U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday signed into law a bill that pledges increased support for Tibetans, including by sanctioning Chinese officials if they try to appoint the next spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, prompting warnings from Beijing.
On Dec. 21, the U.S. Congress passed the Tibetan Policy and Support Act (TPSA) of 2020, a major bill strengthening U.S. support of Tibet through humanitarian projects and sanctions of Chinese abuses.
The passage of the Act prompted frustration in Beijing, with Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin telling a regular press briefing in the Chinese capital that the U.S. should “stop meddling in China’s internal affairs and refrain from signing into law these negative clauses and acts, lest it further harms our further cooperation and bilateral relations.”
On Monday, after Trump signed the Act into law, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian warned Washington against acting on the new legislation, which he said Beijing “firmly opposes.”
“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,” he said.
Articles of support
Introduced with bipartisan support in the House by Representatives James McGovern and Chris Smith, and in the Senate by Senators Marco Rubio and Ben Cardin, the legislation provides funding for Tibetan humanitarian and development assistance projects both inside and outside Tibet until at least 2025.
The TPSA also establishes 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 only by Tibetans, free from Chinese government interference.
Sanctions targeting Chinese officials attempting to name a new Dalai Lama are mandated under the Act.
Also included in the TPSA are measures that address water security and climate change issues in Tibet, as well as a requirement that China 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.
The Act was welcomed by Tibetan rights groups, including the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet, which said it would “dramatically upgrade U.S. support for Tibetans in key areas,” as well as present “a direct challenge to China’s continuing repression of the Tibetan people.”
Concerns over the advancing age of the Dalai Lama, now 85, have renewed uncertainties in recent years over his possible successor after he dies, with Beijing claiming the right to name his successor and the Dalai Lama himself saying that any future Dalai Lama will be born outside of China.
Tibetans remain bitter about Chinese intervention in the selection 25 years ago of the Panchen Lama, who died in 1989.
Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, was recognized on May 14, 1995 at the age of six as the 11th Panchen Lama, the reincarnation of his predecessor, the 10th Panchen Lama.
The recognition by exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama angered Chinese authorities, who three days later took the boy and his family into custody and then installed another boy, Gyaltsen (in Chinese, Gyaincain) Norbu, as their own candidate in his place.
The Panchen Lama installed by Beijing remains unpopular with Tibetans both in exile and at home.
On Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao said that the reincarnation of living Buddhas “comes with a set range of rituals and conventions,” and vowed that the system would be “respected and protected” by the government.
“The 14th Dalai Lama himself was found and recognized following religious rituals and historical conventions, and his succession was approved by the then central government,” he said.
“Therefore, reincarnation of living Buddhas including the Dalai Lama must comply with Chinese laws and regulations and follow religious rituals and historical conventions.”
Tibetan tradition holds that senior Buddhist monks and other respected religious leaders are reincarnated in the body of a child after they die.
Beijing has sought in recent years to control the identification of other Tibetan religious leaders, and says that the selection of the next Dalai Lama—who fled into exile in India following a failed 1959 Tibetan revolt against Chinese rule—must “comply with Chinese law,” while the Dalai Lama himself says that if he returns, his successor will be born in a country outside of Chinese control.
Formerly an independent nation, Tibet was invaded and incorporated into China by force nearly 70 years ago, following which the Dalai Lama and thousands of his followers fled into exile in in India and other countries around the world. Beijing has accused the Dalai Lama of fomenting separatism in Tibet.