Did Senator Daines (R-Beijing) Undermine The Tibetan People?

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While the Montana press was quick to give Senator Steve Daines credit for helping to secure a deal to sell American beef in China, there has been less attention paid to just what Daines was willing to do to secure the deal. Writing in the Washington Post, Josh Rogin points out that Daines “compromised American values and helped perpetuate the suffering of innocent people abroad” when he abetted the Chinese effort to undermine the Tibetan independence movement and silence criticism of the oppressive government of China:

By helping the Communist Party squash political criticism in Washington, Daines’s actions constituted a victory for Chinese foreign influence operations, said Derek Mitchell, former U.S. ambassador to Burma.

“It confirms everything the Chinese believe about us and folks around the world, that anyone can be bought,” he said. “We’re only as strong as our weakest link, and that Daines would do this only encourages them to continue.”

Daines, the Post notes, also helped block a bill to rename the street in front of the Chinese embassy after Liu Xiabo, a Chinese dissident who died in Chinese custody after winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

And Daines is perfectly positioned to defend the rights of the Tibetan people. China Daily, an official organ of the Chinese Communist Party, notes that he visited Tibet this spring:

Daines led a congressional delegation to China less than three months after Trump took office. Daines met with Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing and some senior officials in Lhasa. Danzeng Langjie said Daines “has seen the changes that took place in Tibet and the people’s aspirations. We have more grassroots areas in six other cities and prefectures to visit”.

While I’m certain that Daines saw little of the oppression faced by the Tibetan people in his staged visit, it’s certainly disconcerting to see a US Senator used as a propaganda prop by the Chinese regime, and the Senator would do well to do some reading about the lives of the people living under Chinese rule. Unfortunately, Daines could not provide one shred of evidence that he has ever been critical of the Chinese in Tibet:

Daines’s office couldn’t produce any record that he, either in China or Washington, publicly raised the fact that the Chinese government is perpetrating brutal, systematic repression in Tibet, including attempted cultural genocide, environmental destruction, mass surveillance, mass incarceration and severe denial of freedoms for Tibetans.

Both parties in the United States play the game of bashing or cooperating with China when it’s expedient, but few political leaders seem as willing as Senator Daines to cover their human rights abuses. Perhaps his experience in China during the 90s when he helped Procter & Gamble outsource jobs there convinced him that cooperating with the regime was better than challenging it, especially when that cooperation can net him some good press back at home.

Perhaps the Montana press can ask Daines why he hasn’t been more critical of the Chinese government or to explain what he saw during his government-provided, state-run trip to Tibet. The answer is sure to be illuminating.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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