US Senate unanimously passes bill urging China to resolve Tibet dispute

Radio Free Asia

The U.S. Senate on Thursday unanimously passed a bill urging the Chinese government to engage in dialogue with the Dalai Lama or Tibetan leaders, without any preconditions, to resolve the China-Tibet dispute.

The bipartisan Promoting a Resolution to the Tibet-China Dispute Act notes that the dispute between Tibet and China must be resolved in accordance with international law, including the United Nations Charter, by peaceful means and through dialogue.

The Senate version of the bill, which included a few changes from an earlier version passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in February, will require the approval of the House again. After that, it must go to U.S. President Joe Biden, who is likely to sign it into law.

The bill, also known as the Resolve Tibet Act, refutes Beijing’s claim that Tibet has been part of China since ancient times, and calls on China to “cease its propagation of disinformation about the history of Tibet, the Tibetan people, and Tibetan institutions, including that of the Dalai Lama.”

China invaded the independent Himalayan country of Tibet in 1950 and has controlled the territory ever since. The Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled into exile in India amid a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule.

Since then, Beijing has sought to legitimize Chinese rule through the suppression of dissent and policies undermining Tibetan culture and language. 

Beijing believes the Dalai Lama wants to split off the Tibet Autonomous Region and other Tibetan-populated areas in China’s Sichuan, Qinghai, Yunnan, and Gansu provinces from the rest of the country.

However, the Dalai Lama does not advocate for independence but rather a “Middle Way” that accepts Tibet’s status as a part of China and urges greater cultural and religious freedoms, including strengthened language rights that are guaranteed for ethnic minorities under China’s constitution.

‘Direct response’

The bill is a “direct response” to China, “which continues to trample on the fundamental rights of the Tibetan people,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, and one of the co-authors of the bill.

“We will work to get it to President Biden’s desk to help put the people of Tibet in charge of their own future,” Merkley said in a statement.

The bill also empowers the U.S. State Department to counter disinformation on Tibet.

Sen. Todd Young, an Indiana Republican, another co-sponsor, said that the United States must “push for negotiations that advance freedoms for the Tibetan people and peaceful resolution to the CCP’s conflict with the Dalai Lama,” referring to the Chinese Communist Party.

The bill articulates that Tibet includes the Tibetan-populated regions of Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, in addition to the Tibet Autonomous Region, thereby challenging China’s claim that Tibet is restricted to that latter region alone. 

So far, Beijing has not publicly commented on the bill. 

But in response to an inquiry from RFA, Liu Pengyu, spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, said in an email that Tibet had been a part of Chinese territory since ancient times.

“Anyone familiar with the Tibetan history should know that starting from Yuan Dynasty (13th century), successive Chinese Central Governments have exercised uninterrupted effective sovereign jurisdiction over Tibet,” Liu wrote. “Tibet has never become an independent state, which is a historical fact that cannot be changed.

Liu urged the United States to “stop using Tibet-related issues to interfere in China’s internal affairs, destroy[ing] Tibet’s development and stability, and offer no stage to the ‘Tibetan independence’ forces to engage in anti-China separatist activities.”

“China will take all necessary measures to defend its own interests,” he said.

‘Resolved through negotiations’

Tencho Gyatso, president of the International Campaign for Tibet, welcomed the passage of the bill, saying it was an indication that “American support of Tibet will never waver” and that Washington will not accept China’s false narrative about Tibet.

“I hope Beijing will now see that disputes must be resolved through negotiations instead of its agenda to erase Tibet’s unique and ancient civilization,” she said.

Sikyong Penpa Tsering, the democratically elected leader of the Central Tibetan Administration — the Tibetan government-in-exile — told a news conference in Dharamsala, India, on Friday that the passage of the bill was a crucial first step towards challenging that narrative and combating China’s distortion of Tibet’s history.

“Once this bill becomes law in the U.S., we can advocate for similar legislation in other countries around the world, according to their respective protocols,” he said.

Namgyal Choedup, representative of the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration to North America, told RFA that the bill’s unanimous passage “sends a clear message that China’s systematic oppression and erasure of Tibetan identity is never the answer to resolving the Tibet-China dispute and we are hopeful that this will soon become law.”

The House version of the bill was led by Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican who is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts who is also a Ranking Member of the House Rules Committee and a member of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.