WASHINGTON (AFP) — Actor-activist Richard Gere voiced hope on Monday that China could one day have a Tibetan leader much as the United States now has a black president, but said it was crucial to be firm with Beijing.
Gere, a Buddhist, was in Washington to lobby Congress to support Tibet on the eve of the 50th anniversary of China's crushing of an uprising in which spiritual leader Dalai Lama escaped to India.
China has poured troops into Tibet for the sensitive anniversary but Gere said the election of US President Barack Obama should serve as an inspiration for historically oppressed people.
"Thirty years, 20 years ago, who would have thought there could be a black president of the United States? Things change rapidly -- and it's usually in crisis and tragedy that things change the most," Gere told AFP.
"I can see a time when there may well be a Tibetan-Chinese prime minister or president or whatever form of government there is then. But the words have to be spoken," he said.
The Dalai Lama says he wants greater freedoms for Tibetans under Chinese rule. Beijing brands him a separatist and criticizes any overseas recognition of the Nobel Peace laureate.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last month said human rights concerns would not impede US-China cooperation on fighting the economic crisis and other concerns -- remarks that alarmed rights activists.
Gere said on hearing Clinton, "my first thought was to those incredibly courageous human rights, civil rights and constitutional rights Chinese who count on the acknowledgement of the world as a leverage point."
But Gere, a supporter of Obama and Clinton's Democratic Party, said he believed Clinton "just misspoke and then has not figured out how to fix it."
"I hope that's the case because it's out of character for her also. It's not the kind of woman or politician she is," Gere said.
Tibet's government says that more than 87,000 people died in China's crackdown of the uprising between March and October of 1959 alone.
Human rights groups say hundreds more died or remain unaccounted for as Beijing put down another round of protests a year ago on the anniversary of the Dalai Lama's flight.
He said the United States was also in a better position to press China after the inauguration of Obama, who is closing the Guantanamo Bay "war on terror" detention camp which has been roundly criticized worldwide.
"For the good of America -- for Americans as well as the rest of the world -- you have to say what you stand for," Gere said. "And words have to be spoken over and over again in every situation."
Gere rejected the argument made by many policymakers that it is best to keep private any disputes with China.
"I think the economy and our fear of losing the Chinese market is a straw dog. I don't buy it at all," Gere said.
"China has so committed itself to the world economic system that it can't go back now. They can't function without us and they can't function without Europe," Gere said.
"I think we are actually in a very strong position vis-a-vis China."
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