WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump signed a law allowing US penalties on Chinese officials if they intervene in the naming of the next Dalai Lama by Tibetan Buddhists.
Amid increasing fear that Beijing will want to handpick a successor to the 85-year-old spiritual leader, Congress unanimously approved the Tibetan Policy and Help Act, hoping that the campaign for greater freedoms in the Chinese-ruled Himalayan region will wither away without its charismatic figurehead.
Beijing said in January that after the House of Representatives passed it 392-22, the act “grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs.”
The Senate incorporated the act with the clock ticking at the close of its session as part of a large budget package that provides coronavirus relief.
Introduced by both Democrats and Republicans, the Tibet Act notes that it is US policy that the collection, education and veneration of the Dalai Lama and other revered monks are “exclusively spiritual matters that should be addressed within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition by the appropriate religious authorities.”
The United States will place penalties on officials “who directly interfere with the identification and installation of Tibetan Buddhism’s future 15th Dalai Lama,” says the new legislation.
The act also forbids the United States from opening new consulates in China unless one is approved in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, and authorises support for organisations in the Himalayan region that promote cultural heritage, education and environmental sustainability.
The International Campaign for Tibet, an activist organisation close to the Dalai Lama, praised the enactment of the legislation as “a global marker declaring that China’s interference in the Dalai Lama’s succession will not be accepted by the international community and will oppose China’s human rights abuses in Tibet for as long as they continue.”
The 14th Dalai Lama, who has slowed down his once frenetic travel routine but is not considered to have significant health concerns, is keenly aware that a pliant replacement might be named by China.
By naming his own replacement, probably a child, while he is still alive or proclaiming the organisation to be over with his passing, the Nobel Peace Prize winner has mused about breaking tradition.
In 1995, Beijing, officially atheist, chose its own child as the Panchen Lama, another prominent Tibetan position, and arrested a six-year-old Dalai Lama, whom rights activists described as the youngest political prisoner in the world.
China rejects US law on Tibet
On Monday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said it had strongly opposed new US regulations on Tibet that President Donald Trump signed into law over the weekend.
Domestic relations are Tibet-related issues, Zhao Lijian, a ministry spokesman, said at a routine media conference.
The 2020 Tibetan Policy and Support Act calls for the development of a US consulate in Lhasa and the full right of Tibetans to select the Dalai Lama’s successor.