Chairman Engel's Remarks at full committee markup on Capitol Hill, Washington, DC, on December 18, 2019. Photo: U.S. HFAC

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Washington, DC — In a bid to further insert civil and political rights for the people of Tibet into the U.S. political discussion and deepen US diplomatic support forTibet, the Tibetan Policy and Support Act (HR 4331) passed through the US House Foreign Affairs Committee with strong bipartisan support Thursday morning at a markup hearing on Capitol Hill, the seat of the U.S. government.

U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee voted with unanimous consent for the bill which will now await a slot to go to the Senate. Legislation to stop China from interfering or meddling in the succession or reincarnation of the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan Buddhist leaders, which exclusively religious issues that the Tibetan Buddhist community should decide on.

Under the new bill in the 116th U.S. Congress, 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. The bill 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.

The bill is co-sponsored by the House Foreign Affairs’s chairman, Rep. Eliot Engel, who spoke in support for the Tibetan Policy and Support Act (TPSA). After his remarks, Representative Chris Smith, the former Chair of the Congressional China Commission, voiced his support by detailing the long-standing injustices committed by the Chinese government against the Tibetan people.

Representative McGovern, the current Chair, introduced the bill along with Representative Smith as a bipartisan effort. Rep. Smith highlighted the recent self-immolation protest of a young Tibetan, Yonten, and especially promoted religious freedom as a human right. Representative Steve Chabot and Representative Gerry Connolly remarked on the imperative nature of the Tibet Policy Act, with Rep. Connolly retelling his visit to Dharamsala earlier this year.

Representative Ngodup Tsering of Office of Tibet, Washington DC and Kelsang Dolma attended the markup session of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The bill will be voted on by the whole House in due course. “The Central Tibetan Administration would like to thank the House Foreign Affairs Committee for their support,” the Office of Tibet said.

Earlier this year, CTA President Dr Lobsang Sangay ordered for the distribution of packages and personalized letter that enclosed booklets about the Central Tibetan Administration, the Middle Way Policy, and the Tibetan Policy and Support Act. The Tibetan Policy and Support Act was also strongly lobbied by the Tibetan associations and individuals across America.

Since the TPA was passed in 2002, there have been major developments on the Tibetan issue. 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.

The Dalai Lama also issued a landmark statement that year concerning his succession. In it, he said that the decision of whether or not to continue with the institution of the Dalai Lama after his death should be made by Tibetans and others who follow Tibetan Buddhism. All of these developments necessitated the updating of the TPA.

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. The bill 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, 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. The bill 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.

As such, the bill requires the secretary of state to encourage a regional framework on water security and to pursue collaboration with China and international institutions to monitor the environment on the Tibetan plateau. The secretary will also have to engage China and NGOs to encourage the participation of Tibetan nomads and other Tibetans in the development and implementation of grassland management policies in Tibet, in order to utilize their indigenous experience.

The bill also states that development projects supported by US and international financial institutions and organizations should not incentivize or facilitate the forced relocation of Tibetan nomads. In addition, the State Department will be required to assist US companies and individuals operating in Tibet to ensure their work addresses the human rights of the Tibetan people.

Why do Tibetans in Tibet really hate Chinese invaders that much?

Over the past 70 decades, there has been ongoing political repression, social discrimination, economic marginalization, environmental destruction, and cultural assimilation, particularly due to Chinese migration to Tibet which is fueling intense resentment among the people of occupied Tibet.

The communist-totalitarian state of China began its 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 invasion and 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.

Until 1949, Tibet was an independent Buddhist nation in the Himalayas which had little contact with the rest of the world. It existed as a rich cultural storehouse of the Mahayana and Vajrayana teachings of Buddhism. Religion was a unifying theme among the Tibetans -- as was their own language, literature, art, and world view developed by living at high altitudes, under harsh conditions, in a balance with their environment.