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US lawmaker calls for an independent Tibet

Chinese People's Armed Police marching through Drongpa, Tibet. (Dieter Schuh, Wikimedia Commons/Released)
December 20, 2020

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Tibet, a formerly self-ruling Himalayan nation, is illegally occupied by China, a U.S. congressman said in a letter addressed this week to President Donald Trump, calling on the U.S. president to recognize Tibet as an independent country.

“After more than 70 years of uninterrupted, illegal occupation of Tibet by the People’s Republic of China, it is well past time [for the U.S.] to take a more definitive stance,” Scott Perry, a member of Congress from Pennsylvania, said on Nov. 16.

“We either concede that we are not willing to challenge the [Chinese Communist Party’s] grotesque violation of basic international norms—and give up all pretense to that end—or else we can proceed with the logical conclusion of Congress’s historical support of Tibet,” Perry wrote.

“After many decades, the Tibetan people deserve our support for a country that is still theirs. They deserve U.S. recognition of their independence.”

Perry’s letter follows his introduction in the spring of a House bill (H.R. 6948) that would “authorize the President to recognize the Tibet Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China as a separate, independent country, and for other purposes.”

Formerly an independent nation, Tibet was invaded and incorporated into China by force nearly 70 years ago, following which Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and thousands of his followers fled into exile and India and other countries around the world.

In what he calls a Middle Way Approach, the Dalai Lama says that he now seeks only a “meaningful autonomy” for Tibet as a part of China, though, with guaranteed protections for the region’s language, religion, and culture.

Nine rounds of talks on greater autonomy in Tibetan areas of China were held between envoys of the Dalai Lama and high-level Chinese officials beginning in 2002, but stalled in 2010 and were never resumed.

‘A different position’

Reached for comment, Ngodup Tsering—the representative in Washington D.C. of Tibet’s India-based government-in-exile, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), welcomed Perry’s letter as a gesture of support for greater Tibetan freedom, but did not back the congressman’s call for an independent Tibet.

“In general, the position of the CTA is the Middle Way Approach, so we take a different position,” Tsering said.

Tibet policy initiatives of the Trump administration have already drawn support from the CTA and from Tibetan advocacy groups, with the elected head of the CTA visiting the White House in November for talks with administration officials in what is being called a “landmark” development in U.S. policy regarding China’s rule in the politically sensitive Himalayan region.

The Nov. 20 visit by Harvard-educated Lobsang Sangay angered China, which considers Tibet a “core national interest” and an inseparable part of China.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on July 7 announced U.S. visa restrictions on selected Chinese officials deemed responsible for policies restricting access for foreigners to Tibetan areas of China, pursuant to the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act signed into law by President Trump in December 2018.

Washington has long complained that Chinese diplomats, scholars, and journalists enjoy unrestricted travel in the United States, while China tightly restricts the access of U.S. counterparts to Tibet and other areas.

Chinese authorities maintain a tight grip on Tibet and Tibetan areas of western Chinese provinces, restricting Tibetans’ political activities and peaceful expression of ethnic and religious identity, and subjecting Tibetans to persecution, torture, imprisonment, and extrajudicial killings.

Festival watched by police

An annual religious festival in Tibet’s regional capital Lhasa was meanwhile held under tight security this month, with large numbers of police stationed in public areas to monitor Tibetans coming into the city from outside areas, a source in Lhasa told RFA this week.

“Tibetans from nearby towns and villages came to Lhasa on Dec. 10 to celebrate Ganden Ngachoe, and though we were allowed to take part in the religious festival, worshippers were kept under strict control all the time,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“There was surveillance everywhere, and Chinese police were deployed in large numbers,” the source said, adding that government employees, retired and elderly Tibetans, and students were prevented from taking part in religious observances.