Updated: Nov 3, 2022
The United States (U.S) - China relations have never been so estranged in recent years and this time Tibet is in the limelight, yet again. The U.S Congressman proposed a Bill to the House Committee on U.S Foreign Affairs to empower the President to recognize “Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) as a separate, independent country and for other purposes”. Tibet is situated in the south-west region of China sharing borders with India, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar. It is to be noted that TAR is a major part but one-third of the whole of Tibet wherein other areas include Kham and Amdo regions which are also being speculated to be made a part of the final Bill. This is a rather different stand of the U.S as, by a report of 2002 by the U.S Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, the U.S had expressly stated that TAR belongs to China and is not an independent country. It had also stated that the Tibetan government which is in exile in Dharamshala cannot be recognized because effectively Tibet is not a State.
A quick bite of History
Until 1949, Tibet was a theocratic state and remained isolated from the rest of the world. The People’s Republic of China (PRA) completed the occupation of Tibet in 1950 and in 1951 a 17 point agreement was arrived at between PRA and the then 14th Dalai Lama who later went in exile and fled to Dharamshala, India which would become the base for present Tibetan “government-in-exile”. Most of the Tibetans’ allegiance lies with the present Dalai Lama in exile. In 1965, the PRA established the TAR while retaining the other provinces as part of China. Since then, there have been diplomatic attempts to regain total control of TAR. In 2011, the present Dalai Lama explained that the person who is naturally reincarnated as Buddha only, will have sole legitimacy over Tibet and any political attempts to appoint the 15th Dalai Lama will be redundant.
Ideally, it is the Panchen Lama who selects the successor to the Dalai Lama, however in 1995 when the present Dalai Lama declared a person to be Panchen Lama, three days after this declaration, the Panchen Lama along with his family went missing under mysterious circumstances whose whereabouts remain unknown till today. Meanwhile, China has been denouncing Dalai Lama’s authority to discontinue the legacy of appointing the next leader and has constantly been interfering in the natural process of succession of the next Dalai Lama.
The US-Tibet relations prior to the passing of the Act
The most recent introduction of the controversial bill "To 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” on 19th May 2020 is not an isolated eventuality in the U.S-Tibet relations. Throughout history, as well as in the recent past, the US has passed a slew of Resolutions and Bills recognizing the importance of Tibet and Tibetans. On 13th September 2019, a Bill to modify Tibetan Policy Act of 2002 was introduced (now passed in The House) which included provisions to establish a U.S Consulate in Lhasa, Tibet until which no additional Consulate of China will be permitted to be established in the U.S.
Further scathing provisions include acknowledgement of involvement of China in the abduction of the Panchen Lama, who was a 6-year-old boy at the time and sanctions against Chinese officials who are being involved in meddling with the natural succession process of appointing next Dalai Lama. On 13th November 2019, a Resolution was introduced to “recognize the significance of the genuine autonomy of Tibet…” which highlighted the importance of the present religious leader Dalai Lama in promoting peace, harmony and understanding, thereby celebrating 60 years of friendship between the U.S and the ‘Tibetan people’. China is obviously infuriated over these remarks and has urged the U.S not to interfere in its domestic affairs which would be a violation of its territorial sovereignty. These Bills introduced by the U.S are strong actions against the Chinese which will serve as a discourse for future trade and strategic relations.
The U.S-Chinese trade war feud had paused on account of the COVID-19 pandemic only to recommence in aggravated forms after lockdown relaxations are being executed throughout the globe. The U.S had passed a similar bill to recognize the autonomy of Hong Kong but China ignored all international warnings and went forward with the National Security Bill, therefore, U.S has taken severe measures like terminating relations with W.H.O, suspending entry of certain Chinese university students, studying Chinese firms’ accounting practices, eliminating special status for Hong Kong, passing Bills to delist Chinese companies and ultimately, raising the issue of Hong-Kong before the UNSC. The generosity of the U.S towards Tibet comes from its ambition to restore and secure democracy in general and Tibet is happy to receive help in any form it gets.
President Trump may have divided the US in all its policies but when the issue at hand is taking a strong stand against China, he has received bipartisan support and even appreciation from his staunch critics. It can safely be stated that the Tibet Bill is more of a statement to China than support to Tibet but the Americans need to understand that the strategies which made it win the Cold War against the Soviet Union cannot be applied in today’s battles against China. In order to assume global lead today, a State needs to acquire economic supremacy rather than military supremacy which China’s non-market economy has patiently achieved over the years. During the Cold War, there were only two superpowers, whereas now there is a more prolific stretched out balance of power throughout the globe and China is determined to be a global leader with or without the support of the U.S. Most immediate regions at loggerhead with China are Taiwan, Tibet and Hong Kong. How the United Nations and other democracies react will determine the future of the impact of Chinese aggression.
 Yangchen Dolma, The Tibet Post International, 27th May 2020, http://www.thetibetpost.com/en/impact/politics/6782-u-s-congressman-introduces-bill-backing-tibet-as-a-separate,-independent-country  Report on Tibet Negotiations Consistent with Section 613, Foreign Relations Authorization Act, 2003, Submitted to Congress on May 8, 2003, Released by the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, May 16, 2003, https://2001-2009.state.gov/p/eap/rls/rpt/20699.htm  Susan Lawrence, The Tibetan Policy Act of 2002: Background and Implementation, Congressional Research Service, November 2014, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R43781.pdf  Richard Ehrlich, Mystery surrounds kidnapped Panchen Lama, Asia Times, 8th May 2019, https://asiatimes.com/2019/05/missing-panchen-lama-may-now-be-30/  H.R.4331 – Tibet Policy & Support Act of 2019, U.S Congress, https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/4331/text?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22tibet%22%5D%7D&r=3&s=1  H.Res.697 – Recognizing the significance of the genuine autonomy of Tibet and the Tibetan people and the work His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama has done to promote global peace, harmony and understanding, U.S Congress, https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-resolution/697/text?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22tibet%22%5D%7D&r=1&s=4  Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying’s Remarks on the U.S House of Representatives Passing the Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2019, 1st January 2020, http://rs.chineseembassy.org/eng/fyrth/t1737084.htm  Deborah D’souza, China and U.S Tensions Rise Over Hong-Kong, Investopedia, 29th May 2020, https://www.investopedia.com/hong-kong-at-center-of-renewed-u-s-china-tensions-4846370  Daniel Flatley and Ben Bain, U.S Senate Passes Bill to Delist Chinese Companies from American Stock Exchanges, 21st May 2020, https://theprint.in/world/us-senate-passes-bill-to-delist-chinese-companies-from-american-stock-exchanges/426131/  Michelle Nichols, U.S Britain Raise Hong Kong at U.N Security Council Angering China, Reuters, 29th May 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-hongkong-protests-un/us-britain-raise-hong-kong-at-un-security-council-angering-china-idUSKBN2351ZD  Kishore Mahbubani, The Chinese Challenge to American Primacy, Has China Won?, Public Affairs New York, 2020