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United States Tibetan Policy And Support Act Of 2020 – A Critical Analysis

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Donald Trumps’ last blow to China while he is leaving the White House soon is his signing the legislation (Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2020). The law signed by President Trump on December 27, 2020 becomes the official stance of US on Tibetan rights supports and reaffirms Tibetan Buddhists rights to choose their own 15th Dalai Lama.

As anticipated, it is being vehemently criticised by China and treated as United States deliberate interference in China’s internal affairs since China brands all issues related to Tibet, Taiwan, and Hong Kong as their internal matters. Not surprisingly, with this the long-standing demand of choosing the 15th Dalai Lama by Tibetan’s scattered worldwide or those who live in Tibet being endorsed by President Trump, the question is will this legislation deter China, which already seems not too alarmed or careful about Washington’s global diktats even not about the mega issue of South China Sea.

The crude and bitter reality remains that the whole world has not been able to stop China from its inflicting massive atrocities against the helpless Uighurs and using Tibetan land for whatever it likes as a testing lab for forced labour, torture camps, and indoctrination for what it very politely calls re-education. The fact is that China hasn’t come under any international pressure even if Trump or whole world labels Corona as the Chinese Virus or criticises its expansionist adventures against its neighbours.

While it had already started to manipulate the Dalai Lama institution (i.e., Gedhun Choekyi – the then just 6 year old boy chosen as 11th Panchen Lama in 1995 was abducted along with his family and still remains missing) and the process to choose their own pro-China Dalai Lama is ongoing, the question is, will such a strong and open support to the Tibetan Dalai Lama institution help the Tibetan cause or will it address the prolonged Tibetan refugee, identity, and livelihood crises? Will it make any difference in the lives of those Tibetans who live in Tibet under Chinese diktats or solve any of the problems that Tibetan refugees are best with in alien lands? Also, will it check the China’s demographic engineering, which is repeatedly destroying Tibet’s ethnic makeup in TAR (Tibetan autonomous region) and alongside save Tibet’s rich resources and environment from just being the dragon’s dumping ground of plastic and other harmful waste.

I seriously doubt it! Though the recent legislation talks of environmental concern and even includes sanctioning Chinese officials (actually only some visa restrictions), if they try to appoint next Dalai Lama on their own. What will the United States do if China continues its designs in Tibetan territory and will China give any credence to such sanctions is also doubtful since China now sees itself as the only competitor (even the EU recognises the rise of China) to the USA’s global hegemony and has earlier proved that it can bypass any US sanctions. The fact remains that China buys oil from Iran and even gets away with it and still trades secretly with North Korea and bypasses US decrees. The worry is, will it be feasible to contain today’s China that is over ambitiously, muscularly, and militarily crazy for its expansionist strategy to gain supremacy in Asia and the world. 

Also, the question is that are Tibetans and their organizations reading too much into this law, since the change of guard is about to happen in USA and will the new regime in US follow Trump’s plans religiously? Though it can be safely argued that USA’s policy on Tibet seems stronger than ever before, Biden’s foreign policy too is in the offing and will see some changes regarding its Asian vision for sure. Should this development be also seen as Trump’s deliberate attempt to make the road for US-China bilateral relations more thorny for the upcoming Biden regime? How will such rough postures influence the upcoming Biden government and the bilateral relations and will a new China-US offensive discourse emerge out of it remains to be seen.

Also, is the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) based in Dharamsala, India overestimating the legislation by describing it as a victory for the Tibetan freedom struggle? Should Tibetologists and analysts take it as CTA’s hoping against hope? Has the new law that somehow focuses on the religious freedom of Tibetans have anything to do with the Tibet’s freedom struggle or has USA even urged its support for Tibet’s Liberation from Chinese yoke practically beyond some words of sympathy and refugee aid?

Even if Tibetan’s choose their 15th Dalai Lama of their own without Chinese interference, will it anyway undermine China’s physical and actual iron fist control of the Tibetan territory and people as the dragon has virtually eaten and exploited it all? Should CTA change its goal posts and persuade the world about the seriousness of the Tibet issue rather than rejoicing a simple law enacted far away from China and celebrated by those who are far away in exile?

The critical is is has Dalai Lama’s middle path approach worked so far while China converted whole of the TAR into a security orbit. Is it what Lobsang Sangay – the CTA president – calls a momentous landmark for the Tibetan people? Therefore, should Tibetan community across religious and ethnic and class diversities (i.e.,Tibetan Muslims and others well settled and permanent residents in other countries) ask for more from the global powers?

Lastly, should India join the fray, and can it afford any excessive posturing towards Tibetans’ especially at this juncture and support the legislation and make its own new stand on Tibet without caring for the 2003 bilateral document (supposedly, that agrees TAR as Chinese territory) owing to the Galwan face off and China’s consistent non-commitment on border peace or let US face the dragon on her own.

Already the Chinese embassy has asked Indian media (indirectly the government) to stay away from Tibet issue, is a sort of warning that it might damage the bilateral ties (which stand diminished by Chinese shameless incursions). Has the time come to start reassessing our ties with China’s and change the view towards looking at the dragon that never sticks to a rule- based relations and has started deciding unilaterally on all matters in Asia? Thus, there are endless questions but without answers.

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Dr. Adfer Shah

Dr. Adfer Shah, (Adfer Rashid Shah, PhD) is a New Delhi-based Sociologist and Social and Political analyst.He writes his columns for various reputed international and national media groups. He has been writing on South Asia's Socio-political realities especially on Kashmir sociology and Conflict Situation at Eurasia Review since 2012, where he is a Special Correspondent for South Asia Affairs and Associate Editor since January 2014. His recent publications include his three books (1)"Kashmir-Yearning for Peace: A Socio-Political history of Uncertainty and Chaos,2016" (ISSN: 978-3-659-55971-6), (2)'Social Science Research in Conflict Zones,2017' (ISBN: 978-620-2-47937- 0) and (3)'Tibetan Refugees in India: Struggle to Survive,2018' ( ISBN 81-8324-919-1)].. Reach him at [email protected]

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