Two key Congressional Committees have acted to save the Voice of America Tibetan Radio service from a proposed cut, and have continued funding for a number of programs that support Tibetan communities in Tibet and Tibetan refugees in South Asia.
“These bills demonstrate that Congress’ support for the Tibetan people remains rock solid,” said Todd Stein, Director of Government Relations at the International Campaign for Tibet. “At a time when every dime of spending receives extra scrutiny, Congress re-affirms that these Tibet programs are a worthwhile investment in Tibetan communities’ efforts to keep Tibetan culture and identity alive. It also shows the premium Congress puts on giving closed-off societies, like Tibet, access to independent sources of information.”
On May 17, the House Appropriations Committee approved its version of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 State-Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved its version on May 24. Under normal procedures, the bills would be considered this summer by the House and Senate, respectively, and reconciled into a final bill in the fall.
In the President’s proposed budget for FY2013, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) had sought to eliminate the Voice of America’s (VOA) Tibetan radio service, consolidating it with Radio Free Asia.
The House bill rejected this approach by directing continued funding and broadcast hours for the Tibetan language services at the current levels. It also provided $17 million more than the request for overall VOA operations. The Senate Committee also rejected the cut, and expressed concern that the cuts to East Asia broadcasting were not aligned with foreign policy priorities, referencing the Obama Administration’s “pivot toward Asia.”
The BBG’s proposed elimination of VOA Tibetan radio, revealed in February 2012, was criticized for cutting one of the only sources of independent and world news for Tibetans, at a time when Chinese authorities have imposed a near-blackout on communications inside Tibet during the ongoing crisis. On April 20, the BBG announced a “renewed strategy” that essentially rescinded the proposed cut.
Other Tibet programs that would receive funding under the two bills include: aid to preserve cultural traditions and promote sustainable development and environmental conservation in Tibetan communities on the Plateau; assistance for Tibetan refugees who seek refuge in India and transit through Nepal, Tibetan scholarship and exchange programs; the Office of the Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues; and the Tibet-related activities of the National Endowment for Democracy.