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Washington, May 11 – US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has publicly expressed concerns over reports of China gathering DNA from Tibetans, making him the senior-most American official to raise the issue to date.
As the featured speaker at Freedom House’s annual Freedom Awards on Wednesday, Blinken stated: “We’re also concerned by reports of the spread of mass DNA collection to Tibet as an additional form of control and surveillance over the Tibetan population.”
In September 2022, Citizen Lab reported that Chinese police may have gathered about 920,000 to 1.2 million DNA samples in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), which spans around half of traditional Tibet, over the prior six years.
Those figures represent one-quarter to one-third of the region’s total population.
That same month, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) said China’s authorities were systematically collecting DNA from residents of the TAR, including by taking blood from children as young as five without their parents’ consent.
Blinken’s statement met with an accusatory response from China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson.
However, the International Campaign for Tibet welcomed the Secretary’s remarks.
“Throughout its brutal occupation of Tibet, China has used Tibet as a laboratory for relentless methods of social control, including this horrific campaign of mass DNA collection,” said the ICT, an advocacy group based in Washington D.C. and Europe.
“The best way to protect Tibetans from China’s authoritarian rule is to push for a peaceful resolution to China’s illegal occupation of Tibet. The US can and must do that by passing the bipartisan Promoting a Resolution to the Tibet-China Conflict Act that is currently in both Houses of Congress.”
According to Citizen Lab, China’s DNA collection program is unrelated to criminal justice.
“Our analysis indicates that for years police across Tibet have collected DNA samples from men, women, and children, none of whom appear to be criminal suspects,” Citizen Lab says in its report.
Police are also not targeting specific groups like activists or government critics. Instead, they are collecting DNA from entire communities.
Similarly, the HRW said in its report that, “there is no publicly available evidence suggesting people can decline to participate” in the DNA collection, “or that police have credible evidence of criminal conduct that might warrant such collection”.
At a press briefing on Wednesday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin responded to a question about Blinken’s remarks by claiming they “mean nothing except manufacturing sensational news items”.
Wang then accused the US military of collecting genomic data of Chinese, Arabs and “European Aryans”.
China has illegally occupied Tibet for over 60 years, forcing the Dalai Lama into exile in 1959.
Earlier this year, Democrats and Republicans in both chambers of Congress reintroduced a bill that can help peacefully resolve the occupation.
The Promoting a Resolution to the Tibet-China Conflict Act will pressure China to resume negotiations with the Dalai Lama’s envoys for the first time since dialogue between the two sides stalled in 2010.
The legislation will recognize that Tibetans have the right to self-determination and that Tibet’s legal status is yet to be determined under international law.