In a bipartisan show of U.S. support for Tibet, a new bill introduced in Congress threatens sanctions against Chinese officials interfering with the selection of a new Dalai Lama, with proposed penalties including the freezing of assets and denial of entry to the United States.
The Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2019 was introduced in the House on Sept. 13 by Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.), chairman of the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China, and will be introduced in the Senate by Commission co-chair Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
The bill will then be submitted for review by the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Committee on the Judiciary, and put forward for debate and passage into law at a later date.
In a Sept. 16 statement, the Washington-based advocacy group International Campaign for Tibet welcomed the proposed legislation, with ICT president Matteo Mecacci calling Beijing’s claim of authority over the selection process part of a long-term strategy “to legitimize its rule in Tibet and gain soft power over Buddhist practitioners worldwide.”
“As China continues its efforts to overtake the free world in global power and influence through its authoritarian model of development, this bill stands up against Beijing’s hostility and repression and rightly affirms Tibetan Buddhists’ universal right to select and venerate their religious leaders free from government interference,” Mecacci said.
Concerns over the health of the 84-year-old Dalai Lama, who fled into exile in India following a failed 1959 Tibetan revolt against Chinese rule, have renewed uncertainties over his possible successor after he dies.
China claims control over the selection, saying that the process must comply with Chinese law, with the Dalai Lama himself saying that if he returns, his successor will be born in a country outside of Chinese control.
Tibetan tradition holds that senior Buddhist monks and other high-ranking religious teachers are reincarnated in the body of a child after they die.
Beijing has sought in recent years to control the identification of other senior Tibetan religious leaders, including Tibet’s Panchen Lama, who was taken into custody with his family in 1995, with Chinese officials then installing another boy of their own choosing in his place.
Chinese authorities meanwhile maintain a tight grip on the Tibetan region, restricting Tibetans’ political activities and peaceful expression of ethnic and religious identity, and subjecting Tibetans to persecution, torture, imprisonment, and extrajudicial killings.