A new US law on Tibet sends an encouraging message to democracies around the globe about challenging China’s oppression of the Tibetan people, a European think tank says in a recent commentary.

In its commentary this month, the European Foundation for South Asian Studies says the enactment of the Tibetan Policy and Support Act in December was a “heartening sign.”

“The passage of the [TPSA] also has a message for other responsible democracies across the world,” the foundation says. “Till now, most other democracies that profess liberal values and respect for human rights have limited themselves to periodically and passingly mentioning the Tibet issue to visiting Chinese delegations.”

Tibetan Policy and Support Act

As the foundation notes, the TPSA directly confronts China over its repression inside Tibet, a historically independent country that China annexed more than 60 years ago.

Building on the groundbreaking Tibetan Policy Act of 2002, the TPSA will:

  • Make it official US policy that the selection of Tibetan Buddhist leaders—including a possible future Dalai Lama—should follow the desires of the Tibetan Buddhist community and the instructions of the current Dalai Lama without interference from the Chinese government
  • Sanction Chinese officials if they follow through on their threats to appoint their own Dalai Lama in the future. The State Department—which will now be led by new Secretary of State Antony Blinken following his confirmation by the Senate today, Jan. 26, 2021—must also work at the international level to build support for Tibetan Buddhists’ freedom to choose their own leaders
  • Forbid China from opening a new consulate in the US until it allows a US consulate in Lhasa, Tibet’s capital
  • Address water security and environmental issues in Tibet, which is warming nearly three times faster than the global average and provides water to more than 1 billion people in Asia
  • Formalize funding for humanitarian projects for Tibetans inside Tibet and in exile until at least 2025

Democracy and human rights

The TPSA also commends the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people for adopting a democratic form of governance in exile.

The act states that the Central Tibetan Administration represents the aspirations of Tibetans around the globe, and that the democratically elected sikyong is its president.

According to the foundation, “The formal acknowledgement by the US of the CTA, Tibet’s elected parliamentary government based in [Dharamsala], India, as the legitimate institution reflecting the aspirations of the Tibetan Diaspora around the world and the Sikyong as the President of the CTA is a major development.”

In turn, the foundation says, the TPSA could spur other democratic governments to take action for Tibet.

“It would be worth watching whether a few such democracies take the cue from the US and acknowledge the sufferings of the Tibetans more substantially,” the foundation says. “After all, respect for human rights can hardly be allowed to be subservient to the economic benefits of trading with China.”

Europe and India

The foundation notes that several European leaders have spoken up recently in support of Tibetans:

  • The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said in July 2020 that the EU opposes any interference in the Dalai Lama’s succession by the Chinese government.
  • Officials in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands have expressed similar positions.

The foundation says the TPSA could also “provide a template and options for India to examine and expand upon in its future dealings” with China.

The world’s largest democracy, India has been the primary exile home for Tibetans for more than six decades.

Historically, India shared a peaceful border with Tibet. But under China’s occupation, Tibet has become a launching pad for China’s attempted land grabs of Indian territory, leading to violent clashes between the two sides.

Hope for other oppressed groups

The foundation says the success of the TPSA came in part from the efforts of Tibetans and Tibet support groups, such as the International Campaign for Tibet and its members.

The act’s passage offers hope for other groups facing oppression, according to the foundation.

“The TPSA would not have been passed had it not been for the concerted and persistent campaign carried out by [Tibetan] exiles, Tibetan rights groups and their supporters worldwide, but especially in the US,” the foundation says. “A deep conviction in their cause, sincere perseverance with their efforts, and sound wisdom in their decision making meant that there was no let up, even when progress was labored.

“This holds invaluable lessons for other suppressed groups.”

Read the foundation’s commentary.