The US Congress Passes “Resolve Tibet Act”, Reopens Debate on Tibet’s Autonomy

  • The overwhelming approval of the “Resolve Tibet Act” in the US Congress can be regarded as an important stage of the fight for Tibetan self-determination.
  • The Act improves the support the US provides to Tibetans, such as identifying the Chinese officials who should be penalised if they meddle in the selection of the next Dalai Lama.
  • Tibetan leaders and bureaucrats residing in the USA have denounced Chinese actions in Tibet, charging them with cultural imperialism.

Tibet has again come to the world limelight after the Congress of United States passed the “Resolve Tibet Act”. This piece of legislation disputes Beijing’s takeover of Tibet and supports peaceful negotiations between the Chinese leadership and the Dalai Lama. The nature of the bill and its outcome waiting for approval from President Biden has drawn the interest of international society on how it will affect the US-China relationship and the future of the autonomy of Tibet. Importantly, the Act was approved by a very large margin in the US House of Representatives: 391 in support against 26 against it. This development stands as testimony to the strategic importance of Tibet which is characterized by a rich historical past and a pluralistic cultural profile.

Tibet has always been an important geographical position and cultural character of China. The region fell under the Qing dynasty of China in 1720 after the defeat of the Dzungar Khanate forces. Tibet was still under the protection of the Qing Dynasty up to 1912 and after that, the Republic of China took over sovereignty based on the inheritance of the Qing dynasty over Tibet. The turning point in the history of Tibet began in 1950 when the People’s Liberation Army of China moved into Tibet and unilaterally signed the Seventeen Point Agreement the next year. This treaty forcefully integrated Tibet into the People’s Republic of China even though it was met with opposition from the Tibetan people.

It climaxed in the revolt in 1959 whereby the 14th Dalai Lama, the religious leader of Tibet was forced to flee to India. Since then, Tibet has been officially referred to as the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) by China and it has continued to be governed by the Chinese administration. Formally incorporated into China in 1965, the TAR quickly became a site of cultural and political contestations. While the international community does support Tibetan independence, this remains a political hot potato in relations between China and abroad.

Over the years, the Chinese Government has tactically moved to gain a firmer grip on Tibet; firstly, the shifting from the term ‘Tibet’ to its Mandarin equivalent, Xizang. This is part of a larger strategy by Xi Jinping’s administration to fully integrate Tibet into the rest of China. At the same time, geologists have described that the top of the Indian tectonic plate is also splitting and bending due to the ongoing shifts under the Himalayan region. However, this geological phenomenon does not imply a political divide in most cases in the world.

Present-day Tibetan leaders and bureaucrats residing in the USA have denounced Chinese actions in Tibet, charging them with cultural imperialism. International concern for the Tibetan cause is also witnessed by the recent United States policies and diplomatic ventures with the Tibetan leadership. However, this and other tensions as well as the endorsements of the autonomy of Tibet should not be misconstrued as the fact that Tibet is slowly moving towards achieving political independence from China. The situation is still ambiguous in this regard; however, China has remained very clear in banning any form of ‘splittism’.

The recent activities of the US Congress such as the passage of the “Resolve Tibet Act” point to an increasingly active supportive position in the rightful cause of Tibet. The Act seeks to improve the support the US provides to Tibetans, such as identifying the Chinese government officials who should be subjected to penalties if they meddle in the selection of the next Tibetan Buddhist leader, the future Dalai Lama. The Act empowers the State Department officials to actively and directly counter disinformation about Tibet from the Chinese government, rejecting false claims that Tibet has been part of China since “ancient times,” pushing for negotiations without preconditions between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama or his representatives or the democratically elected leaders of the Tibetan community and affirming the State Department’s responsibility to coordinate with other governments in multilateral efforts toward the goal of a negotiated agreement on Tibet. Members of Congress are expected to continue pressing for the bill called the “Promoting a Resolution to the Tibet-China Conflict Act,” which will challenge China to resume a dialogue with representatives of the Dalai Lama regarding the destiny of Tibet.

The recent US government spending bill also set aside $23 million to fund Tibetan support initiatives, which demonstrates a strong political interest in the issue. This financial backing establishes the bicameral support in the US to contest China’s authority over Tibet and provoke diplomatic talks between the Chinese leadership and the Tibetan exiles without prejudice. The question arises as to whether Congress will step up its support for Tibetans: as Senator Jeff Merkley noted, “The people of Tibet have the right to decide their future.”

While diplomacy seeking a solution to the Tibet issue is still an ongoing process, the overall impacts on religious and ethnic groups in the rest of the world need to be apprehended. The religious minorities of Tibet are suppressed and persecuted; Hindus, Christians and Muslims are not free in their practice of worship. The Chinese government continues to have a negative stance on issues concerning culture and religion which has seen a negative effect on not only Tibetans but also other ethnic groups in China.

This means that, although Hindus form a tiny fraction of the overall Tibet population, they face issues affecting their freedom of worship and the right to practice their culture. Comparing the overall picture of minorities in China illustrates that the case observed is a part of the systematic violation of minority rights and prejudice. Extremists have targeted people of other religions hence limiting their freedom to practice their religions, forcing people to convert to their religion and attacking their religious institutions. The protection of minority rights in China has however been a contentious issue for the international community where they have pressed for change but the Chinese government has come out strong to resist such demands.

In conclusion, the approval of the “Resolve Tibet Act” in the US Congress can be regarded as an important stage of the fight for Tibetan self-determination. If one looks at what has been happening in Tibet one will find that the issues of minority and cultural plight will always be relevant. Namely, the fact that Tibet people are being supported by the members of the world community, the USA in particular, shows that people do care about human rights and do not approve of despotic policies. The future of Tibet is closely tied with many specific positions, and different from other regions, it will remain a top issue of interest for further international politics.

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