Lhadon Tethong 2019 Democracy Award Acceptance Remarks

Thank you, Representative Suozzi, and thank you to the National Endowment for Democracy for this incredible honor.

In June 1989, I was 13 years old, watching coverage of the students protesting in Tiananmen Square with my father. I will never forget the newfound feeling of hope and possibility that this could be the moment that would change everything…that might mean my Dad could go home again – to Tibet – after 30 years in exile.

At that point, Tibet had been rocked by protests for nearly two years, and martial law had been declared in Lhasa that March. Just weeks later, seeing a million Chinese citizens taking to the streets, it seemed as if change had to be imminent.

But that opportunity for change was lost – and not just because of the crackdown – but because in the years that followed, the free world lost its way in holding Beijing accountable.

This happened, in large part, because we started ignoring what this authoritarian power was capable of. We allowed Chinese leaders to hijack critical discussions about rights, muting nearly all public debate, and eventually to even write the terms of engagement.

Clearly, we got it wrong. And every day makes it clearer just how wrong.

Faced with the escalating crisis of repression today, we must ask ourselves: What can we do differently?

The answer lies at the heart of what the students did in Tiananmen Square, and what the Tibetans did in Lhasa, in 1989.

The answer lies in courageous, principled, unyielding action to fight for what is right.

As Tibetans in Tibet have shown the world for seven decades, we have to speak truth to power, standing up to Beijing and using every tool and avenue available to engage in bold, creative and strategic resistance.

And as part of this, like-minded governments need to confront China as one, engaging in joint, public initiatives to support Tibetans and all others fighting for their rights and freedom.

We are here today not just to mark a historic moment, or because things have gotten so much worse, but because we have to act — to right the wrongs of the past and to pick up from that moment, 30 years ago, that was alive with hope and possibility, and this time, to get it right.