Richard Gere says US must do more for Tibet

US actor Richard Gere holds a candle as he participates in a march organised by Tibetans at The Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya, India, in 2010. Gere on Thursday urged the United States to do more to support the rights of Tibetans, as the State Department wa

WASHINGTON - Actor-activist Richard Gere urged the United States to do more to support the rights of Tibetans, as the State Department warned of a deterioration in the Himalayan territory.

Appearing before Congress on Thursday, Gere -- a Buddhist and longtime Tibet campaigner -- said President Barack Obama "has found new footing on how to deal with the Chinese" but would "like to see him go further."

"Every time we are wishy-washy with them, they take advantage of it," Gere told the House Foreign Affairs Committee, saying that the Chinese "only deal with pressure, seriousness, firmness."

Gere warned that the Tibetan language was under threat. He called for the Obama administration, as part of its initiative to raise the number of US students in China to 100,000, to encourage study of not only Mandarin but also Tibetan and other minority languages.

The United States should refuse China's requests to open consulates in more US cities, including Atlanta, Boston and Honolulu, until it is allowed a consulate in Tibet's capital Lhasa, the actor said.

Rejecting pessimism among many Tibet watchers overseas, Gere said there was "an extraordinary opportunity now" to shape events as China experiences rapid growth and change.

"With the right attention from the United States -- the most critical force for Tibet -- there can be a resolution without bloodshed," Gere said in his testimony.

Appearing before the same committee, an Obama administration official urged China to end "repression" in Tibet and resume dialogue with the the Dalai Lama, the region's spiritual leader who has lived in exile since 1959.

"We are extremely concerned about the deteriorating human rights situation in China and, in particular, in the Tibet Autonomous Region and other Tibetan areas," said Daniel Baer, the deputy assistant secretary of state for human rights.

"Recent regulations restricting Tibetan language education, strict controls over the practice of Tibetan Buddhism and the arrest of prominent non-political Tibetans reflect the troubling human rights situation there today."

Baer called the Dalai Lama a "constructive partner" for China as he enjoys wide respect and advocates non-violence.

But Gere and lawmakers faulted Obama for his past treatment of the Dalai Lama. Obama did not see the monk when he visited Washington in 2009, fearing the meeting would sour the mood ahead of the president's first trip to China.

Obama received the Dalai Lama in February 2010 despite Chinese objections. But the White House did not hold the meeting in the Oval Office or allow in the media.

"I would strongly encourage the president to pay the proper respect that this leader deserves. And that sad escort out the back door was shameful," said Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Florida Republican who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Representative Albio Sires, a member of Obama's own Democratic Party from New Jersey, was also critical.

"To have him to go to the back of the White House, that's just not acceptable," Sires said. "We're supposed to be the leader of the world in human rights. We stand up for something."

China argues that it has brought progress to Tibet and accuses the Dalai Lama of being a "splittist" bent on dividing the country. Many observers believe China is waiting for the death of the Nobel Peace laureate, who is 75.

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