It should be stated right away that the very presence of “Tibetan issues” in contemporary international politics is almost entirely due to those phobias that are whipped up by the United States due to the fact that the PRC is turning into a second global power. Whereas as far as the latter is concerned, there are no significant transnational “Tibetan issues” at all.
Beijing recognizes the existence of “some rough patches” in how the country’s Tibet Autonomous Region functions; however, these are chiefly historical in nature, and their importance is continuously waning, even in the domestic political arena.
Just two decades ago, the position taken by Beijing was also not publicly disputed by Washington. However, in early 2000s, the prospect of the abovementioned transformation for the PRC has shifted away from the area of political constructs and into the field of real international politics, becoming its most important component. And even back in 2002, the US Congress became concerned about an array of issues in the TAR, which were reflected in the corresponding legislative act (the Tibetan Policy Act 2002).
Then, an almost ten-year period of uncertainty followed in US-China relations, one during which Washington did not lose hope for the possibility of including the PRC in its own orbit of influence. However, by 2012 it became ultimately clear that the G2 project, proposed by those American policy gurus Z. Brzezinski and H. Kissinger, does not have any prospects.
Then the process of the gradual deterioration of bilateral political relations began, which sharply accelerated during the second half of the presidency of the current US administration. At the same time, various internal problems in the PRC, mainly caused by the relations that the country’s central government has with ethnoreligious minorities concentrated in several autonomous regions, became particularly pressing for Washington.
Fifteen years after its first attempt in 2002, Congress once again turned its attention to the situation in the TAR. In 2017, work began developing the so-called “Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act of 2018” (Public Law 115-330), which was signed by President D. Trump in December 2018. This legislative act reflected US grievances towards Chinese leadership owing to the “lack of guarantees” for access (naturally, on a reciprocal basis) for diplomats, journalists, and other American citizens to the territory of the PRC in general, and Tibet in particular.
Without giving itself any time for a respite, the US Congress almost immediately after that started to take on all the other aspects of the “Tibetan issues.” In 2019, the process of preparing the next piece of legislation was launched, which was a set of amendments that dramatically tightened the principal provisions outlined in the Tibetan Policy Act 2002. On December 27, 2020, President Donald Trump signed the Tibetan Policy and Support Act, which had been previously passed by Congress and outlines the 22 pages of amendments to the 2002 act. The text of the document that was passed by the Senate can be found here.
Among the positions described in it, the author will pay attention to the following:
- the US executive authorities are instructed “to promote the human rights and distinct religious, cultural, linguistic, and historical identity of the Tibetan people, including the right of the Tibetan people to select, educate, and venerate their own religious leaders in accordance with their established religious practice and system”
- disagreement is expressed with “the migration and settlement of non-Tibetans into Tibet,” and transferring to the latter local residents’ land plots and property
- the president is charged with providing funding for Tibetan non-governmental organizations
- the US Department of State should support the opening of an American consulate in the TAR’s capital, Lhasa, to ensure monitoring the implementation of everything prescribed in the 2002 law, and the current amendments to it, and to provide consular services to US citizens traveling to Tibet (who are in Tibet, for example, as part of a tour) Otherwise, possible PRC requests to open additional Chinese consulates in the United States will be rejected.
- the “Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues” is instructed to promote a dialogue between the PRC government and the Dalai Lama
- that same “special coordinator” should oppose any attempts by the PRC government to elect Buddhist leaders in Tibet outside the bounds of “established” traditions. This especially applies to the candidacy for the future Dalai Lama.
What is stated above is quite enough to leave no doubt that the Tibetan Policy and Support Act (TPSA) signed by D. Trump is another overt, vulgar act of interference in China’s domestic affairs, and deliberately puts forth impossible demands for it.
In particular, the authors of this document could not have failed to know that the PRC leadership has repeatedly declared that it has no intention of restoring relations with the current Dalai Lama, who has been in India since 1959, in any form. In recent years, his residence has been in the small town of Dharamsala in the Himalayan foothills. It also houses the so-called “Tibetan Government in Exile”, as well as its “parliament”; the adult portion of those approximately 100,000 Tibetans who currently live in India take part in electing its members.
It should be noted that the claims made by these (quasi) government bodies are publicly extended to have the right to speak on behalf of “six million Tibetans,” of which only about half are residents of the TAR. It can be argued with sufficient confidence that, at least in relation to the people in this latter group, the claims mentioned can hardly be substantiated. For there is no doubt of the fact of there have been gigantic socioeconomic transformations implemented in recent decades by the central government in the TAR (and in the XUAR).
A more or less prosperous social situation in the TAR is attested to in particular by the sharp increase in recent years in the number of Buddhist monks who live – in modern slang, “not life, but a continuous, total thrill” – and do not need to ride around the Cote d’Azur. And what, as opposed to the material and financial flows that have poured in for the residents of the TAR in recent years from Beijing, can this “government in exile” offer?
It is no coincidence that the amendments to the 2002 law touch upon the issues of reincarnation, which look very specific but are intrinsic to Buddhism. For they come with an increasingly urgent, and potentially extremely acute problem, due to the forthcoming procedure governing how to elect a new world leader for Buddhism. This problem, which includes a significant international political aspect, is more or less regularly discussed in NEO.
In a statement of gratitude to the US leadership, one of the highest officials of the “Central Tibetan Administration” draws attention to this provision in the TPSA. This same position became the main object of criticism for this document as a whole, which was – quite expectedly – voiced in early January 2021 by the PRC, where it is believed that “the reincarnation of the living Buddhas is by no means a purely religious affair.”
Finally, it is worth noting that all “Tibetan” (and “Taiwanese”, “Uyghur”, “Hong Kong”) lawmaking in US Congress fits well into the process of building political obstructions in relation to its geopolitical opponents, primarily the PRC, and this has sharply accelerated in recent months. The outgoing administration will continue these processes, making them more complicated for the next one to overcome – if the latter has any intentions to do so at all.
And, of course, one cannot help but pay attention to the fact that legislation aimed at “correcting the shortcomings” of geopolitical opponents has been cranked out en masse in the United States. It seems that only full-fledged workaholics are being selected for Congress. These guys (and gals) do not grow tired of “emitting light into the gloom.” It is not clear whether they ever take a break from their hard work since, it needs to be repeated, all sorts of “violations” – not only in Tibet, but also in other “problematic” regions across the PRC – do not escape their attention. And around the world as a whole.
They should take care of their own problems, since there are signs of separatism taking shape in the United States itself. It is unlikely that the country’s leadership would like some “outside” advice on how to best behave regarding Texas or California, not to mention the ongoing “democratic transition of power” from Trump to Biden.
Vladimir Terekhov, an expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.