US Bill On Tibet After India’s Renaming Challenge To China – OpEd

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A bill passed by US lawmakers, seeking to counter China’s claim of controlling Tibet since “ancient times,” has landed on President Joe Biden’s desk a week after Delhi renamed 30 places in TIbet in a tit-for-tat riposte to China’s renaming of 60 places in India’s Arunachal Pradesh state. 

The bill seeks to  promote a dialogue between Beijing and exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, which Delhi is also keen on.

The Indian renaming of places in Tibet on basis of ancient Sanskrit and Pali texts is seen as an aggressive move by the re-elected Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to counter Chinese claims on Arunachal Pradesh which Beijing describes as “Southern Tibet.”

But China has so far refused any dialogue with Dalai Lama, attacking him as a “wolf in lambskin” and “splittist”. And it says Tibet is an integral part of China, a position India has so far accepted and seems likely to now challenge. 

The US House of Representatives, the lower chamber of the US Congress, voted 391-26 on Wednesday to approve the Promoting a Resolution to the Tibet-China Dispute Act, which had passed the Senate, which is the upper chamber, last month.

A press release on the website of Jeff Merkley, the Democratic senator from the US state of Oregon who had introduced the bill in the Senate, said that the US Congress had passed the “bipartisan Bill to enhance US support for Tibet and promote dialogue between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Dalai Lama towards a peaceful resolution of the long-standing dispute between Tibet and China”.

The release added, “The Promoting a Resolution to the Tibet-China Dispute Act now goes to President Biden, who is expected to sign it into law.”

In essence, the bill aims to harden Washington’s position on Tibet and pressure Beijing into resuming negotiations with the Dalai Lama.

No formal dialogue between Chinese and Tibetan authorities has happened since 2010.

The bill aims to direct funds to counter what it describes as “disinformation” from China about Tibet’s history, people and institutions.

The bill also refutes Beijing’s claim that Tibet has been part of China since ancient times. And, going a step further, it would make it official US policy that the dispute over Tibet’s status is unresolved.

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

The bill aims to enhance US support for Tibet. It would empower US State Department officials to “actively and directly counter disinformation about Tibet from the Chinese government, rejecting false claims that Tibet has been part of China since ‘ancient times’,” said the release from Merkley’s website.

The bill will also push for negotiations “without preconditions” between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama or his representatives or the democratically elected leaders of the Tibetan community.

Finally, it will also make it the US State Department’s responsibility to “coordinate with other governments in multilateral efforts” towards the goal of “a negotiated agreement on Tibet”

“The people of Tibet deserve to be in charge of their own future, and, today, Congress has voted to stand with Tibetans in their struggle for freedom and self-determination,” said Merkley, co-chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, according to the release.

Merkley added that the Act would help “counter misinformation from the Chinese government about Tibet” and would push for “negotiations between the PRC and Tibet to end this longstanding dispute”.

“I look forward to President Biden swiftly signing this Bill into law… the people of Tibet cannot wait any longer,” said Merkley.

“Our bipartisan Bill will refresh US policy towards Tibet and push for negotiations that advance freedom for the Tibetan people and a peaceful resolution to the CCP’s conflict with the Dalai Lama,” said Indiana’s Republican Senator Todd Young.

Young added that Congressional passage of the Bill “further demonstrates America’s resolve that the CCP’s status quo – both in Tibet and elsewhere – is not acceptable”.

“Let the overwhelming passage of our strong, bipartisan Bill be a clear message to the Tibetan people: America stands with you on the side of human dignity, and we support you in your quest to secure the basic rights to which you are entitled under international law,” said Democratic US Representative Jim McGovern, who is also a member of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.

“The PRC has systematically denied Tibetans the right to self-determination and continues to deliberately erase Tibetan religion, culture, and language. The ongoing oppression of the Tibetan people is a grave tragedy, and our Bill provides further tools that empower both America and the international community to stand up for justice and peace,” added McGovern.

China claims that Tibet has been under central Chinese rule for over 700 years.

However, Tibetan activists have argued that the region was self-governed for extended periods.

While the Dalai Lama has not recognised Beijing’s historical claim over Tibet, he has also said that he does not seek political independence for the region.

In April, the Chinese foreign ministry said that any talks with the Dalai Lama would not address the question of Tibetan autonomy.

 Instead, any such talks would only concern his “personal future” or that of his close associates.

At present, the US State Department considers the Tibet autonomous region and other Tibetan areas to be a part of China. So does India. 

However, Washington has not explicitly taken the position that Beijing’s occupation of Tibet in the 1950s was in accordance with international law. And strategic partner India accepted Tibet as part of China but kept the fire of Tibetan independence burning by providing sanctuary to the Dalai Lama and sheltering the “Central Tibetan Authority ” in the hill town of Dharamsala in the state of Himachal Pradesh. That irks China no end.

Subir Bhaumik

Subir Bhaumik is a former BBC and Reuters correspondent and author of books on South Asian conflicts.

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