Sunday, June 23, 2024

Bill in US Congress Stands In the Way of China Trying to Rewrite History of Tibet

Washington, DC – A Bill titled ”Promoting a Resolution to the Tibet – China Conflict Act” introduced in the US Congress will now stand in the way of the Chinese attempt to rewrite the history of Tibet. The bipartisan Bill, introduced by Democrat Representative from Massachusetts Jim McGovern and Republican Representative from Texas Michael McCaul, is expected to enjoy the support of the Democrats and the Republicans in Congress.

The legislation seeks to promote dialogue between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Dalai Lama toward a peaceful resolution of the conflict between Tibet and the PRC. The movers of the Bill point out that no formal dialogue has occurred between the Dalai lama or his representatives and the PRC since 2010. Chinese officials continue to make unreasonable demands of the Dalai Lama as a condition for further dialogue.

All that the Dalai Lama, an apostle of peace and non-violence, wants now is meaningful autonomy for Tibet. He is not pressing now for complete independence of Tibet from China.

Representative McGovern has said that the bipartisan US policy of promoting dialogue is based on the principles of international law and accurately reflects the nature of the conflict between Tibet and the PRC. Representative McCaul has made the US position clear that the People’s Liberation Army of China invaded Tibet in 1950. China has unleashed repression in Tibet ever since and committed territorial aggression and human rights atrocities. The bipartisan Bill seeks to ensure that Tibetans have a say in their own future and rejects the propaganda of the Communist Party of China that their tyranny over Tibet is historically legitimate.

The proposed Act has two main components: to strengthen the US position that the conflict between Tibet and the PRC is unresolved and the legal status of Tibet remains to be determined per international law; and to counter the disinformation about Tibet from PRC officials, disinformation about the history of Tibet, the Tibetan people, and Tibetan institutions, including the Dalai Lama.

According to analysts, the Bill emphasizes that China has occupied Tibet illegally for more than six decades and carried out a disinformation campaign that Tibet has been a part of China since ancient times.

There can be no dispute that when the People’s Liberation Army of China marched into Lhasa in 1950, Tibet was an independent country, controlling its foreign policy and guarding its own border. There had been no Chinese presence in Tibet since 1912, when the 13th Dalai Lama returned from exile in India. There was a considerable British presence in the Tibet plateau ever since the Younghusband expedition of 1904. Till their departure from the Indian sub-continent, the British army was present in Tibet, along with British trade representatives, an infrastructure for trading, and a telecommunication network run by British technicians. When the British left in 1947, they handed over the trading infrastructure and the telecommunication network to the Indian government. There was also a presence of the Indian army on the plateau, as escorts in Yatung and Gyantse. Trusting the Chinese naively, however, under the spirit of the Panchsheel Agreement, India had subsequently withdrawn its army and trade representatives from the plateau and handed over the telecommunication infrastructure to the Chinese.

The religious leaders of Tibet had a close relationship with the rulers of Mongolia, which has been described as a ”patron – priest relationship.” The Fifth Dalai Lama had taken the help of Mongol rulers in unifying Tibet and establishing a strong administration. This had nothing to do with Chinese sovereignty over Tibet. The recorded history of Tibet clearly shows that the Chinese presence had increased during a Dalai Lama’s infancy when the administration was under regents’ control and waned when a Dalai Lama was in complete control.

A Central Tibetan Administration publication titled “Middle Way Policy and All Recent Related Documents” says the ”patron – priest relationship” between China and Tibet has been misrepresented in different ways with a political motive. During the reign of the Sixth and the Seventh Dalai Lama, due to internal rivalry between Tibetan leaders and Mongol interference, Tibetans were compelled to seek help from the emperors of China. During the Gorkha invasion at the end of the 17th century, Tibetans were forced to seek military assistance from the Chinese emperor, according to the publication.

But China had never exercised sovereign powers over Tibet before 1950. At best, China had exercised loose control, which scholars have defined by the term “suzerainty.” China had been represented in Lhasa by an ”Amban” in some periods of the history of Tibet. Encyclopedia Britannica describes an ”Amban” as the representative of the Chinese emperor who lived in the territory of a dependency. But in 1904, the ”Amban” could not force the Tibetans to sign a trade treaty with the British. “The Amban said he was powerless to negotiate for the Tibetans, an admission that called into question the degree of control China exercised over Tibet.”

The CTA publication says: “The British government engaged directly with Tibet when it served their purpose, and they accepted Chinese suzerainty over Tibet when dealing directly with Tibet did not serve their interest. Due to these self-contradictory positions of the British government, the status of Tibet remained unclear at the international level.” In any case, situated between China and India, Tibet served as a peaceful buffer zone until the Chinese annexation of Tibet. The border between China and India has been riddled with military conflicts ever since.

The Middle Way Policy of the 14th Dalai Lama seeks genuine autonomy for Tibet, not independence from China. It seeks self-governance by Tibetans in areas like language, culture, religion, education, and environmental protection. Analysts say the Chinese leadership is particularly reluctant to offer Tibetans autonomy in pursuing their religious beliefs. The head of the religious hierarchy of Tibetans is the Dalai Lama, who commands the immense respect and allegiance of all Tibetans. Leaders of the Communist Party of China know that as long as the institution of the Dalai Lama is alive, the Chinese stranglehold on Tibet will never be complete.

Now with the 14th Dalai Lama reaching an advanced age, the Chinese leadership is keen to deny Tibetans the opportunity to have a Dalai Lama of their own choice and impose on the Tibetans a Dalai Lama who would serve the interest of China. The second most important reincarnate Lama in the Tibetan religious hierarchy, the 11th Panchen Lama is already under the control of Beijing. The 11th Panchen Lama, who the current Dalai Lama had recognized, has been whisked away by China and his whereabouts are unknown. Instead, Beijing has imposed on the Tibetans the 11th Panchen Lama of their own choice.

In an order in 2007 dealing with the ground rules for the choice of a reincarnated lama, the Religious Affairs Department of the Chinese government proclaimed that prior approval of the department must be taken to install a reincarnated lama on the spiritual seat. Also, the Lama must not be under the domination of any foreign organization and must uphold the principle of unification of the state. In a message in 2011, the Dalai Lama denounced this order of 2007, calling it an attempt to destroy the religious traditions of Tibet. He said that the recognition of the 15th Dalai Lama must be the responsibility of the Dalai Lama’s Gaden Phodrang Trust.

If Beijing chooses to override the feelings of the Tibetan people all over the world and thrusts on the Tibetans a Dalai Lama of its own choice, it would also have to reckon with the provisions of the tough Tibetan Policy and Support Act. Passed by the US Congress in 2020 when Donald Trump was President, this Act “establishes as a US Policy that the succession or reincarnation of Tibetan Buddhist leaders, including a future 15th Dalai Lama, is a religious matter reserved exclusively for the Tibetan Buddhist community.” The Act also “authorizes the use of existing sanctions for Chinese officials who interfere in the process of recognizing reincarnations or the succession of Tibetan Buddhist leaders including a future 15th Dalai Lama.” The Act also makes provisions for funds for projects supporting Tibetan communities in areas like sustainable economic development, cultural preservation, and education. It requires the State Department to seek to establish a US consulate in Lhasa, establish a Tibet section in the US embassy in Beijing, make efforts to secure water security in Tibet, and encourage Nepal to provide legal documentation to certain Tibetan residents in Nepal.

With the US Congress taking up the cause of the Tibetan people with legislations like the Tibetan Policy and Support Act and the Bill “Promoting a Resolution to the Tibet – China Conflict Act,” Tibetans around the world have gained confidence that Beijing would be compelled to start the process of granting meaningful autonomy to people living in Tibet and stop interfering in their religious issues.

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