With little resistance, China's communist leadership invaded California this past Monday landing in Sacramento with the clear intention of inflicting maximum harm to our democracy via the defeat of a resolution in the California State Assembly.
Mission nearly accomplished.
Assembly Concurrent Resolution 6 (ACR 6) sponsored by Assembly Member Sam Blakeslee, (R-San Luis Obispo), was designed to recognize March 10 as "Dalai Lama and Tibet Awareness Day." The intent of the non-binding resolution is to "educate Californians about the teachings of the Dalai Lama and his efforts to preserve the Tibetan culture," and to re-affirm that "freedom of expression, assembly, and religious beliefs are fundamental human rights that belong to all people," including of course, Tibetans.
Resolutions such as Blakeslee's require a majority vote to pass and are considered merely expressions of the Legislature or one of its houses. They are not bills that can be enacted into law.
The Tibet resolution was scheduled to be voted on last Monday by the Assembly, along with other measures that were supposed to be "noncontroversial." However, Majority Leader Alberto Torrico, D-Fremont, set aside the resolution.
Is cultural preservation controversial? How about the freedoms of expression, assembly, and religion?
According to our elected representatives, suddenly they all are.
China deployed the full force of its diplomatic arsenal --with shades of economic blackmail--to convince California's democratically elected representatives that, in the words of Consul General Gao Zhansheng, "as the world economy faces a grim situation, it is all the more important for the most developed country and the biggest developing country in the world to cross the river in a common boat and proceed hand in hand."
Hand in hand apparently means accepting China's explanation that Tibet was never an independent country, and therefore it could not have been invaded or occupied by China. The communist government had actually, according to Zhansheng, pushed through reforms liberating Tibet from "feudal serfdom and theocratic rule."
Blakeslee called the consul general's words a "shocking revisionist account of history," and pushed for a floor vote on Monday afternoon.
Democrats, saying only that the matter needed "further study," referred the resolution to the Assembly Rules Committee, where by most accounts it is likely to die a slow death. This mirrors the worsening plight of the Tibetans still left in Tibet who, according to the Dalai Lama--in an uncharacteristically harsh assessment on the March 10 anniversary -- are living in "hell on earth."
It's not just Democrats on China's A-List legislative team here in California. A bipartisan and diverse group of liberals and conservatives have followed China's lead including several lawmakers traditionally known as long-time supporters of human rights.
Assemblywoman Fiona Ma of San Francisco insisted that the Assembly leadership was not caving in to pressure from the Chinese government. California lawmakers, she said, should focus on fixing the state's economy and let the Obama administration deal with China.
"I don't feel we should undermine President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's proactive diplomacy toward China, including human rights, at this time," she said. "[the resolution] puts us in the middle of this."
Ironically, in Washington, the U.S. House of Representatives, led by California's own Nancy Pelosi, had just passed a resolution commemorating on March 10th the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan people's spontaneous uprising against China's occupation of their country. And despite the Chinese government's urgent mission to quash that resolution, it passed by a landslide 422 to 1.
Also earlier this month both Washington state and the city of Seattle issued proclamations to declare March 10, 2009 as Tibet Day for the very first time.
Still a bit of hope remains here in California as the Assembly will now have to hold public hearings on the merits of the resolution.
These will be our public hearings, not China's--not least because China can't have it both ways. When citizens around the world raise their voices against China's police-state crackdowns in Tibet, against imprisonment and torture of innocent bystanders, or the crushing of freedom to practice religion in Tibet, China tells the world to mind its own business. Tibet, they say, is an internal matter.
Yet by what measure of democracy can China's policies in Tibet, a country under occupation now for more than 50 years, remain an "internal matter," while at the same time China's one-party dictatorship is free to meddle in California's "internal affairs?"
China's invasion of our legislature is a major defeat for both democracy and human rights, much as its invasion of Tibet has been for the last 50 years. The legislative process should obviously be open to all concerned citizens, but this definitely does not include members of the Communist Party of China who want to dictate the content of our resolutions.
Written with John Isom, executive director of Tibet Justice Center in Berkeley.
Dechen Tsering, president of the Tibetan Association of Northern California, and Giovanni Vassallo, president of Committee of 100 for Tibet, contributed to this post.