A House panel says China cannot build new consulates in the United States until it allows a U.S. consulate in Lhasa, Tibet. The language was contained in provisions to authorize a U.S. consulate in Lhasa and a Tibet section in the U.S. embassy in Beijing. These were included in the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, passed by the House Foreign Affairs Committee on July 20, 2011.

“The Committee’s action affirms Congress’ strong interest, going back more than a decade, for U.S. diplomatic representation in Tibet,” said Todd Stein, Director of Government Relations at the International Campaign for Tibet. “It is a response to and reproach of the Chinese government’s effort to seal off Tibet from external scrutiny of its policies.”

The provisions, added by the Republican majority on the Committee, are virtually identical to those approved in 2009 when the panel was controlled by Democrats, reflecting the bipartisan interest in this effort. Further, in 2008, Congress appropriated $5 million for a U.S. consulate in Lhasa and $1 million for a Tibet section at the U.S. embassy.

The legislation directs the State Department to pursue a consulate in Lhasa “to provide services to United States citizens traveling in Tibet and to monitor political, economic, and cultural developments in Tibet, including Tibetan areas of Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan provinces.” It stipulates that “until such consulate is established, [the Department] shall not permit the establishment in the United States of any additional consulate of the People’s Republic of China.”

The bill would establish a Tibet Section at the U.S. embassy in Beijing to monitor “political, economic, and social developments inside Tibet … until such time as a United States consulate is established in Lhasa.”

Lhasa remains a top priority for U.S. consulates in the People’s Republic of China, as recently reaffirmed by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Dan Baer in testimony before the Committee on June 2. The Chinese government is seeking new consulates in Atlanta and Boston, but has thus far declined the U.S. request for a consulate in Lhasa. The closest American post to Tibet is Chengdu, Sichuan province, which is farther from Lhasa than U.S. embassies in Nepal and Bangladesh.

“A critical thrust of this effort is the language conditioning any further Chinese consulate in the U.S. on Chinese agreement on the consulate in Lhasa,” said Todd Stein. “We thank Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Ranking Member Howard Berman and Committee Members for recognizing the importance of this leverage,” added Stein.

The bill also included other provisions amending the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002:

  • directing the President to coordinate with other countries in multilateral efforts in promoting a negotiated solution on Tibet;
  • giving the National Security Council a role in assisting the Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues in coordinating U.S. Tibet policy across Executive Branch agencies;
  • authorizing the program providing grants to NGOs that support sustainable development, environmental conservation and cultural preservation on the Tibetan plateau; and
  • calling on the U.S. government to urge the Chinese government to end interference in the reincarnation system of Tibetan Buddhism.