Federal budget backs Tibetan independence

  • U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, right, chats with Regional Tibetan Association of Massachusetts President Thondup Tsering and council President Lynn Griesemer during Losar, the Tibetan New Year’s festival, at UMass on Feb. 23, 2019. STAFF FILE PHOTO

  • A Tibetan in exile breaks down during a march to mark the 60th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan Uprising Day in New Delhi, India, Sunday, March 10, 2019. Manish Swarup

Staff Writer
Monday, January 11, 2021

NORTHAMPTON — The recently passed federal omnibus bill included $900 billion in COVID-19 aid, with loans for businesses and direct payments to Americans, $1.4 trillion to fund the government and — on page 5,090 — support for Tibetan independence.

The package, signed into law by President Donald Trump in late December, includes pro-Tibet legislation originally introduced by Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern, who represents the 2nd Congressional District.

The legislation updates the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002 and addresses “the ongoing oppression of the Tibetan people by the Chinese government,” as McGovern’s office put it in a statement.

Communist Chinese troops invaded Tibet in 1950, which it claimed as part of its territory, and the region has since been rife with accusations of human rights abuses. Spiritual leader Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, fled Tibet to northern India in fear for his life in 1959.

“It’s important that we stand up for human rights not just halfway down the block but halfway around the globe,” McGovern, chairman of the House Rules Committee and the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, told the Gazette on Monday.

McGovern and Chris Smith, R-NJ, introduced the legislation, which passed in the House early last year before being attached to the omnibus bill.

Under the legislation, China cannot create any new consulates in the U.S. until a U.S. consulate is created in Lhasa, Tibet’s capital.

That was welcome news to Thondup Tsering, a Belchertown resident who just finished his term as president of the Regional Tibetan Association of Massachusetts.

“I think this is really critical for U.S. citizens planning to visit Tibet to have access to the consulate and the consulate is able to render timely, appropriate assistance and help to American citizens. Likewise to journalists and diplomats visiting Tibet.” He added that it would serve “as eyes and ears on the ground inside occupied Tibet. Right now, Tibet is closed to the outside world.”

It also creates U.S. policy on the succession of the Dalai Lama. Tibetan Buddhists believe that when a Dalai Lama dies, he is reincarnated as a child and is identified through a search traditionally spearheaded by the Panchen Lama, a spiritual authority whose reincarnation is in turn identified with help from the Dalai Lama. In 1995, the 14th Dalai Lama identified Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, a 6-year-old boy, as the Panchen Lama. However, the Chinese government rejected the appointment and arrested the child and his family, who have not been seen since and named someone else as the 11th Panchen Lama, who critics fear will select a Dalai Lama loyal to the communist regime.

The legislation reads: “It is the policy of the United States that … decisions regarding the selection, education, and veneration of Tibetan Buddhist religious leaders are exclusively spiritual matters that should be made by the appropriate religious authorities within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and in the context of the will of practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism.”

The legislation “sends a clear message that Chinese officials who interfere in the succession or reincarnation process will be subject to targeted financial, economic, and visa-related sanctions,” a statement from McGovern’s office states.

McGovern said he has met with the Dalai Lama and been in touch with Tibetan people in his district.

“It’s a growing community. A very active community. But one that is very concerned about their heritage, about their language, about their religion, about their traditions, because the Chinese government is trying to erase their heritage,” McGovern said.

Tsering said the Tibetan community has been in contact with McGovern and was involved in the legislation.

Said Tsering: “This bill sends a very strong message to China that the U.S. Congress, the nation, the people, are on the side of human rights, religious freedom, on the side of the Tibetan people.”