Washington Post: U.S. lawmakers support Dalai Lama amid questions over Tibet’s future

Washington Post: U.S. lawmakers support Dalai Lama amid questions over Tibet’s future

The U.S. delegation gave the Dalai Lama a framed copy of the Resolve Tibet Act that was passed by Congress last week and represents a shift in U.S. policy toward Tibet.

Gerry Shih and Shibani Mahtani

Published: June 20, 2024

NEW DELHI — A bipartisan U.S. congressional delegation made rare calls for Tibetan self-determination on Indian soil during a visit to the Dalai Lama’s Himalayan home on Wednesday, as speculation mounts over Tibet’s future.

The question of who will succeed the 88-year-old Dalai Lama — and how he or she will be chosen — has intensified in recent years amid reports of the exiled Tibetan monk’s declining health and increasingly rare public appearances.

The Communist Party-led Chinese government, which rules Tibet as an autonomous region, has insisted that it holds the power to effectively choose the Dalai Lama’s successor, a claim rejected by most Tibetans.

Senior monks in Tibet, a deeply religious Buddhist region, have traditionally identified a child as the reincarnation of the leader following the previous Dalai Lama’s death. The 14th and current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, has said he or a committee may choose a successor before he dies, and this successor may not be born inside China.

The Dalai Lama, who turns 89 in July, has long said that he may not be reincarnated at all, which would deny legitimacy to whomever Beijing chooses to be his successor in the eyes of many Tibetans.

The U.S. delegation, which was led by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) and included former House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), told reporters Wednesday that U.S. support for Tibet remains steadfast and urged Beijing to engage in “unconditional dialogue” with the Dalai Lama.

The legislators also presented to the Dalai Lama, at his home in Dharamshala, a framed copy of the Resolve Tibet Act that was passed by Congress last week and represents a shift in U.S. policy toward Tibet. It states that Washington believes the dispute between Tibet and China remains unresolved in accordance with international law, and it rejects China’s claim that the Tibet issue is an internal matter and that Tibet has been part of Chinese territory since “ancient times.” President Biden is expected to sign the bill into law.

For decades, official U.S. policy has recognized Tibet as part of China.

“It is still my hope that one day the Dalai Lama and his people will return to Tibet in peace,” McCaul told reporters following the meeting, according to Reuters. He added that the United States “will not let” Beijing play a role in the selection of the Dalai Lama’s successor.

The Chinese government, which considers the Dalai Lama a separatist, asked the United States to stop meddling in Xizang — the Chinese name for Tibet — while its state media called the trip a U.S. effort to “contain” China.

“Xizang affairs are China’s internal affairs,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lin Jian said Thursday ahead of the meeting. “We urge the U.S. to clearly see the sensitivity and importance of Xizang-related issues … and stop sending out wrong signals to the world.”

Tenzin Lekshay, a spokesman for the Central Tibetan Administration, the government in exile, said in comments to The Post that “there is a convergence of the free world in showing solidarity and support for Tibet,” including between India and the United States. He added that in particular the United States has been at the forefront, with many policies adopted for Tibet.

Lobsang Gyatso Sither, a member of the Tibetan parliament in exile and director of technology at the Tibet Action Institute, a Tibetan advocacy group, said the presentation of the Resolve Tibet Act, which would challenge Chinese claims that Tibet has long been part of China, was significant and showed that the United States is no longer cowed by the Chinese government’s warnings and outrage.

“This is China’s playbook, and the world has wisened to it,” he said. “This no longer works.”

Indian officials did not comment on the visit, but the U.S. delegation’s trip was notable given that foreign officials visiting India are usually not permitted to address the media, particularly on political or human rights issues deemed sensitive by the New Delhi government. Pelosi has addressed public audiences on previous visits to Dharamshala, including a visit in 2017, when she called for an “autonomous, authentic” Tibet. But she and other U.S. lawmakers went further on this visit in calling for Tibetan self-determination.

“The People’s Republic of China must respect the rights of the Tibetan people under international law, including their right to self-determination,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said in a speech. “This is about basic human dignity.”

“The comments on self-determination appear to be a major departure, and what that exactly means needs to be studied,” said Srikanth Kondapalli, an expert on India-China relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University. He added that India tends to be “cautious” about the Tibet issue compared with Washington because of its ongoing border dispute with China, which takes place precisely in the Himalayan highlands once controlled by the ancient Tibetan kingdom.

“One of the issues India is concerned about is the fallout over the territorial dispute and the military clashes,” Kondapalli said. “The U.S. doesn’t have a border with Tibet and China. It’s a luxury the United States has, unlike India.”

Following their Dharamshala visit, the U.S. delegation also held meetings in New Delhi with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and discussed the bilateral strategic relationship.


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