Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.), chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. Photo: File

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Washington DC — In a new bipartisan bill, recently introduced in the U.S. Congress will increase the U.S. support for Tibet and its people, especially on the crucial issue of selecting the next Dalai Lama with proposed penalties including the freezing of assets and denial of entry to the United States.

The bipartisan Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2019— was introduced in the House on September 13, 2019, by Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.), chairman of the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China, and will be introduced in the Senate this week by the commission’s Co-Chair Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and others—builds on the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002 (TPA), a landmark legislation that enshrined support for Tibet in US law.

Lawmakers would prohibit the communist-authoritarain regime from opening any new consulates on American soil until the US is permitted to establish its own diplomatic office in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet and the bill introduced in the House of Representatives also lays out a path for punishing Chinese officials who interfere with His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s succession plans.

The bill will then be submitted for review by the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Committee on the Judiciary, and put forward for debate and passage into law at a later date. Since the TPA was passed in 2002, there have been major developments on the issue of Tibet. Dialogue between the Dalai Lama’s envoys and Chinese representatives have not been held since 2010. Also, the Dalai Lama announced his retirement from politics in 2011, fully relinquishing political authority to an elected Tibetan leadership.

Under the new bill, any Chinese official deemed complicit in identifying or installing a future Dalai Lama will face sanctions that could include having their assets frozen and their entry to the US denied. Bipartisan legislation to modify Tibetan Policy Act of 2002 also calls on the special coordinator for Tibetan issues in the State Department to build international diplomatic coalitions that will oppose any effort by China to interfere in the Dalai Lama’s succession.

For several years, the Chinese government has claimed that the Dalai Lama’s eventual reincarnation must comply with Chinese law—a statement that not only ignores Tibetans’ centuries-long history of selecting the Dalai Lama without foreign interference but also violates Tibetans’ fundamental right to religious freedom.

In 2011, His Holiness the Dalai Lama—who relinquished his political authority and expanded the democratization of the system of government in exile—released a statement asserting that the decision of whether or not to continue with the institution of the Dalai Lama should be made by Tibetans and followers of Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai Lama further said that only he has the authority on matters relating to his reincarnation.

The new bill also amends the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1990 and 1991 and the National Defense Authorization Act of 2000 to include references to the reincarnation issue and the strategic importance of Tibet’s water and to require separate sections on Tibet in reports on religious freedom.

Highlighting the need for an American diplomatic presence in Tibet, the bill mandates that the Secretary of State will “not authorize the establishment in the United States of any additional consulate of the People’s Republic of China until such time as a United States consulate in Lhasa, Tibet, is established.”

The bill also says that all Tibetan areas should be under one consular district of the US Embassy in China. Currently, Tibetan affairs are handled by multiple consulates. The bill details the democratic transformation of the Tibetan governance system in exile by the Dalai Lama and commends him “for his decision to transfer political authority to elected leaders in accordance with democratic principles.” The bill also says the Central Tibetan Administration legitimately represents and reflects the aspirations of Tibetan people around the world.

The new bill would also deepen US diplomatic support for the Tibetan people and expands the role of the special coordinator for Tibetan issues, a position in the State Department that is currently unfilled. Under the bill, the special coordinator will have the additional responsibility of encouraging the Chinese government to address the legitimate grievances of the Tibetan people and promote Tibetans’ basic rights and religious freedom. In addition, no fewer than three people will be assigned to work in the special coordinator’s office.

Specifically, the bill updates the objectives of the Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues to include “promote substantive dialogue without preconditions between the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the Dalai Lama or his representatives or Central Tibetan Administration representatives leading to a negotiated agreement on Tibet.”

The bill would also allow for the allocation of development assistance funds for the skilled development, entrepreneurship and cultural preservation of Tibetan exiles in South Asia and requires the secretary of state to urge the government of Nepal to provide legal documentation to long-term Tibetan residents who fled persecution in their homeland.

The bill identifies many of the major environmental crises occurring in Tibet under Chinese rule, from melting glaciers to a rate of warming more than twice the global average. The bill acknowledges that Tibet plays an essential role in providing water to surrounding countries in Asia, meaning that a water shortage beginning in Tibet could impact the lives of more than 1 billion people.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama is known throughout the world as a leading advocate for world peace and non-violence. His message is one of kindness and compassion to all sentient beings. Over the past 60 years, he has traveled around the world spreading a message of Peace and Universal Responsibility.

He also believes that the common aim of all religions, an aim that everyone must try to find, is to foster tolerance, altruism, and love. He retired from politics in 2011. But, as one among six million Tibetans, His Holiness said he will continue to serve the cause of Tibet.

In 1959, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama along with thousands of others escaped to India, where he was given political asylum. The spiritual leader has set up a government and rebuilt monasteries where masters pass on their teachings to young monks. Tibetans in exile have succeeded in gradually rebuilding their monasteries, preserving their culture, restructuring their society and keeping it alive, in spite of the extremely difficult circumstances.

The Chinese Communist totalitarian regime (PRC) began their invasion of Tibet in 1949, reaching complete occupation of the country in 1959. Since that time, more than 1.2 million people, 20% of the nation's population of six million, have died as a direct result of China's illegal invasion and ruthless occupation. In addition, over 99% of Tibet's six thousand religious monasteries, temples, and shrines, have been looted or decimated resulting in the destruction of hundreds of thousands of sacred Buddhist scriptures.