The political head of Tibetans in exile on Tuesday welcomed legislation passed by the US Congress that reaffirms the rights of Tibetans to choose a successor to their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, a move that infuriated China.
China regards the exiled Dalai Lama as a dangerous “splittist”, or separatist, and the latest show of support from the US Congress could further damage ties between the two countries.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
Lobsang Sangay, president of the Tibetan Central Administration (CTA), which is known as the Tibetan government-in-exile, told the Reuters news agency that Monday’s passing by the House of Representatives and the Senate in the United States of the Tibet Policy and Support Act (TPSA) was historic.
“By passing the TPSA, Congress has sent its message loud and clear that Tibet remains a priority for the United States and that it will continue its steadfast support for His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the CTA,” Sangay said.
“This is a victory for the Tibetan freedom struggle.”
The Chinese foreign ministry accused the US of interfering in its domestic affairs.
“We urge the US side to stop meddling in China’s internal affairs and refrain from signing into law these negative clauses and acts, lest it further harms our further cooperation and bilateral relations,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a regular briefing on Tuesday.
China seized control of Tibet after its troops entered the region in 1950 in what it calls a “peaceful liberation”. Tibet has since become one of the most restricted and sensitive areas in the country.
The Dalai Lama fled into exile in India in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
Panchen Lama detained
The US legislation calls on the government to establish a consulate in Tibet’s main city of Lhasa, the absolute right of Tibetans to choose a successor to the Dalai Lama and the preservation of Tibet’s environment.
China has said its leaders have the right to approve the Dalai Lama’s successor, which many see as a coercive attempt to control Tibet, where ethnic Tibetans make up about 90 percent of the population.
The Dalai Lama identified Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, the second-most senior figure in Tibetan Buddhism’s largest school, in May 1995. Three days afterwards the boy was taken into custody and has not been seen since, with human rights groups calling him the world’s youngest political prisoner.
China later appointed its own Panchen Lama, who has made a number of tightly scripted public appearances, but many Tibetans do not recognise his authority.
In May, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanded China immediately reveal the boy’s whereabouts, triggering condemnation from Beijing.
The legislation also proposes a “regional framework on water security” and greater participation from the community in dialogue with China on monitoring the region’s environment, amid concern about China’s hydropower ambitions in the region. It also suggests a dialogue between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama.
Relations between China and the US have deteriorated to their worst in decades over a range of issues, including trade, Taiwan, human rights, Hong Kong, the South China Sea and the coronavirus.