US bipartisan lawmakers have introduced a new bill in Congress that could establish as U.S. policy will put sanctions against Chinese officials if they interfere in the spiritual leader's succession. Photo: File

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Washington DC — A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill in the U.S. Congress on September 24, 2019 that could establish as U.S. policy that the succession or reincarnation of Tibetan Buddhist leaders, including a future 15th Dalai Lama, is an exclusively religious matter that should be made solely by the Tibetan Buddhist community, without interference from the officials of the Chinese communist regime.

The new bill, the Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2019, is an amendment to the Tibet Policy Act of 2002, which codified in broad terms US government support for the Tibetan people. The U.S Congress would prohibit China 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. The new bill also lays out a path for punishing Chinese officials who interfere with the Dalai Lama’s succession plans.

U.S. Representative James P. McGovern (D-MA) and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), the Chair and Cochair respectively of the bipartisan and bicameral Congressional-Executive Commission on China(CECC), introduced legislation (H.R. 4331 / S. 2539) that will update and strengthen the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002 to address emerging human rights, religious freedom, and environmental challenges faced by the Tibetans.

Joining the CECC Chairs as cosponsors are U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Tom Cotton (R-AR), and Ed Markey (D-MA) and U.S. Representatives Chris Smith (R-NJ), Tom Suozzi (D-NY), and Mark Meadows (R-NC). Cotton, Smith, and Suozzi also serve as CECC Commissioners, according to the Office of Tibet, Washington D.C.

“I am proud to support this new legislation to strengthen U.S. support for the Tibetan people in their struggle for human rights, religious freedom, and genuine autonomy,” said Representative McGovern. “Chinese officials should be aware that efforts to interfere in the Tibetan Buddhist practice of choosing its religious leaders, including a possible 15th Dalai Lama, will be strongly opposed by the U.S. and subject to targeted sanctions including those in the Global Magnitsky Act.”

“This bipartisan bill, which I am proud to lead in the Senate, is a much-needed update of U.S. policy toward Tibet,” said Senator Rubio. “We must continue to shine a bright light on the Chinese government’s repression of the Tibetan people and explore new tools to protect their religion, language, and culture, both inside and outside China.”

In the seventeen years since the original Tibetan Policy Act of 2002 was signed into law, the human rights situation in Tibet has worsened. The Chinese government has refused to enter into a dialogue with Tibetan leaders. And Chinese officials have threatened to select Tibetan Buddhist leaders, including a future 15th Dalai Lama, in a clear violation of international religious freedom as well as the traditional practices of the Tibetan Buddhist faith community. Further, the policies of the Chinese government have severely degraded Tibetan religion, culture, language, livelihoods, and environment.

The new “Tibet Policy and Support Act of 2019” will:

  • Establish as U.S. policy that the succession or reincarnation of Tibetan Buddhist leaders, including a future 15th Dalai Lama, is an exclusively religious matter that should be made solely by the Tibetan Buddhist community.
  • Specify that Chinese officials who interfere in the process of recognizing a successor or reincarnation of the Dalai Lama will be subject to targeted financial, economic, and visa-related sanctions including those in the Global Magnitsky Act.
  • Strengthen the role of the State Department Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues including a mandate to work multilaterally with other governments to promote a genuine dialogue between Tibetan leaders and the Chinese government.
  • Direct the State and Commerce Departments to ensure that operations of U.S. companies working in Tibet are transparent, foster the self-sufficiency of Tibetans, and respect the culture and environment of the Tibetan Plateau.
  • Mandate that there should be no new Chinese consulates in the United States until the establishment of a U.S. consulate in Lhasa.
  • Direct the State Department to begin collaborative, multinational efforts to protect the environment and water resources on the Tibetan Plateau.
  • Support democratic governance in the Tibetan exile community.
  • Authorize ongoing U.S. appropriations that support Tibetans in Tibet and in South Asia.

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