By Owen Churchill, South China Morning Post, 19 September 2019, Read the original article here.
- Lawmakers would prohibit Beijing from opening any new consulates on American soil until the US is permitted to establish its own diplomatic office in Lhasa
- The bill introduced in the House of Representatives also lays out a path for punishing Chinese officials who interfere with the Dalai Lama’s succession plans
US lawmakers have unveiled new legislation that would prohibit Beijing from opening any new consulates on American soil until the US is permitted to establish its own diplomatic office in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa.
The bill, introduced in the House of Representatives by James McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat, also lays out a road map for punitive action against Chinese officials who interfere in the Dalai Lama’s succession.
The legislation was introduced on Friday but only made public this week; a companion piece of legislation in the Senate, led by Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, is expected in the coming days.
The law would “strengthen US support for the Tibetan people in their struggle for human rights, religious freedom and genuine autonomy”, McGovern said in a statement on Wednesday.
The bill’s condition that Beijing not be allowed to expand its diplomatic stations in the US until Washington can establish a consulate in Lhasa echoes the tit-for-tat nature of last year’s Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act.
Signed into law in December, that bill prohibited entry to the US of Chinese officials “substantially involved” in the formulation of policies that restricted foreigners’ access to Tibet. The entry ban would continue as long as Tibet access restrictions remained in place.
Beijing, which views other governments’ critiques of its Tibet policies as interference in its internal affairs, is likely to bristle at the prospect of a foreign consulate in the region, which is currently home to only one diplomatic station – Nepal’s.
“But they know that they have questions about legitimacy in Tibet,” said Tsering, who is vice-president of the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT). “They know that everything is not fine in Tibet.”
The new bill, the Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2019, is an amendment to the Tibet Policy Act of 2002, which codified in broad terms US government support for the Tibetan people.
Seventeen years later, supporters of the new legislation say that decreasing religious freedoms for Tibetans, rising concerns about water security and Beijing’s recent statements that the central government must approve the successor to the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader who turned 84 this year, call for an updated policy response from the US.
The new bill requires that the US administration consider any Chinese official who is “complicit in identifying or installing a government approved candidate” as Tibet’s spiritual leader, contrary to the current Dalai Lama’s instructions, to be subject to economic sanctions and prohibited from entering the US.
Beijing maintains that Tibetans are free to practice religion, provided that expressions of faith abide by regulations set out by the regional government.
“The religious and spiritual freedoms and normal religious activities of the masses are protected by law,” Wu Yingjie, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) chief of the Tibet autonomous region, said last Thursday at a press briefing in Beijing.
Many human rights groups outside China dispute that defence. For example, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in its 2019 annual report that the authorities in Tibet continued to “severely restrict religious freedom, speech, movement, and assembly”.
Meanwhile, Freedom House this year ranked Tibet as the second-least free region in the world, behind only civil war-ravaged Syria.
The Washington-based organisation gave Tibet scores of zero out of four for most of its metrics, including freedom to practice religion, freedom of assembly and due process in the rule of law.
“As far as the situation inside Tibet, it was bad 17 years ago, and it’s bad [now], if not worse,” said Lobsang Sangay, president of the Central Tibet Administration (CTA) – the Tibetan government-in-exile.
Sangay, who leads the CTA from its headquarters in northern India, was in Washington last week to encourage senators and representatives to sign on to the new legislation.
He also met with members of the Trump administration, though he declined to say exactly with whom the meetings were held.
Great meeting with Dr. Lobsang Sangay, President of the Central Tibetan Administration. It is a disgrace what China is doing to the people of Tibet as they’re being repressed more and more each year. We’ll continue to stand against China and with the people of Tibet.— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC)
Following a meeting with Sangay last Tuesday, Senator Lindsey Graham said it was a “disgrace what China is doing to the people of Tibet as they’re being repressed more and more each year”.
“We’ll continue to stand against China and with the people of Tibet,” the Republican from South Carolina said in a Twitter post.
Tibet had been a bipartisan issue in Washington for decades, Sangay said, “but to formalise it into a bill makes it into a more concrete and specific and updated policy”.
The legislation comes as Washington and Beijing remain locked in a trade dispute that has seen bilateral tensions spill out over multiple fronts.
The administration’s aggressive position on China has dovetailed with the views of an increasingly hawkish Congress, where the Senate last week passed a bill calling for sanctions against CCP officials over the mass internment of Uygurs and other minority groups in western China.
Also last week, lawmakers in the House introduced a bill that would prohibit the sale of tear gas and other crowd-control equipment to Hong Kong authorities amid ongoing clashes between police and pro-democracy protesters.
Yet while human rights concerns have guided multiple China-focused bills in the government’s congressional branch, US President Donald Trump has held back on such matters for fear of derailing trade talks, a source of worry for some in the Tibetan advocacy community.
“There is that concern that this administration may sacrifice Tibet and human rights in general when it comes to some kind of reaching [of] an understanding with China [on trade],” said the ICT’s Tsering.
As with many other State Department positions under the Trump administration, the role of special coordinator for Tibetan issues – established through the Tibet Policy Act of 2002 – has not been filled.
If passed, McGovern’s bill would expand the special coordinator’s diplomatic function, requiring the person to broker international coalitions to oppose restrictions on religious freedom in Tibet.
The legislation also includes provisions around water security in Tibet, where Chinese scientists have said temperatures on the Tibetan plateau have risen at a rate that is significantly higher than the global average.
The warming trend is accelerating glacial retreat and threatening the supply of fresh water to hundreds of millions of people in East and South Asia, the scientists said.
Under the new legislation, the US would be required to collaborate with China in monitoring such environmental challenges and encourage Beijing to work with regional nations to mitigate the downstream effects of its expanding hydropower projects in Tibet.
With the US drawing attention to water security, Asian countries may be encouraged to engage with Beijing on Tibet, having previously been hesitant to do so because of the autonomous region’s politicisation, Tsering said.
“But water is one area where they can take it up without going into the politics of it,” he said.