South China Morning Post: First Xinjiang, then Hong Kong … now US turns human rights attention to Tibet

  • Congressional committee endorses bill supporting right of Tibetan Buddhist community to choose the Dalai Lama
  • Committee chairman says Chinese officials will be held accountable if they interfere in the process

Topic |   US-China relations

Simone McCarthy


Washington has angered Beijing in recent months with a flurry of legislation targeting China’s treatment of human rights in

Xinjiang   and Hong Kong . Tibet is now joining the list.

The US House of Representatives’ foreign affairs committee on Wednesday approved a bill calling for stronger US support for religious and

human rights in Tibet , a step on the way to it becoming law.

Known as the Tibet Policy and Support Act of 2019, the bill is expected to go to the House for a full vote, although a date has not been set.

US lawmakers have introduced legislation in recent months to allow for sanctions on individuals involved in the mass detention of at least a million members of Muslim minorities in China’s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. And after months of anti-government protests in Hong Kong, the United States passed similar legislation targeting individuals or groups seen as impinging on human rights in the city.

The main stipulation in the Tibet legislation is for the Tibetan Buddhist community to choose the next

Dalai Lama  spiritual leader, while Beijing says the candidate should be chosen in accordance with religious rules and customs but also endorsed by Chinese authorities.

“It is an unthinkable violation of the basic principles of religious freedom that the Chinese government would choose the religious leader for the Tibetan people, rather than allowing the Tibetan people to make this decision through their ancient and sacred traditions,” said the committee chairman, Representative Eliot Engel.

“If Chinese officials infringe on the religious freedoms of the Tibetan people in this manner we will hold them accountable.”

The act says that the succession of Tibetan Buddhist leaders is an exclusively religious matter that should be made solely by the Tibetan Buddhist community. It also calls for economic and visa-related sanctions on Chinese officials who try to appoint their own Dalai Lama in the future.

China hit back at the bill on Thursday, saying it violated international law and the basic norms of international relations, and “grossly interfered” in China’s internal affairs, while sending “false signals” to Tibetan independence movement.

“We urge the US to fully understand the high sensitivity of Tibet issues, to abide by the commitments made to China on Tibet issues, to stop using Tibet issues to interfere in China’s internal affairs, and to stop promoting related bills,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.

The bill also suggests that there should be no new Chinese consulates in the US until the United States has set up one in Lhasa, the region’s capital. The US government should work with other nations to support dialogue between Tibetan leaders and the Chinese government, it says.

The Dalai Lama fled Tibet 60 years ago after a failed uprising, and remains in exile in India.

The Tibetan Policy and Support Act would update a 2002 US law meant “to support the aspirations of the Tibetan people to safeguard their distinct identity”.

The new bill was prompted by concerns about the erosion of human rights in the region since then, according to the legislation’s sponsors, Representative Jim McGovern and Senator Marco Rubio.

The Office of Tibet in Washington said on Wednesday that the India-based Central Tibetan Administration appreciated the committee’s support.

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