US President Donald Trump signed into law on Sunday the historic Tibet bill. US Congress had passed this bill on December 21. The Tibetan Policy and Support Act (TPSA), which supports Tibet in key areas, even includes possible sanctions against Chinese authorities should they try to appoint the next Dalai Lama themselves and calls for building an international coalition to ensure such appointment is only carried out by the Tibetan Buddhist community. The bill has bipartisan support and demands Beijing allow Washington to set up a consulate in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. Finally, it has safety provisions regarding the Tibetan environment calling for greater international cooperation to monitor this issue besides providing funds.
The Act also allocates $6 million for Tibetans living in India and 3 million for Tibetan governance, as well as $575,000 for scholar exchange programs, $675,000 for scholarships, and $1 million every year for the Special US Coordinator on Tibet. The Act also extends to Taiwan (another hot topic in the region), supporting its participation in United Nations bodies.
China sees such move as interference in its internal affairs and has responded by announcing it could start imposing visa bans against US officials.
In 1995, the Chinese government arrested Gedhun Choekyi Nyima (aged 6 then) who was identified by the Dalai Lama as a reincarnation of the Panchen Lama who is the second most important figure in Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama himself. Gedhun Choekyi Nyima remains detained by Beijing, residing along with his family in an undisclosed location since 1995. In light of this incident, there are concerns over the choice of the next Dalai Lama. The current one, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, is now 85 years old. From a Chinese perspective, Tibet is a domestic issue and the current 14th Dalai Lama (exiled in India) is a separatist. The Dalai Lama, besides being a spiritual leader for Tibetan Buddhists, is the Head of state of the Central Tibetan Administration in exile based in Dharamshala, India.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin warned last week after Congress passed the bill, that such “meddling in China’s internal affairs” could harm “cooperation and bilateral relations” between Washington and Beijing. Lobsang Sangay (president of the Central Tibetan Administration), stated that the Act sends a “powerful message” of “justice and hope” for Tibetans.