Current Affairs

‘Tibet returns as fulcrum point between US and China’

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  • Categories
    World Affairs
  • Published
    28th Dec, 2020
  • Context

    Needling China, the US Congress passed The Tibetan Policy and Support Act (TPSA) to step up US support to Tibetans.

  • Background

    • The TSPA is an amended version of the Tibet Policy Act of 2002, which came into existence during the Bush Administration.
    • Over 60 years ago, the 14th Dalai Lama was forced into exile by the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) full-scale military takeover of Tibet.
    • To this very day, the Chinese Communist Party uses propaganda, violence, and oppression to assert totalitarian control over Tibet and the Tibetan people.
    • The CCP sees Tibet culture and their religious heritage as a threat to its control.
    • Now, the TPSA sends a loud and clear message to China that Tibet remains a priority for the United States and that it will continue its steadfast support for His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration.
    • It recognizes the cultural and religious significance of an autonomous Tibet and seeks peaceful solutions to the conflict. 
  • Analysis

    What is the Tibetan Policy and Support Act, 2020?

    • The Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2020 is part of a massive USD 2.3 trillion package for the year-end bill to provide long-delayed coronavirus relief and fund the federal government, modifies and reauthorises various programmes and provisions related to Tibet.
    • Built on the landmark Tibetan Policy Act of 2002, the TPSA addresses Tibetan-
      • human rights
      • environmental rights
      • religious freedoms
      • the democratic Tibetan government in exile
  • Major highlights of the Act

    • Religious Freedom: China is determined to dictate how Tibetans in Tibet practise their religion. The TPSA makes it an official US policy that only the Tibetan community has the right to appoint Tibetan Buddhist leaders.
    • Assistance to non-governmental organizations: It authorises assistance to non-governmental organisations in support of Tibetan communities in Tibet.
    • Office of Special Coordinator: The Act re-authorises the Office of the US Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues and expands the office’s duties to include additional tasks, such as pursuing international coalitions to ensure that the next Dalai Lama is appointed solely by the Tibetan Buddhist faith community.
    • Restriction on new Chinese consulate: The Act directs the Secretary of State not to open a new Chinese consulate in the US unless China allows the opening of an American consulate in Lhasa.
    • Environment monitoring: Expressing concern over the exploitation of natural resources of Tibet, in particular water, the Act seeks to pursue collaborative efforts with Chinese and international scientific institutions to monitor the environment on the Tibetan Plateau, including glacial retreat, temperature rise, and carbon levels, in order to promote a greater understanding of the effects on permafrost, river flows, grasslands and desertification, and the monsoon cycle.
    • Financial assistance: The bill approves-
      • USD 1 million per annum for the Special US Coordinator on Tibet
      • USD 675,000 towards scholarship provisions
      • USD 575,000 for scholar exchange initiatives
      • USD 8 million for the Tibetan Autonomous Region and Communities in China
      • USD6 million for Tibetans living in India
      • USD 3 million for Tibetan governance
  • The Dalai Lama Factor

    • The Act reaffirms the right of Tibetans to choose a successor to their spiritual leader.
    • The TPSA makes it an official US policy that decisions regarding the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama are exclusively within the authority of the current Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhist leaders, and the Tibetan people.
    • Any interference by Chinese government officials will be met with serious sanctions and deemed inadmissible into the United States.
    • It expands the role of a special diplomat on Tibetan issues to pursue international coalitions to ensure that the next Dalai Lama is appointed solely by the Tibetan Buddhist community.

    14th Dalai Lama

    • The incumbent and the 14th Dalai Lama has been living in exile in India ever since his 1959 escape from Tibet, which had been occupied by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in 1950-51.
    • He has been leading the movement for “genuine autonomy” for Tibet and Tibetans.
  • Opposing views

    United States

    • Noting that the 14th Dalai Lama advocates the Middle Way Approach, which seeks genuine autonomy for the six million Tibetans in Tibet, the Act says that the Dalai Lama has overseen a process of democratisation within the Tibetan polity and devolved his political responsibilities to the elected 23 representatives of the Tibetan people in exile in 2011.


    • Beijing views the 14th Dalai Lama as a “separatist” working to split Tibet from China.
    • As of now, the Act says, the Central Tibetan Administration is the institution that represents and reflects, to the greatest extent, the aspirations of the Tibetan diaspora around the world, and Sikyong is the President of the Central Tibetan Administration.
  • What is China’s take on the Bill?

    • China strongly opposed the bill.
    • The country claimed that issues involving Tibet, Taiwan and Hong Kong “concern China's sovereignty and territorial integrity,” and urged the U.S. to “stop meddling in Beijing’s internal affairs.” 

    The country profile

    • Tibet, the remote and mainly-Buddhist territory known as the "roof of the world", is governed as an autonomous region of China.
    • Tibet has been occupied and ruled by China since 1951 in “a calculated and systematic strategy aimed at the destruction of their national and cultural identities.”
    • Beijing claims a centuries-old sovereignty over the Himalayan region.
    • But the allegiances of many Tibetans lie with the exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, seen by his followers as a living god, but by China as a separatist threat.
    • Tibet has internationally been recognised as one of the most unstable regions in the world, constantly featuring among the top targets of human rights violations.
    • Economy: Tibet's economy depends largely on agriculture. Forests and grasslands occupy large parts of the country. The territory is rich in minerals, but poor transport links have limited their exploitation. Tourism is an important revenue earner.
    • Buddhism: Buddhism reached Tibet in the seventh century.
      • The Dalai Lama, or Ocean of Wisdom, is the leading spiritual figure
      • The Panchen Lama is the second most important figure.
    • Both are seen as the reincarnations of their predecessors.
  • The Indian Connection

    • The 14th Dalai Lama continues to be in exile, in the upper reaches of Dharamshala town in the state of Himachal Pradesh, and Tibetans operate a Government-in-exile from there.
    • While it allows Tibetans to live and work freely in the country, India has been careful so far to not play the ‘Tibetan’ card.
    • However, China’s acts of aggression this year in eastern Ladakh has some in India wondering whether New Delhi should adopt a more active Tibet policy.
    • To that extent, India may consider a more coordinated approach with western nations, especially the US, on the critical issue of the successor to the 14th Dalai Lama.
    • It may be time for New Delhi to work out a strategy in close consultation with the Tibetan government-in-exile and by keeping the US in the loop.
  • Is China’s India policy influenced by Tibet?

    • The Tibetan Policy and Support Act (TPSA) is an important strategic development for India too. 
    • Tibet has always been a thorn in the side of Sino-Indian relations.
    • India’s harbouring of the Dalai Lama and more than 150,000 Tibetan refugees has always evoked an angry response from China.
    • To a large degree, China’s India policy has been shaped by its interests in Tibet.
    • The Chinese do not want to accept the fact that Tibet and India have had traditional relations that neighbours have.
    • The most sacred sites of Hinduism, Kailash and Mansarovar, are in Tibet and, till the 1950s, a great deal of convergence, even between China and Tibet was through the port of Kolkata (then Calcutta).
    • The fact that the Dalai Lama has taken refuge in India has deepened the Chinese unease about the role of New Delhi, not just in ongoing affairs, but also on his future re-incarnation plans.
    • In part this is what drives the Chinese demand that the minimum condition for a border settlement would be India conceding Tawang, with its famous monastery, built in the seventeenth century at the instance of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama.
  • Wrapping Up

    For the first time, a country has formally recognised Tibet as ‘an occupied country’. This resolution has clearly irked China. The China-US relations reached the worst phase this year with sharpening disputes between the two countries over human rights especially in Tibet, and a host of other issues. Now, the House has sent a strong message with the passage of resolutions calling for the end of China’s human rights abuses. Moreover, this resolution is going to be followed by the new Biden Administration as well.

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