The Elmhurst branch of the Queens Public Library in New York City announced on Friday that it would take down a Chinese government exhibit falsely depicting children in Tibet as happily learning the Tibetan language and living freely – a far cry from the repressive reality Beijing has imposed on the region.
New York’s local government only took down the exhibit after more than a week of protests from the local Tibetan community, which includes many former political prisoners under communism and refugees who endured the full brunt of Beijing’s human rights abuses. The Tibetans say that the exhibit did not appear to be advertised, but, as members of the community, they were broadsided by images promoted by the U.S. government hiding the suffering of their relatives back home.
While the exhibit is set to be taken down this weekend, many questions surrounding the incident remain unanswered. Mayor Bill de Blasio, when confronted on Wednesday by a member of the Tibetan community concerned about Chinese infiltration of American institutions, said he had no idea the exhibit was there. New York City has not yet made public who approved the exhibit or how it came to be. Had Tibetan Americans not encountered it on routine visits to their local library, it might still be there.
“We are residents of Queens and the neighborhood around the Queens Library,” Ngawang Tashi, the vice president of the U.S. Tibet Committee, told Breitbart News on Friday. “So we are used to going there for studying and reading books, etc. Last week, one of our neighbors went there and noticed pictures hanging on the glass walls stating that Tibet is happy and [Tibetans] have the right to learn their languages and all the development China has given Tibet. … Activists from Students for a Free Tibet visited and realized this was Chinese propaganda”:
Most offensive to the Tibetans was an image of three children holding up scrolls in the Tibetan language, clearly appearing to be learning it. China banned children from learning Tibetan last year and has imposed Mandarin, the language of the Han ethnic majority in the country. Tibetans in the region have self-immolated to protest the erasure of their language.
“The main focus of the exhibition is to show … that Tibetans in Tibet are happily enjoying religious, cultural, and language rights under [the] well-developed CCP [Chinese Communist Party] government,” Tashi explained. “They exhibited pictures of kids enjoying writing Tibetan scripts, people dancing, and the introduction says that different Tibetan communities are enjoying their religious rights, human rights, and so on.”
Tashi told Breitbart News the exhibit also claimed that parts of India and Nepal were Chinese sovereign territory.
The New York Tibetan community began protesting the exhibit almost immediately after discovering it, organizing a rally outside of the library two weeks ago. In response, the Chinese consulate in New York insisted that Tibet was part of a sovereign Tibet and happily so. In response to a request for comment from the local outlet Gothamist, the Chinese consulate refused to call Tibet “Tibet,” instead using the Mandarin term “Xizang.”
“Xizang has been part of China since ancient times. Xizang affairs are purely China’s internal affairs that allow no foreign interference. During the past 60 years or so, Xizang has seen historical progress in economic, social, cultural, ecological and other areas,” the statement read in part, continuing:
Today, it enjoys sound economic growth, social stability, ethnic solidarity, religious harmony, cultural vitality, well-preserved ecological environment and improving living-standards. People of all ethnic groups in the Xizang Autonomous Region endorse wholeheartedly the policies of China’s central government and the regional government.
Last week, Students for a Free Tibet revealed that library officials had rejected their request to take the exhibit down.
“There are so many young Tibetans who go to this library and now they have to see an exhibition that shows that everything is fine in Tibet, when in reality they know about the plight of their families in Tibet,” Pema Doma, campaigns director at Students for a Free Tibet, said in a statement after the Queens Public Library rejected their petition. “Imagine if a library had an exhibit which showed white Americans in blackface. This is how we Tibetans feel when we see photos on display of Chinese people proudly appropriating Tibetan dress.”
The Tibetans organized more protests in response and took their grievances directly to Mayor Bill de Blasio. While de Blasio identifies as a far-leftist and has supported communist regimes in the past, he appeared offended at the idea of communist propaganda appearing at a New York library and vowed to remove it.
“You’ve got my full attention,” de Blasio told a Tibetan community member at a town hall on Wednesday. “I did not hear that one before. I am exceedingly critical of the Chinese government, the way they have oppressed people and taken away their human rights. No one has suffered more than the Tibetan people. So I did not have any reason to believe that any of our library systems would present the Chinese government point of view.”
“I would have assumed the other way around, honestly, and I’d be getting the complaint from the Chinese government,” de Blasio said, adding that he would immediately address the issue with relevant officials:
Two days later, the Queens Public Library system announced it would remove the exhibit.
“[T]he Chinese Consulate and its affiliate made the decision to discontinue the exhibit, which will be removed by tomorrow morning,” the Queens Library said in a statement on Friday. “We thank the Tibetan community for their ongoing conversations with us, and we look forward to future collaboration with them.”
Tashi told Breitbart News this was the first exhibit of his kind that his group was aware of, in which Chinese government officials peddled communist propaganda in local public institutions in America. China has more publicly focused on academic institutions, founding “Confucius institutes” that pressure American academics not to deviate from China’s false territorial claims on places like Tibet, Taiwan, and international waters in the South China Sea. Chinese officials also regularly pressure American politicians and academics not to speak up about human rights abuses against ethnic minorities like Tibetans and Uyghurs and not to support protesters in Hong Kong. They also threaten Hollywood movie studios not to tell stories that question the greatness of the Communist Party if they wish to maintain access to the lucrative Chinese theater market.
President Donald Trump has branded China a strategic competitor and empowered his State Department to combat Communist Party lies on the dire state of human rights in the country, particularly against ethnic minorities. Chinese officials appear to have recalibrated their propaganda tactics in response, cutting deals with local governments and pressuring them to promote the Party’s interests while Washington is not looking.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned local governments that China had expanded pressure on them to promote Beijing’s interests:
But sometimes China’s activities aren’t quite that public, and I want to talk about some of that today. Let me read you an excerpt of a letter from a Chinese diplomat. It was China’s Consul General in New York sent a letter last month to the speaker of one of your state legislatures.
Here’s what the letter said in part. It said, quote, “As we all know, Taiwan is part of China … avoid engaging in any official contact with Taiwan, including sending congratulatory messages to the electeds, introducing bills and proclamations for the election, sending officials and representatives to attend the inauguration ceremony, and inviting officials in Taiwan to visit the United States.” End of quote from the letter.
Think about that. You had a diplomat from China assigned here to the United States, a representative of the Chinese Communist Party in New York City, sending an official letter urging that an American elected official shouldn’t exercise his right to freedom of speech.
Let that sink in for just a minute.
And this isn’t a one-off event. It’s happening all across the country.
Chinese consulates in New York, in Illinois, in Texas, and two in California, bound by the diplomatic responsibilities and rights of the Vienna Convention, are very politically active at the state level, as is the embassy right here in Washington, D.C.
Maybe some of you have heard about the time when the Chinese consulate paid the UC-San Diego students to protest the Dalai Lama.
Or last August, when former governor Phil Bryant of Mississippi received a letter from a diplomat in the consul’s office in Houston, threatening to cancel a Chinese investment if the governor chose to travel to Taiwan. Phil went anyway.
Last year, a high school – a high school, a high school in Chicago – disinvited a Taiwanese representative to serve on a climate panel after Chinese pressure.
It’s one thing to pressure the Secretary of State of the United States of America. It seems quite something else to go after a high school principal. It shows depth. It shows systemization. It shows intent.
Chinese Communist Party officials, too, are cultivating relationships with county school board members and local politicians – often through what are known as sister cities programs.
Across the Hudson River from New York, China’s relationships with local school board members prompted a bitter fight between Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop and his Board of Education in January. Fulop moved to attempt to make school board seats appointed positions, rather than elected ones so that he could remove individuals he considered an “embarrassment” to the city:
Bottom line is we’re asking for the tools to fix it. In the last 3 years:
– 5 board members resign midterm
– 1 board member overseas for the yr
– 1 board member indicted
– 1 board member saying public anti Semitic comments
– 1 board member w/ethics charges
– huge budget gap
— Steven Fulop (@StevenFulop) January 3, 2020
The “member overseas” is Board Trustee Mussab Ali, currently in China studying under Tsinghua University’s Schwarzman Scholars program. Tsinghua is dictator Xi Jinping’s alma mater. From China last month, Ali complained that Fulop’s attempt to make positions appointed rather than elected was “nothing short of political greed.”
In February, Matt Schapiro, a former Jersey City Board of Education trustee, filed a complaint against Ali with the state’s Department of Education, protesting that “there has been a lawless environment among the Jersey City Board of Education” and it is impossible for Ali to serve Jersey City students while spending a year in China.
The Chinese Communist Party has banned children from learning Tibetan, forcing them to learn Mandarin instead, and banned those under 18 from engaging in religious activities. This keeps Tibetans from passing down their Buddhist beliefs, as it also represses Uyghur Muslims, Falun Gong practitioners, and the ever-growing numbers of Chinese Christians. Beijing regularly detains Tibetans for insufficient loyalty to Beijing and has branded the Tibetan Buddhist religious leader, the Dalai Lama, a terrorist and “Islamic State sympathizer.”
China has also reportedly begun using the ongoing coronavirus outbreak to persecute Tibetans speaking freely, claiming it necessary to prevent the spread of “misinformation” and “rumors.” Among the banned activity local activists have documented have been prayers for those suffering from the virus.