frank wolf
As a U.S. congressman (R-Va.), he has been involved in world human rights issues for years, in particular, religious persecution. In August 1997, Wolf travelled as a tourist to Tibet and with a home video camera and an interpreter, he talked to many Tibetans. His unofficial visit enraged China.



interview
q:  Why did you want to go Tibet? And why did you go there the way you did, as a tourist?

wolf:  Well there are a number of reasons. One, we have in Congress a Freedom from Religious Persecution bill which puts the government of the United States on record against the persecution of people of all faiths. Christians, Jewish, Moslem, Buddhist, Bahá'í Faith . And we've heard many stories and testimony over absolute oppressive persecution of the Tibetan Buddhists.

Secondly some people told me how bad it was.... So rather than taking somebody at their word we wanted to go and get a firsthand experience and we went without asking permission from the Chinese government. I didn't go as a congressman, I just went as a tourist who was just looking at -- the other sites.

The Chinese government has denied visas to American congressmen that wanted to go and if they ever did grant you a visa, you would have a Chinese handler, a watcher who would be with you. Certainly the Tibetan people would feel very uncomfortable speaking with you if you had a member of the Chinese military or the secret police or the security police with you. And so we went in on a tourist visa. We had with us a member of my staff and we also had an individual who is an American citizen but was raised in a Tibetan monastery and is totally fluent in Tibet. And he was able to communicate with Tibetan people and so when we would go in and talk to them, they would tell us anything and everything we wanted to know and the Chinese government did not send somebody with us because we were just there -- as tourists with cameras around our neck.

q:  What did you see when you got there?

a:  We saw a country that has been subjugated. I mean the Chinese have dominated the country now so much that Lhasa which is the capital -- the forbidden city if you will -- is no longer really a Tibetan city. It is actually a Chinese city. There are more Chinese I believe in Lhasa than there are Tibetans. We saw a lot of karaoke bars and the tackiness that has gone with some of the development that has taken place in China. We saw the growth industry--we had somebody take us out to look at all the prisons and we talked to people about the brutality in the prisons Further , we saw a lot of Tibetan buildings had been demolished. In fact, in front of the Potala which is the palace that the Dalai Lama lived in before he left the country, they bulldozed all of the Tibetan buildings and have turned them into miniature Tiananmen Square with a Chinese MIG in the middle of it. It's very gross. I mean it's terrible.

In the Tibetan market they bulldozed a lot of the homes, so we saw all that and in talking to people they were very concerned what was taking place with their culture and we saw a number of monasteries that had been destroyed, some during the cultural revolution and some thereafter. So we saw a people that had been dominated by an outside force, by the Chinese government, the Chinese police and military are very very prevalent. There are cameras up on the tops of a number of buildings and they watch the Tibetan people very closely, almost like the KGB did in the Soviet Union.

q:  What was your impression of the current repression.

a:  There is tremendous repression. We spoke to two Tibetans monks. We spoke to people on the street, we would go up to them and say we're from the United States speaking in Tibetan, not in English . They would call us off to the side, begin to tell us a member of their family had been in prison or tortured. Most of the monasteries or all the monasteries have a cadre of Chinese military that run the monasteries. It would be like for your local church or synagogue or mosque your minister or priest or rabbi would not run it, the military police would run it. Well most of the monasteries limited the amount of monks that could be there.

We talked to people on the street -- one woman we talked to she was very open, she cried and wept, never knowing that I was a congressman, and she said please tell President Clinton to help us -- when the United States government speaks out and puts pressure on the Chinese government things get better. Prisoners get released but when the United States government is silent as it is now -- you know things -- things get worse. Also the Tibetan people listen to Radio Free Asia and Voice of America. So they do know when things are going in the United States, we in the West are speaking out for them and they really look to us not only in the United States but they do look to us.....These are some of the things that we saw. In addition, we saw absolutely beautiful magnificent countryside and beautiful mountains that are probably one of those -- it probably is I think one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen.

q:  Can you put this in personal terms? How did the repression and what you saw affect you?

a:  My personal view is one of anger, one of sadness. I mean you literally weep for the people there. I mean imagine living in an oppressive society where a domineering military occupation come in similar to what the Soviets did in East Berlin and to what they did in Poland. And perhaps the Chinese are more brutal than the Soviets.

Secondly, it was sad to see this rich culture diminished -- the word that was used by one individual was cultural genocide taking place. Also the Chinese government coming in and are wreaking havoc with the environment. They're stripping areas out and taking minerals and gold and other things like that. So it's one of sadness and it's just rekindle or just made me committed to doing everything I can, both to pass this bill that we have, the Freedom from Religious Persecution which will help the people of of Tibet as well as people in other countries. But also to speak out on this issue.

And we would hope that people would adopt prisoners of conscience, there are about 700 who were all known people that they do have their names and addresses of where they are in prison and what's taking place thereby Americans will adopt them. We will write the Chinese government, we'll write the prisoners in prison, we'll write so the world knows that people in the United States care.

If you recall that was a program that was done in the 70s and the 80s for the Soviet dissidents. Many groups and congregations and synagogues and individual civic groups adopted people of conscience in the Soviet Union and wrote to them and I was in one of the gulags in the Soviet Union during Communism and strangely enough the prisoners there said that by people in the West writing them made their life better. Sometimes the letters got to them. Many times it just got to the prison warden. Sometimes it just got to the Bureau of Prison but it made their lives better. I'm committed to do everything that I can to to help the people and I think we've made a series of recommendations, I think more congressional delegations should attend. I think the Chinese government should open Tibet up for the press. I think the press should have free rein to go wherever they want to go and film wherever they want to film and I think the more people that visit in official capacity --

I also would hope that our Bureau of Prisons and that Amnesty International and that Human Rights Watch and the other groups would be permitted to visit the prisoners and that the International Red Cross which does such an outstanding job on this issue would be invited to come in and visit the prisons and interview the prisoners and see what the conditions are because I think the more we expose it and put some light on it, I think the greater opportunity, things will get better for the Tibetan people.

q:  How have things changed in the past few years in Tibet?

a:  Well when I was in Tibet it's fair to say that things have gotten worse than they were in the last several years. I think the Chinese are applying pressure and tightening the screws and the persecution is increasing. So if you look at it in the big picture, there were times that the Chinese were there and perhaps things were getting a little bit better. Now the Chinese are really there -- they're flooding Tibet with Chi-, Chinese and the conditions for the individual Tibetan is much worse today than it was three, four, five, six years ago.

Their culture is being diminished. Many of the children are being sent to China so that they can learn and be taught in the Chinese language. The monks who transfer the teaching and the culture are being diminished. There are fewer and fewer people who are permitted to be monks. One woman cried and said our monks are the people who teach us and now they're fewer and fewer . Surely the individual freedom to move around the country, individual freedom is gone. Fourthly, the standard of living is very very low. And lastly, if you are caught perhaps with a picture of the Dalai Lama perhaps you're saying free the Dalai -- free a prisoner or doing something, you're demonstrating-- you automatically go to jail for a long time.

We asked some of the people who spoke to us what would happen if the public security police were to see us talking? These people took us back into private rooms and they said we would go to jail. We would go to jail for years and yet they took that risk to talk to us to get the words out. So for the individual Tibetan it's very bad.

q:  And what about the exiled Dalai Lama--what is his status in Tibet?

a:  When I was in Tibet, people would come up and ask us for pictures of the Dalai Lama although it is against the law to have pictures of the Dalai Lama. In all the monasteries we went to, there were no pictures of the Dalai Lama, they had all been removed, they were taken out. I would have to tell you that the support of the Tibetan people for the Dalai Lama is total and complete. They support him both as their spiritual leader but also as their political leader. I've seen statements where the Chinese government say there is not support for the Dalai Lama. That's just not true. And although it is against the law to have a picture, many places we went, there was a picture of the Dalai Lama. We did not bring any pictures -- we did not want to violate the law and to live under the law but the people desperately want to have a picture of the Dalai Lama yet all the pictures in the monasteries have been taken out.

They're trying to eradicate the Dalai Lama. They're trying to decrease the faith and as you know the Panchen Lama has been kidnapped and has been taken somewhere into Beijing or wherever, with the idea that I think the Chinese government know that the support for the Dalai Lama is very very strong and they're trying to do everything they can to kind of eradicate or weaken that support.

Frankly, the Chinese government made up of a 1.2 billion people have absolutely nothing to fear from 5 and half to six million people. I don't believe that the Tibetans are of any threat to the Chinese government. They're looking for independence, they're looking for freedom. All they want is to continue to worship and have their culture, and have something that everyone wants, that every place in the world, that's freedom.

q:  What do you hope will be the outcome of your visit?

a:  The outcome of the visit we hope will be several things. One I've written every member of congress, both the house and the senate with a copy of my report. I've been very pleased with the number of members of congress who are interested in this issue, who are saying, I want to learn, I want to know. Secondly I hope we can heighten the sensitivity on this issue whereby the American people and those in the West will be educated on the persecution of the people in Tibet -- but also the persecution of people in other countries, in in Mainland China there are Catholic priests in jail.

Thirdly, hopefully the Clinton Administration which you know has delinked human rights and trade which I think is a fundamentally immoral policy--hopefully the Clinton Administration will raise the issue of the persecuted Buddhists in Tibet and will raise it with the president of China when when he comes and will raise it, not only privately, not only with a little whisper but publicly.

But lastly, I hope it opens up Tibet whereby the press, other congressional delegations-- go and have an exchange and are pushing and asking-- what about the prisons? What's going on? Why are you torturing? I think that will have a good effect. And the whole purpose is to shine a spotlight on this issue.

The problem is Tibet is far away. It is hard to get to, the Chinese harass groups that want to go and so I think it's easy if it's not in front of us, if we don't kind of pierce the conscience to to just say well I I don't know what's going on, I'm not gonna face it.

q:  What can Americans do?

a:  Americans can do a lot. One they can contact their congressmen and their senators. Two, they can urge the Clinton Administration to speak out on this issue. This can be an issue of conscience. You know the words of the Declaration of Independence, we hold these truths to be self-evident, all men are created equal -- by their creator by God with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Those words were not only for Americans, they were mentioned in Tiananmen and they're also for the people of Tibet. I think by speaking out and raising this issue it helps to move the congress and also it helps to move the administration. And lastly, I would hope there are theaters showing the various movies that are going to come out this fall that people will stand outside, there are all these groups Free Tibet will stand outside with a one-page fact sheet about what's going on in Tibet and on the other side, the name and picture and address of the prisoner of conscience and that people say I will adopt this person. I will adopt this woman. I will adopt this man and I will write to them and bring focus and public attention.

If that happens, I believe ultimately the people of Tibet will be successful in gaining their independence. Many people in 1985 if you had asked people, will the Berlin Wall fall? Will Communism go down? They would say well maybe some day, I may not live to see it but I think it eventually will. Communism failed and I believe that with pressure oppression of the people of Tibet will fail and they will get their independence.

q:  What do you think might be the impact from these two Hollywood films about Tibet

a:  I would hope the two films are effective by sensitizing the West to the fact that oppression and persecution are taking place in Tibet by the Chinese military and the Chinese secret police and result in the American people being mob-, uh mobilized and perhaps getting the Clinton Administration to change its fundamentally immoral policy with regard to this and lastly mobilizing the congress to kind of deal with this issue and I would hope that the different student groups that are interested in this issue will not just be interested but will also stand outside all the movie theaters and pass out a flyer on one side telling what the conditions are in Tibet but on the other side adopting a prisoner of conscience and writing to them and also urging people to write to their congressmen and their senators and the Clinton Administration asking that they speak out on this issue of Tibet.

q:  What do you think a company like Disney should do if threatened by China for making a film about the Dalai Lama?

q:  The company Disney ought to do what any company ought to do - do the right thing. If Disney allows itself to be backed down by the oppression and the threats of the Chinese, do you realize what that means for the First Amendment and the freedom of speech and the freedom in this country? It will mean the bullies have been able to reach into the United States and change it. And my understanding is that Disney will not back down, that they were going to continue the movie, so I would hope that they would not change and I don't expect that they will.

q:  There's a U.S.- China summit coming up in a few weeks, should it be taking place? Should there be preconditions?

a:  I personally don't believe that we should be meeting with the Chinese president in the United States. Perhaps it may be appropriate outside but I think -- again there are Catholic priests in jail in China. There are a number of Catholic bishops that are in jail inside. They're persecuting the Muslims badly in the northwest portion of China. They're certainly plundering Tibet in China. There a l -- in China there are more slave labor camps than they actually had in the Soviet Union when Solzhynitsyn wrote his book, Gulag Archipelago. Can you imagine if you were a Catholic priest in china? If you were a Tibetan monk in China and you were in prison and being tortured and you had heard that the President of the United States, President Clinton had met with one of the individuals who is responsible for bringing the troops out in Tianemen and crushing democracy. That would demoralize you. I spoke to a a young lady who was in prison when Clinton changed his policy in dealing with human rights and trade. They blasted that out over the loudspeaker in the prison and the guards basically said see nobody cares about --

q:  So what is the best way to change China's behavior-- can we change China's behavior?

a:  The Chinese are now developing weapon systems that are a direct threat to America and are direct threat to American men and women that served in the military. They're also selling weapons to countries that are in opposition to the United States. So there is a military threat. That ought to be raised.

There's also a threat with regard to human rights. In 1986, 250,000 people rallied on the mall here in Washington on behalf of the Soviet dissidents. That was a message that we deeply care. Ronald Reagan, if you recall, in Orlando, gave the 'evil empire' speech where he called the Soviet Union the evil empire as it was truly the evil empire. When I went to Perm Camp 35, the Gulag in the Soviet Union ...the men in the Gulag knew of Ronald Reagan's speech, they knew that the West was speaking out for them. The knew that people cared and so by speaking out and continually pushing the ball of human rights out front defines who we are and what kind of country we are.

God has blessed this country because we've been faithful to these fundamental values. And I think once we cease to be faithful to these fundamental values of life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, human rights, respect for individuals, are we beginning to see something diminish in this country. So I think these have to be issues that we always talk about. We can talk about other issues too but we have to talk about these issues. I think Jimmy Carter did a good job of raising these issues. I think Ronald Reagan did an outstanding job of raising these issues.

Under the Clinton Administration there's sometimes mention but there's an old expression, big hat and no cattle. There's no delivery, there's no enforcement. There's no server, there's no commitment behind it. And the Chinese are able to read this and they say they really don't care about these issues so we can continue to arrest priests, torture nuns, do whatever you have to because this Clinton Administration doesn't really care.

q:  But there is also the China business lobby. What are you up against?

a:  Well, there are a lot of business people that are seeing trade at any cost and I think that's wrong. I am a free trader, I'm a conservative republican member with a very pro free trade record. But I think there are some things that that are beyond trade and it's morality, it's speaking up -- as I said earlier, I think God has blessed this country because if we have stood firm for these fundamental values and once we cease to stand firm for them that blessing may not always be here -- be with us.

So as a pro-business person, fine, but if -- would you want to sell uh barbwire to the commandante of Dachau? Would you want to sell poison gas to Auschwitz? Or would that be the type of trade and that's in essence what we are doing-- we're selling poison gas and and barbwire and the products of that t are going to these people that are torturing people. So I think trade is fine but there are some things that free trade ends and you have to stand basically on on morality.

q:  What's your dream for Tibet?

a:  Well, I think the Tibetan people have a dream, like anyone else, that they have freedom. Their children they can worship, they can travel, they're not fearful. They can respect whoever they want to respect, their culture will be maintained and their way of life can can continue. I think these are universal desires. And I ultimately think it will turn out well. I think there will be a time that the people of Tibet have their freedom and have this ability -- hopefully sooner and not later.



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