Guest columnist Thondup Tsering: Tibet — Time for the United States to assert its values


Published: 09-14-2023 6:14 PM

The recent announcement by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken of the imposition of visa restrictions on officials from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) for their involvement in the forcible assimilation of Tibetan children is a welcome step in the right direction. However, such sporadic approaches have failed to resolve the vexed Sino-Tibet issue.

Alarmingly, since 2010, no formal dialogue has occurred between representatives of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the PRC officials.

The U.S. must reevaluate its Tibet policy, steering toward one that resonates with truth, underlines human rights, and adheres to international law. A new bill, H.R.533/S.138, “Promoting a Resolution to the Tibet-China Conflict Act,” attempts to just do that. U.S. Reps. Jim McGovern and Michael McCaul, the bill’s sponsors, aptly stated in an op-ed for The Diplomat, “Countering China’s false narrative on Tibet demands innovative solutions to counteract misinformation.” Echoing this, Sen. Jeff Merkley emphasized that U.S. values of freedom and self-determination should define global relationships.

In the 118th Congress, on Jan. 26, McGovern introduced “Promoting a Resolution to the Tibet-China Conflict Act” as a supplement to the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush. This bipartisan, bicameral legislation, supported by Republican Sen. Todd Young of Indiana and Democat Merkley of Oregon, aims to strengthen the United States’ promotion of dialogue between the PRC and the Dalai Lama, or Central Tibetan Administration, thereby seeking a peaceful resolution to the issue of Tibet.

As of Sept. 9, even though the bill was introduced over seven months ago, it has garnered only 34 co-sponsors in the House and a mere four in the Senate.

I would like to spotlight four key provisions of the bill that, if passed, would markedly bolster the current U.S. stance on Tibet.

Right to self-determination: The bill recognizes the Tibetan right to self-determination as endorsed by international treaties; a right China has persistently denied. As McGovern and McCaul note, every key decision in Tibet is made by Chinese Communist Party officials.

Tibet’s legal status: It asserts that the Tibet-China conflict remains unresolved, and its legal status remains to be determined under international law.

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China’s reluctance for dialogue: Between 2002 and 2010, 10 rounds of talks were held between the PRC and the representatives of the Dalai Lama but failed to produce any breakthrough. Furthermore, China’s demand — that the Dalai Lama acknowledge Tibet as part of China since ancient times — has stalled dialogues since January 2010.

Debunking China’s historical claim: The bill gains greater significance when it challenges China’s ancient claim over Tibet. The bill states that “the United States Government has never taken the position that Tibet was a part of China since ancient times,” thereby acknowledging that Tibet was separate from China.

A notable instance is the 1943 mission of U.S. intelligence agents to Tibet. Ilia Tolstoy and Brooke Dolan journeyed to Tibet bearing a letter and a Patek Philippe watch — a gift from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt for His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Their mission aimed to obtain the Tibetan government’s consent to build a route stretching from India to China via Tibet, enabling the U.S. to supply China in its resistance against the Japanese.

Reinforcing this historical context, the bill explicitly cites seven documents between Jan. 9, 1919 and Feb. 14, 1963, where U.S. government documents identified Tibet as separate and distinct from China.

In a world that grapples with evolving geopolitical tensions, it is paramount for nations to stand unyielding on principles that champion human rights and global harmony. The Tibet-China conflict is not just a regional dispute but a litmus test for the international community’s commitment to justice and equity.

As the torchbearer of democracy, the U.S. is presented with a defining moment. Passing the “Promoting a Resolution to the Tibet-China Conflict Act” is not merely a legislative action but a monumental stance for freedom, justice, and a rule-based global order. To echo McGovern, “human rights are non-negotiable.” The 118th Congress has the duty and the power to etch an indelible mark on history. The time to act is now.

Thondup Tsering is a former board member of the Regional Tibetan Association of Western Massachusetts and works at the University of Massachusetts. He is a current member of the 17th Tibetan Parliament in Exile, representing Tibetans from North/South Americas. He lives in Belchertown.