Chinese officials yesterday defended their labor practices in Tibet, in the face of growing concerns about rights abuses in the region and Washington’s appointment of a senior official to scrutinize Tibetan affairs.
Tibet Governor Qi Zhala (齊扎拉) told a news conference in Lhasa that forced labor transfer “does not exist,” maintaining that the local government was focused on “increasing the idle workforce’s income through job-skills training.”
Qi, who was speaking about poverty-alleviation efforts, said that the Tibetan government had provided travel subsidies for people to work in other regions, and that they were free to come and go.
The news conference came hours after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo named US Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Robert Destro as a special coordinator for Tibetan issues.
Destro is to be responsible for advancing dialogue between Beijing and the Dalai Lama, and protecting the religious, cultural and linguistic identity of Tibetans, the US Department of State said.
The post had been vacant since January 2017, according to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian (趙立堅) at a daily news briefing in Beijing called the move to install Destro “political manipulation” meant to “interfere in China’s internal affairs and destabilize Tibet.”
Tibet and the neighboring region of Xinjiang have long endured intense social, security and religious controls, as China seeks to suppress what it calls “terrorist” and “separatist” elements.
Researcher Adrian Zenz last month released a report alleging that China was instituting a mass labor system in Tibet similar to the one in Xinjiang.
“The United States remains concerned with the PRC’s repression of the Tibetan community, including the lack of meaningful autonomy, the deteriorating human rights situation in Tibetan areas, and severe restrictions on Tibetans’ religious freedom and cultural traditions within China,” Pompeo said in a statement.
China’s policies toward Tibet have long been a subject of international dispute, with support for the region’s autonomy and the Dalai Lama often a bipartisan issue in Washington.
The US in July imposed travel restrictions on Chinese officials determined to be “substantially involved” in restricting access to Tibet.
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