Congress passes bill urging China to resolve Tibet dispute

The legislation calling for Beijing to re-engage in talks with the Dalai Lama now heads to the president.

Congress passes bill urging China to resolve Tibet dispute

Updated at 21:35 ET on June 12, 2024.

The U.S. Congress on Wednesday passed a bill urging Beijing to re-engage with the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan leaders to peacefully resolve their dispute over the status and governance of Tibet.

The Promoting a Resolution to the Tibet-China Dispute Act, also known as the Resolve Tibet Act, passed the House of Representatives 391-26 and now heads to President Joe Biden for a signature to become law.

The bill previously passed the House in February but was altered by the Senate, which passed it last month, requiring a second look.

The legislation rejects Beijing’s position that Tibet has been part of China since ancient times and calls on Beijing to “cease its propagation of disinformation about the history of Tibet, the Tibetan people, and Tibetan institutions, including that of the Dalai Lama.” 

It also calls on Beijing to resume dialogue with the Dalai Lama, who is the spiritual leader of Tibet, and other Tibetan leaders about how Tibet is governed. No formal talks have taken place since 2010.

Rep. Michael McCaul, a Republican from Texas who is chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the main sponsor of the bill, said it showed the “status quo in Tibet is not acceptable.”

“I can think of no greater message or gift to the Dalai Lama and the people of Tibet than the swift passage of this bill to get to the president’s desk as soon as possible, to help put the people of Tibet in charge of their own future,” McCaul said after the bill’s passage.

The House bill was co-sponsored by 41 other lawmakers, including Rep. Gregory Meeks, a Democrat from New York who is his party’s ranking member on the Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts who is also a member of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.

McGovern said he was happy to have the opportunity to “shine a light on this legislation once more,” even as he noted that the Senate made a minor alteration to phrasing in the bill already passed by the House.

“The Senate, in its wisdom, changed one paragraph, so the bill has come back to this chamber for final passage,” McGovern said.

Charges of interference

A spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington said Tibet was a purely internal matter of China, and that no "external forces" had the right to interfere.

"The 14th Dalai Lama is a political exile who has long been engaged in anti-China separatist activities under the guise of religion, aiming to separate Tibet from China," said Liu Pengyu. "We hope that the global community can see through the true nature of the Dalai clique and respect China’s core interests and major concerns.

"We urge the U.S. side to cease using Tibet-related issues to interfere in China’s internal affairs and to avoid actions that could harm Tibet’s development and stability," Liu said. "The US should not provide a platform for ‘Tibetan independence’ forces to engage in anti-China separatist activities. China will take all necessary measures to defend its interests.”

Namgyal Choedup, the representative of the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration – the Tibean government-in-exile based in Dharamsala, India – welcomed the bill and said it came at a fortuitous time ahead of a trip by congressional leaders to visit the Dalai Lama in person in the coming days.

“This is great news, and we are hopeful that President Biden will sign it into law soon, especially before the Senate Foreign Affairs chair and a delegation head to Dharamsala, India, to meet with the Dalai Lama and the leaders of the Central Tibetan Administration,” he told RFA.

Sino-Tibetan dialogue began in 2002 in an effort to consider prospects of “genuine” autonomy for Tibet, as called for by the Dalai Lama.

The approach accepts the formerly independent Himalayan nation’s status as a part of China but urges greater cultural and religious freedoms, including strengthened language rights, guaranteed for ethnic minorities under provisions of China’s constitution. 

But the China-Tibet talks ground to a halt in 2010 following nine formal rounds of discussion and one informal meeting. 

“With this bill, we hope to restart dialogue between Tibet and China in keeping with the longstanding U.S. policy,” McGovern said.

The bill also empowers the U.S. State Department to actively counter disinformation about Tibet promoted by the Chinese government.

Greater autonomy

China invaded the independent Himalayan country of Tibet in 1950 and has controlled the territory ever since. The Dalai Lama fled into exile in India amid a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule. Since then, Beijing has sought to legitimize Chinese rule through the suppression of dissent and policies undermining Tibetan culture and language. 

Beijing believes the Dalai Lama wants to split off the Tibet Autonomous Region and other Tibetan-populated areas in China’s Sichuan, Qinghai, Yunnan, and Gansu provinces from the rest of the country.

However, the Dalai Lama does not advocate for independence but rather proposes what he calls a “Middle Way” that accepts Tibet’s status as a part of China and urges greater cultural and religious freedoms, including strengthened language rights.

Tencho Gyatso, president of the International Campaign for Tibet, thanked the lawmakers for prioritizing the Tibet issue.

“This latest indication of American support of Tibet is a source of hope and encouragement to the Tibetan people who have been struggling nonviolently against the Chinese communist government for more than six decades for their rights,” she said in a statement.

Additional reporting by Khando Yangzom and Tenzin Dickyi. Edited by Alex Willemyns and Malcolm Foster.

Updates with comment from Chinese Embassy in Washington.