President Donald Trump could deliver one more blow to the Chinese government before he leaves office, if he signs a law on Tibet that will bar China from controlling how the next Dalai Lama is appointed.
The US Congress on Tuesday passed amendments to the official policy on Tibet granting Washington powers to impose economic and visa sanctions against Chinese officials if they interfere with the succession of the Dalai Lama, the highest spiritual head of the Tibetan community.
Under the Tibetan Policy and Support Act (TPSA), Washington will precondition any further opening of Chinese consulates on US soil to Beijing allowing Americans to open a diplomatic outpost in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, an autonomous region of China in the Himalayas.
The bill was passed on Tuesday after a bipartisan support by both the Republicans and Democrats, to ensure more US support for Tibetans especially on cultural and environmental issues.
It was an amendment to the $900 billion relief package for Covid-19 response. But the inclusion of Tibet and regulation on Dalai Lama succession could anger China. Considered the living Buddha, the Dalai Lama is expected to reincarnate after death.
But China considers the current Dalai Lama as a political head of a separatist group. Since 1959, he has lived in exile in Kirti Monastery in Dharamshala in India, from where he still advocates for autonomy for Tibetans, gives religious lectures and meeting international leaders. By policy, Beijing often criticises those who engage with the Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate 31 years ago.
The bill was passed after intense lobbying by Lobsang Sangay, the President of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), an exiled government of Tibet, who stayed in Washington during the debate.
Lobsang last month became the first CTA leader to visit White House in 60 years where he met with the US Special Coordinator for Tibetan issues, Robert Destro.
Trump, unlike Obama, never met with the Dalai Lama in his term. Trump, however, appointed a human rights envoy for Tibet for the first time in seven years.
“By passing the TPSA, Congress has sent its message loud and clear 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 CTA,” Lobsang told the official CTA website on Wednesday.
“It is a momentous landmark for the Tibetan people.”
The new law is an upgrade from the previous Tibetan Policy by expanding to issues such as religious and human rights and water security for the region after China decided to erect a hydropower station in Tibetan plateaus.
If Trump signs the bill into law, the TPSA will see Washington allocate at least $8 million for Tibetan communities in the region, another $6 million to those in India and Nepal, $3 million to strengthen the government in exile and another $7.4 million on Radio Free Asia and Voice of America’s reporting on Tibet.