Today, defying protests from the Chinese government, the United States “conferred its highest civilian honor on the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, and urged China to meet with him in Beijing to resolve their differences over his demands for autonomy for his mountainous homeland.”
In his acceptance speech, the Dalai Lama expressed deep concern about the situation in Tibet but offered China assurances that he does seek independence for the isolated land, only autonomy.
The 72-year-old monk said many Tibetans are worried about “the consequences of the rapid change taking place” in Tibet, where he said the Chinese population “is increasing at an alarming rate.” Judging by demographic changes in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, he said, “there is a real danger that the Tibetans will be reduced to an insignificant minority in their own homeland.”
The Dalai Lama added: “On the future of Tibet, let me take this opportunity to restate categorically that I am not seeking independence. I am seeking a meaningful autonomy for the Tibetan people within the People’s Republic of China.”
He said he also has “no intention of using any agreement on autonomy as a stepping stone for Tibet’s independence.” But despite having explained his position repeatedly to Chinese leaders through envoys, “Beijing continues to allege that my hidden agenda is a separation and restoration Tibet’s old social political system,” he said. “Such a notion is unfounded and untrue.”
The Dalai Lama said he has encouraged world leaders to engage with China and has supported Beijing’s entry into the World Trade Organization and its hosting of the 2008 summer Olympics. “I choose to do so with the hope that China would become a more open, tolerant and responsible country,” he said.
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the lead Senate sponsor of the resolution authorizing the medal, spoke at the ceremony.
The authorizing Senate resolution was sponsored by Senator Feinstein and late Senator Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.). Companion legislation was sponsored in the House by Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Tom Lantos (D-Calif.). The resolution became law on September 27, 2006.
Following is the text of Senator Feinstein’s prepared remarks for today’s Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony:
“Mr. President, Madam Speaker, Mr. Majority Leader, and honored guests.
I want to begin by recognizing Senator Craig Thomas, who passed away earlier this year.
Senator Thomas was my cosponsor on the Senate resolution which authorized this Congressional Gold Medal and also on the Tibetan Policy Act, which outlined – for the first time – U.S. policy toward Tibet.
Senator Thomas’ wife, Susan, is present today, along with several members of his family.
Susan, would you please stand and be acknowledged?
Now, a few words about His Holiness, the Dalai Lama.
This world is filled with conflict and strife. But, the Dalai Lama transcends this world and inspires us with hope.
· To know him is to know compassion.
· To listen to him is to learn wisdom.
· To be close to him is to feel the presence of something very special.
This man has been a quiet force for peace and compassion. He moves people to look beyond their narrow, selfish interests and to find the strength to help others.
I have been blessed to call the Dalai Lama a friend for nearly 30 years.
I first met him in Dharamsala through my husband-to-be, Richard Blum, in the fall of 1978. I was awed by his presence and moved to action.
In September 1979, as Mayor of San Francisco, I was the first official to invite and welcome His Holiness to San Francisco to present him with a key to the City. This was his first visit to America.
As I came to know His Holiness, I have tried to be a bridge between His Holiness and the Chinese leadership.
In fact, on three separate occasions since 1991, my husband and I hand-delivered letters from His Holiness to the Chinese leadership:
· Asking for direct talks;
· Reiterating his Middle Way approach; and
· Clearly stating that he does not seek independence for Tibet, but is looking to secure Tibet’s religious and cultural autonomy.
Through our many talks, I know the Dalai Lama is a reasonable man. He is not seeking independence, but meaningful autonomy within the People’s Republic of China.
And I truly believe that if the Chinese leadership were to sit down with the Dalai Lama, they together could work out a solution whereby he would be able to return to his native Tibet, which has long been his hope and dream.
This has sadly been a lost opportunity.
The simple truth is this: I can think of no one who more embodies the spirit of the Congressional Gold Medal than His Holiness, the Dalai Lama.
People flock by the thousands to his lectures all over the world. They yearn to hear his voice, to be enveloped by his spirit of compassion.
His teachings resonate across religions, cultures, and ethnic lines. And his message of peace, non-violence and understanding has never been more relevant.
So let me offer my deepest congratulations, and offer my personal thanks to His Holiness for spreading his message of compassion around the world.