Tibetan Policy and Support Act Passes in the US Congress

2020-12-22
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Tibetan Policy and Support Act Passes in the US Congress The Potala palace in Tibet's capital Lhasa is shown in a file photo.
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The Tibetan Policy and Support Act pf 2020, a major bill strengthening U.S. support of Tibet through humanitarian projects and sanctions of Chinese abuses, has cleared the U.S. Congress and will go next to the desk of President Donald Trump for signing into law.

The TPSA will “dramatically upgrade US support for Tibetans in key areas,” the Washington D.C.-based International Campaign for Tibet said in statement following the bill’s passage as part of a spending bill Monday.

It will also present “a direct challenge to China’s continuing repression of the Tibetan people,” ICT said.

Introduced with bipartisan support in the House by Representatives James McGovern and Chris Smith, and by Senators Marco Rubio and Ben Cardin, the legislation will provide funding for Tibetan humanitarian and development assistance projects both inside and outside Tibet until at least 2025.

It will also address water security and climate change issues in Tibet, recognizing the strategic importance of the Tibetan plateau, whose rivers provide sources of water to more than a billion people living downstream in Asia.

The bill also requires China to allow the opening of a U.S. consulate in Tibet’s regional capital Lhasa before any new Chinese consulate can open in the United States.

Finally, it will establish a U.S. policy that the selection of Tibetan religious leaders, including future successors to exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, is a decision to be made only by Tibetans, free from Chinese government interference.

Sanctions targeting Chinese officials attempting to name a new Dalai Lama will be mandated under the Act.

Concerns over the advancing age of the Dalai Lama, now 85, have renewed uncertainties in recent years over his possible successor after he dies, with Beijing claiming the right to name his successor and the Dalai Lama himself saying that any future Dalai Lama will be born outside of China.

The Tibetan Policy and Support Act passed by the Congress also commends Tibetan exile communities around the world for adopting through the CTA “a system of self-governance with democratic institutions to choose their leaders,” with elections in 2011 and again in 2016 deemed free and fair by international observers.

“[But] the Dalai Lama has said that the CTA will cease to exist once a negotiated settlement [with China] has been achieved that allows Tibetans to freely enjoy their culture, religion, and language in Tibet,” the Act points out.

'Significant signal to Beijing'

Reached for comment on Monday, CTA president Sikyong Lobsang Sangay welcomed U.S. acknowledgement of the Central Tibetan Administration and its leaders, calling the move “a significant signal to Beijing,” which had strongly objected to a Nov. 20 visit by Sangay to the White House to meet with administration officials.

Talks on greater autonomy in Tibet held between Chinese officials and envoys of the Dalai Lama stalled in 2010 and were never resumed, noted ICT vice president Bhuchung Tsering.

“Now, the TPSA has strengthened the responsibility and authority of the [State Department’s] U.S. Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues to press for the dialogue to begin again,” Tsering said.

In Beijing on Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a daily news briefing that Tibet, Taiwan, and Hong Kong "are China's internal affairs that allow no foreign interference."

“We urge the United States to stop meddling in our domestic affairs under those pretexts, refrain from signing the bills or implementing the negative contents and items in them that target China and undercut China's interests, so as to avoid further damaging overall China-U.S. cooperation and bilateral relations,” Wang said.

A formerly independent nation, Tibet was invaded and incorporated into China by force nearly 70 years ago, following which the Dalai Lama and thousands of his followers fled into exile in India and other countries around the world.

The United States has officially recognized Tibet as a part of the People’s Republic of China ever since, but presses in diplomatic exchanges with Beijing for greater autonomy and protections for Tibet’s culture, language, and religion in Tibetan regions of China.

Chinese authorities meanwhile maintain a tight grip on the region, restricting Tibetans’ political activities and peaceful expression of ethnic and religious identity, and subjecting Tibetans to persecution, torture, imprisonment, and extrajudicial killings.

Reported by Tashi Wangchuk and Nordhey Dolma for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Tashi Wangchuk. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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