WASHINGTON, May 10, 2001 - The U.S. Congress is now considering new legislation aimed at pressuring China to stop what one senator calls "an ongoing tragedy" in Tibet, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports. "I have come to really believe that there is a long-term Chinese perseverance to destroy the Tibetan culture and the religious identity of that country," Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat from California and Senate sponsor of the Tibetan Policy Act of 2001, told reporters Wednesday. Introducing this bill represents a tactical shift for Feinstein, who has nurtured personal ties with Chinese leaders and long favored quiet diplomacy in addressing sensitive issues. Feinstein said she had abandoned hope that behind-the-scenes efforts - such as the letters she has delivered to Chinese President Jiang Zemin on behalf of Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama - might prompt Beijing to loosen its grip on Tibet. For the last decade, she said, these overtures "have fallen on deaf ears... At the same time, we have watched more Han Chinese enter the Tibetan plateau and seen the repression of the Tibetan people. Beijing has consistently ignored promises to preserve indigenous Tibetan political, cultural, and religious systems... I am now convinced that nothing positive will happen from private entreaties." The Tibetan Policy Act, introduced simultaneously in both houses of Congress, aims "to address an ongoing tragedy taking place in Tibet," Feinstein said. "I believe that the time has come for the United States government to increase our attention to enhanced Tibetan cultural and religious autonomy. My intent in introducing the Tibetan Policy Act is to place the full faith of the United States government behind efforts to preserve the distinct identity and the cultural, religious, and ethnic autonomy of the Tibetan people." Representative Tom Lantos, Democrat from California and House sponsor of the legislation, cited growing support among Americans for the Tibetan people. "At the same time, China's efforts to wage a cultural war in Tibet have intensified, threatening the Tibetan people's identity and cultural integrity," Lantos said. The Tibetan Policy Act earmarks $2.75 million in humanitarian aid for Tibetan refugees, scholarships for Tibetan exiles, and human rights activities by Tibetan non-governmental organizations. It also calls on the U.S. State Department to work toward setting up an office in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, and urges the United States to press China to enter direct talks with the Dalai Lama. The bill - which must be approved by Congress and signed by the President to become law - would also formalize the recently created State Department post of Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues and provide for U.S. support of the Dalai Lama's participation in U.N. organizations. It urges the U.S. ambassador to China to seek the release of the young Panchen Lama and of U.S.-based ethnomusicologist Ngawang Choephel and other Tibetan prisoners who are ill. Lodi Gyari, the Dalai Lama's special envoy in Washington, called the legislation "the most important bill ever introduced in the U.S. Congress on Tibet." "It recognizes the middle path chosen by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and recognizes...that Tibetans are distinctly separate and different from the Chinese," Gyari told RFA. "This bill completely endorses the stand taken by His Holiness the Dalai Lama." RFA's full Tibetan-language coverage of the legislation can be heard on the World Wide Web at www.rfa.org. RFA broadcasts to Tibet eight hours daily, including a one-hour call-in program hosted in Washington, DC. RFA is a private, nonprofit corporation broadcasting news and information to those countries in Asia where full, accurate, and timely news reports are unavailable. Created by Congress in 1996, RFA aims to deliver such news reports - along with opinions and commentaries - and to provide a forum for a variety of voices and opinions. RFA currently broadcasts in Burmese, Cantonese, Khmer, Korean, Laotian, Mandarin, the Wu dialect, Vietnamese, Tibetan, and Uyghur. It adheres to the highest journalistic standards and aims to exemplify accuracy, balance, and fairness in its editorial content.