Tibet Awareness Day won't fly with China

Chinese lobbyists scuttle Assemblyman Blakeslee's recent bill

click to enlarge Tibet Awareness Day won't fly with China
WORKING THE PHONES: Despite his efforts, Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee’s resolution declaring Tibet Awareness Day in California appears dead.

The Chinese government wasn’t happy with a seemingly innocuous bill by Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee to declare March 10 Tibet Awareness Day in California. In a possibly unprecedented move, representatives from the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco actively lobbied against the bill in Sacramento.

That lobbying appears to have worked.

With his non-binding “consent item,” the Republican—whose 33rd District includes Santa Maria, Guadalupe, and Lompoc—would have proclaimed the Dalai Lama as the spiritual leader of Tibet and criticized China for its actions in preventing an autonomous Tibetan state.

March 10 of this year marked the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising and of the Dalai Lama’s exile to India. Of course, Blakeslee’s bill—if it ever passes—now can only retroactively declare that day.

On a 37-33 vote March 16, the Assembly sent the bill back for “further study,” likely killing it.

Before the day of the Assembly floor vote, members of the Chinese Consulate lobbied Assembly members both in writing and in person. Consulate representatives, including Consul General Gao Zhansheng, visited the Capitol building in Sacramento to meet individually with legislators, including Blakeslee.

The in-person lobbying was backed up by a letter Zhansheng sent to legislators asking for their vote against Blakeslee’s bill. In that letter, Zhansheng argues that no government has ever recognized an “independent” Tibetan state, hence there was never and could never have been a Chinese invasion. In fact, Zhansheng writes, Chinese rule was crucial in ending years of “feudal serfdom and theocratic rule, which is the darkest slavery in human history.”

Zhansheng could not be reached for comment, but consulate spokesman Zhou Yunliang echoed that position on “the so-called Tibet issue.”

“Our position is always very clear,” Yunliang said. “We’re strongly opposed to such kind of resolution either on the state level or the federal level.” He called Blakeslee’s position “totally groundless” because Tibet has always been under Chinese rule, adding, “It is not an issue of human rights or religion; it’s about the sovereignty of China.”

Similar government statements (resolutions) have been issued before by Congress, the European Union, and even in California. Yet the Consulate was effectively silent last year when a nearly identical resolution moved swiftly through the Assembly. The only difference in the earlier bill, which was also originally authored by Blakeslee, was a reference to the 2008 Olympics held in China.

Things were different this year. A planned March 9 vote was blocked by Democratic Assemblywoman Fiona Ma. Ma, who actually voted in favor of last year’s bill, said there’s a new administration in Washington, D.C., that’s more actively engaged with the Chinese government.

“Our relationship with [China] is mutually cooperative at this moment,” Ma said, “so it is important that we maintain good relationships with our No. 1 partner.”

Even if the bill could be brought back, it’s no longer the focal point of debate for Blakeslee and other Assembly Republicans. Before the floor vote, several Assembly Republicans criticized some members for pandering to outside influence.

“We have been lobbied by agents who work for the Chinese government,” Assemblyman Chuck DeVore chastised from the podium.

Blakeslee told New Times this was the first time during his five years in office he had seen foreign representatives wandering the halls of the Capitol.

Colin Rigley is a staff writer at New Times, the Sun’s sister paper in San Luis Obispo. Contact him at [email protected].

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