Top US Religious Official Pledges Support For Dalai Lama’s Return to ‘More Autonomous’ Tibet
2020-06-03

U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback on Wednesday pledged Washington’s assistance to Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, in returning from exile to a Tibet with greater autonomy, in his latest salvo against Beijing for its persecution of ethnic groups in China.

Speaking after taking part in an online forum for Tibetan American Youth, organized by Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), the top U.S. religious official told RFA’s Tibetan Service that advocacy for Tibet is now more “crucial” than ever.

“Tibet’s issue needs to be raised and highlighted where Tibet needs more autonomy, Tibetans should be able to practice their faith freely and the Dalai Lama must be able to return to Tibet if he chooses to,” said Brownback, a former U.S. senator and state governor.

“China denies all these, yet with bipartisan support in Congress, we will make these things possible and bring the Tibetan issue in the forefront.”

U.S. Representative Jim McGovern, who also spoke at ICT’s event, told RFA that the human rights situation in Tibet had continued to worsen amidst restrictions on teaching the Tibetan language, culture, natural resources, and religious freedom.

The chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) also slammed Beijing over its insistence that it select the reincarnation of Tibet’s religious leaders, including the Dalai Lama, as well as its policies he said are part of a bid to “eliminate the distinct Tibetan identity.”

“We are criticizing the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and not the Chinese people, who are also suffering under China’s repression,” he said.

“We stand in solidarity with the Tibetan people and revere His Holiness the Dalai Lama. We all are in this together and we expect the President to sign the Tibet Policy and Support Act into law soon.”

Tibet acts

In January, a bill to strengthen U.S. policy in support of Tibet won strong approval by the House of Representatives. The Tibetan Policy and Support Act (TPSA) was passed by a vote of 392 to 22, and now requires a vote in the Senate, which is also reviewing a companion bill.

Co-sponsored by McGovern and Republican Senator Marco Rubio, the TPSA when signed into law will require China to allow the opening of a U.S. consulate in Tibet’s regional capital Lhasa before any new Chinese consulate can open in the United States.

It will also establish a U.S. policy that the selection of Tibetan religious leaders, including future successors to exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, is a decision to be made by Tibetans free from Chinese government interference.

“The Chinese government is not respecting the diplomatic principle of reciprocity,” McGovern said.

“When we passed the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, it was not just a statement. China basically doesn’t want the world to see what’s happening inside Tibet—how the Tibetans are repressed and have no religious freedom.”

In a move pushing for greater U.S. access to Tibet, now largely closed by China to American diplomats and journalists, President Donald Trump in December 2018 signed into law a bill denying visas to Chinese officials responsible for blocking entry to the Beijing-ruled Himalayan region.

The Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act of 2018 requires the U.S. Secretary of State to identify Chinese officials responsible for excluding U.S. citizens, including Americans of Tibetan ethnic origin, from China’s Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), and then ban them from entering the United States.

The law also requires the State Department to provide to the Congress each year a list of U.S. citizens blocked from entry to Tibet.

Earlier, during the ICT forum, both Brownback and McGovern had encouraged young Tibetan Americans to advocate for Tibet by applying for internships in U.S. government offices and become active in campaigns for their ancestral homeland.

Series of measures

The TPSA is the latest in a series of measures Congress has taken to hold China accountable for rights abuses in Tibet and in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), where authorities are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a network of some 1,300 internment camps since April 2017.

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 413-1 via proxy to approve the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 following the bill’s passage in the Senate in mid-May, marking the first legislation by any government to target China for its persecution of Uyghurs in the XUAR.

The act would sanction Chinese government officials responsible for arbitrary incarceration, forced labor and other abuses in the region, condemn the CCP for the camp system, and require regular monitoring of the situation in the region by U.S. government bodies for the application of sanctions once signed into law by Trump.

Reported by RFA’s Tibetan Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.