US lawmakers pass Tibet policy bill that questions China’s claims over region

South China Morning Post

 A bipartisan bill seeking to counter Beijing’s narrative about China’s control over Tibet and promote dialogue between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama is heading to US President Joe Biden’s desk.

The House of Representatives voted 391-26 on Wednesday to approve the Promoting a Resolution to the Tibet-China Dispute Act, which passed the Senate last month.

The bill, introduced in the Senate by Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley, would direct funds to counter what it calls “disinformation” from Beijing about Tibet’s history, people and institutions.

The bill refutes the Chinese government’s claim that Tibet has been part of China since ancient times, and would make it US policy that the dispute over Tibet’s status is unresolved.

It would also make it US policy that “Tibet” refers not only to the Tibet autonomous region as defined by the Chinese government, but also Tibetan areas of Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces.

“Passing this bill demonstrates America’s resolve that the [Chinese Communist Party] status quo in Tibet is not acceptable and I can think of no greater message or gift to the Dalai Lama and the people of Tibet,” said Republican representative Michael McCaul of Texas on the House floor Tuesday.

In hardening the language around Washington’s position on Tibet, the bill’s backers hope to pressure Beijing into resuming negotiations with the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader. The two sides have not held a formal dialogue since 2010.

The House had already passed a version of the Senate bill in February. The sponsor of that House bill, Democrat Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, has said that past appeals by the US for negotiations between Beijing and the Dalai Lama “without preconditions” had failed.

Beijing contends that Tibet has remained under central Chinese rule for over 700 years, despite extended periods in which Tibetan campaigners argue that the region was effectively self-governed.

The Dalai Lama has said that he does not seek political independence for Tibet, but has not recognised Beijing’s historical claim over Tibet.

In April, China’s foreign ministry reasserted that any contact or talks with the spiritual leader would concern his “personal future” or, at most, that of his close associates, and not the question of Tibetan autonomy.

The US State Department considers the autonomous region and other Tibetan areas as part of China, but the bill’s supporters note that the US government has never taken the position that the Chinese Communist Party’s occupation of the region in the 1950s abided by international law.

The bill’s authors argue that the Chinese government is “systematically suppressing” the ability of Tibetans to preserve their religion, culture, language, history, way of life, and environment, and assert that the Tibetan people have a right to “self-determination”.

Since taking office in 2021, Biden has yet to meet the Dalai Lama. As a candidate in 2020, Biden criticised Donald Trump for being the only US president in three decades who had neither met nor spoken to the Tibetan spiritual leader.

The US president has, however, expressed sympathy for the Tibetan cause, raising concerns with President Xi Jinping about China’s actions in Tibet and appointing a high-ranking State Department official to serve as special coordinator for Tibetan issues.

The Dalai Lama has announced plans to visit the US this month for knee treatment, but there are no details about any meetings between him and US officials. Beijing opposes contact by officials of any country with the Dalai Lama.