US President George Bush signed the Tibetan Policy Act (TPA) into law yesterday as part of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 2002 and 2003 (H.R. 1646).

The Tibetan Policy Act was introduced in May 2001 as S. 852 by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Craig Thomas (R-WY) and as H.R. 1779 by Congressmen Tom Lantos (D-CA) and Mark Kirk (R-IL). They were joined by 123 co-sponsors, almost a quarter of the United States Congress.

The bill is designed to help Tibetans safeguard their national identity.

Tibet was invaded and occupied by the Chinese military more than fifty years ago. Under Chinese rule Tibetans have suffered widespread discrimination, religious persecution, imprisonment and torture for their beliefs. The Tibetan identity is now further threatened by China’s discriminatory development and resettlement policies.

“With this move the U.S. Government has put the force of law behind its longstanding support for the welfare of the Tibetan people and a negotiated solution for Tibet,” said Mary Beth Markey, U.S. Executive Director for the International Campaign for Tibet.

The TPA establishes in law the position of the Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues at the Department of State with the central objective to “promote substantive dialogue between the government of the People’s Republic of China and the Dalai Lama or his representatives.”

The bill states that “it is the policy of the United States to support economic development, cultural preservation, health care, and education and environmental sustainability for Tibetans inside Tibet.”

In support of that policy, the TPA establishes guidelines for U.S. backing of potential development projects in Tibet through the Trade and Development Agency, the Export-Import Bank and through support by international financial institutions such as the World Bank.

The guidelines reflect those released by the Tibetan government in exile and call for “respect for Tibetan culture” and the “active participation of Tibetans” in their own economic development, which would “neither provide incentive for, nor facilitate the migration and settlement of, non-Tibetans into Tibet.”

The Tibetan Policy Act addresses religious persecution, political prisoners, and calls for the establishment of a U.S. branch office in Lhasa. The continuation of humanitarian assistance for Tibetan refugees, scholarships and other programmatic support for Tibetans is also authorized as part of the foreign relations bill.

You can find more information about the Tibetan Policy Act here.