection of political and civil rights.
Canada will continue to ask for unhindered access to the region, especially in light of the recent crackdowns. Although there is increased attention being paid to the crackdown in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, we must not forget that the situation in Tibet remains very serious.
I thank the committee for raising this issue tonight.