United States Passes Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2020

On 21 December 2020, it was announced that United States President Trump officially signed the Tibetan Policy and Support Act (H.R.4331 / S.2539), thus solidifying America’s stance on supporting the Tibetan government and the religious and cultural rights of Tibetan Buddhists. Among the most notable provisions of the new act is the following:

“(2)(D) by adding at the end the following: (3) the steps taken by the United States Government to promote the human rights and distinct religious, cultural, linguistic, and historical identity of the Tibetan people, including the right of the Tibetan people to select, educate, and venerate their own religious leaders in accordance with their established religious practice and system.”

For decades, the issue of the Tibetan Dalai Lama has drawn international attention. In 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, then 24 years old, was forced by Chinese soldiers to escape Tibet and relocate permanently. At the time, the Tibetan Rebellion (a.k.a. Tibetan Uprising) was well underway, as people flocked to the streets to declare Tibet’s independence from China; though, Chinese forces responded with bloodshed and revenge, insisting that Tibet would remain a strategic part of China. For some 60 years, the Dalai Lama has lived in exile in India while, from afar, he remains the prominent spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists despite China’s attempts to curb his influence. The Chinese government has even committed to choosing the Dalai Lama’s successor, thus contravening the religious liberties and customs of Tibetan Buddhism.

The new Act [text] additionally calls for the establishment of a United States Consulate in Lhasa, Tibet, for American engagement in the region, and introduces a new United States Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, who will “oppose any effort by the Government of the People’s Republic of China to select, educate, and venerate Tibetan Buddhist religious figures in a manner inconsistent with Tibetan Buddhism.” The United States, according to the new Act, may also level Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act sanctions of Chinese officials “who are responsible for, complicit in, or have directly or indirectly engaged in the identification or installation of a candidate chosen by China as the future 15th Dalai Lama of Tibetan Buddhism.”

Other notable points in this new Act are: “inserting the following: (3) neither provide incentive for, nor facilitate the involuntary or coerced relocation of, Tibetan nomads from their traditional pasture lands into concentrated settlements; (5) foster self-sufficiency and self-reliance of Tibetans; (6) respect human rights and Tibetan culture and traditions;”

The United States’ and President Trump’s official passage of the Tibetan Policy and Support Act has been met with praise from the Tibetan community and the international human rights committee:

I commend President Trump for signing this important bill into law. It enacts a much-needed upgrade to existing U.S. policy on Tibet and sends a strong message to the Chinese Communist Party that it must respect the religious freedom of the Tibetan people, particularly the right of the Tibetan Buddhist community in the selection of a successor to His Holiness the Dalai Lama without government interference.” – USCIRF Commissioner Gary Bauer

“The Tibetan Policy and Support Act offers strong support to the persecuted Tibetan Buddhist community. Coupled with existing sanctions and visa restrictions, the U.S. government will hold accountable any Chinese officials who implement or enforce repressive policies that violate religious freedom and other human rights in China, including in Tibet. I strongly urge the current and incoming administration to implement this law to its fullest extent.” – USCIRF Commissioner Nury Turkel

“This legislation sends a powerful message of hope and justice to the Tibetans inside Tibet and bolsters US support for the protection of Tibetan people’s religious freedom, human rights, environmental rights and exile Tibetan democracy like never before. On behalf of the CTA [Central Tibetan Administration] and 6 million Tibetans, I extend deepest gratitude to President Trump for signing the profoundly historic bill. I would also like [to] thank once again the US Congress for passing the bill, especially the bill sponsors Senators Marco Rubio and Ben Cardin; and Congressman Jim McGovern and Chris Smith for introducing [it] in the House and Senate. Thanks to everyone who contributed to making this a reality.” – Dr. Lobsang Sangay, President of Central Tibetan Administration

Unsurprisingly, however, the Chinese government has taken to public media to condemn the United States’ actions:

“This act will seriously disrupt and hurt China-US relations. The Chinese government firmly resolves to safeguard national sovereignty and security….” “We urge the U.S. side to stop exploiting relevant issues to interfere in China’s internal affairs, and take no actions to implement articles in the Act that target China and hurt China’s interests, so as to avoid further damaging China-U.S. cooperation and long-term development of bilateral relationship.” – Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian

Jubilee Campaign welcomes the United States’ passage of the Tibetan Policy and Support Act, and we encourage the full implementation of its articles in order to eliminate all religious intolerance and persecution of the Tibetan Buddhists.

Cover image by Riccardo Maria Mantero on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)