Congress Includes Detailed Plans on Recognizing Dalai Lama in Coronavirus Stimulus Bill

PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP/Getty Images
PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP/Getty Images

Both houses of Congress passed a bill late Monday allocating $600 in stimulus payments for Americans that also included the text of the Tibet Policy and Support Act, a bill that delineates how the United States should recognize a successor to the current Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama is the senior authority in Tibetan Buddhism and considered the senior political authority in Tibet. Tibetan Buddhists believe that the Dalai Lama is a reincarnated being – the current living Dalai Lama is the 14th of his line – who will return following the death of the current titleholder, Tenzin Gyatso. Tibet is currently occupied by communist China, resulting in the current Dalai Lama’s exile to India and an attempt by Beijing to hijack the process of choosing his successor.

The current Dalai Lama identified a child, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, as the Panchen Lama, the second holiest role in Tibetan Buddhism, in May 1995. The Communist Party disappeared the six-year-old three days after that declaration; he has not been seen since.

In a move apparently intended to outrage the Communist Party, Congress included in its over 5,000-page-long appropriations bill an assertion that Washington would not recognize communist-designated Dalai Lamas in the event of the current leader’s death.

As with many provisions in the bill – support for protesters in Belarus, a tax subsidy for horse owners, funding for gender programs in Pakistan – Congress did not clarify exactly why the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation was a topic for a bill meant to fund the U.S. government. The bill nonetheless passed by a large majority in both the House and the Senate and will become law unless President Donald Trump vetoes it. Vetoing the bill will prompt a government shutdown.

“It is the policy of the United States that … decisions regarding the selection, education, and veneration of Tibetan Buddhist religious leaders are exclusively spiritual matters that should be made by the appropriate religious authorities,” the appropriations bill reads in part. “[I]nterference by the Government of the People’s Republic of China or any other government in the process of recognizing a successor or reincarnation of the 14th Dalai Lama and any future Dalai Lamas would represent a clear abuse of the right to religious freedom of Tibetan Buddhists and the Tibetan people.”

To that end, the bill demands “all appropriate measures” be taken against Chinese Communist Party officials who attempt to usurp the authority of Tibetan Buddhist religious figures, including financial sanctions and bans on traveling into the United States.

The bill also requires that the federal government ban China from establishing any new consulates in the United States before Beijing allows an American consulate in Lhasa, Tibet, to be used to help Tibetans combat Chinese repression. The American consulate would also, the bill requires, “ensure that the identification and installation of Tibetan Buddhist religious leaders, including any future Dalai Lama, is determined solely within the Tibetan Buddhist faith community, in accordance with the internationally recognized right to religious freedom.”

The text elsewhere discusses support for environmental regulations and other local issues in Tibet.

The appropriations bill resulted in $900 billion in expenditures.

Tibetan advocates expressed optimism following the bill’s passage. The International Campaign for Tibet, based in Washington, issued a statement applauding the provision for having “not only upgraded its overall support for Tibet, but specifically laid a marker down on the global stage declaring that the international community will not accept China’s interference in the Dalai Lama’s succession.”

The head of Tibet’s government in exile, Lobsang Sangay of the Tibetan Central Administration (CTA), also told Reuters his group supported the provisions in the bill regarding Tibet and referred to them as an honor for the Dalai Lama, who has resisted communist oppression since the rise of the ideology in China.

“The TPSA [Tibet Policy and Support Act] makes it official United States policy that decisions regarding the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama are exclusively within the authority of the current Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhist leaders and the Tibetan people,” a statement from the CTA read.

The Chinese communist regime naturally rejected the need for any such policy.

“We resolutely oppose the U.S. Congress adoption of bills containing such ill contents on China,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin asserted on Tuesday. “Issues related to Tibet, Taiwan, and Hong Kong concern China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. They are China’s internal affairs that allow no foreign interference.”

Taiwan is a sovereign state independent of China; Hong Kong was an autonomous city prior to China illegally impose communist laws on it this year.

“We urge the United States to stop meddling in our domestic affairs under those pretexts, refrain from signing the bills or implementing the negative contents and items in them that target China and undercut China’s interests,” he concluded, “so as to avoid further damaging overall China-U.S. cooperation and bilateral relations.”

Under dictator Xi Jinping, China has heightened its repression of Tibetan Buddhists, as it has with Christians and Muslims. Part of that is a campaign launched in 2016 to promote the communist-approved Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu, whose profile state media has repeatedly attempted to elevate in contrast to the true chosen Panchen Lama. The child that the Dalai Lama chose as the true Panchen Lama has remained missing for decades, though the Communist Party insists that he is receiving a private education to keep him from the “disturbance” of the public eye.

“Unlike other men his age who want a well paying job and a hot girlfriend, his dream is that ‘the world is peaceful, our motherland is stable, people live in harmony, Buddhism is prosperous,'” the Communist Party newspaper People’s Daily wrote of Norbu in 2016.

After repeated pressure to reveal the fate of the true Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima – including proof of life demands from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – the Communist Party reiterated in May that he is living a secret “normal life.”

The Dalai Lama has remained throughout the ordeal a prime target of the Communist Party, and a thorny issue in Chinese-Indian relations. The Communist Party secretary of Tibet in 2016, Wu Yingjie, described destroying the Dalai Lama’s public image as “the highest priority in carrying out our ethnic affairs” that year. Beijing has also accused the Dalai Lama, without evidence, of being a supporter of the Islamic State.

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