H.R. 4331: Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2019

A pro-Tibet bill championed by Congressman Jim McGovern to put pressure on China heads to the U.S. Senate after passing in the House of Representatives by a 392-to-22 vote late last month.

The Democrat representing the 2nd Congressional District of Massachusetts had introduced H.R. 4331 to update and strengthen the H.R. 4331 and address what he called the Chinese government’s ongoing oppression of Tibetans. Communist Chinese troops invaded Tibet in 1950 and the region has since been rife with accusations of human rights abuses. Spiritual leader Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, fled Tibet to northern India in fear for his life in 1959.

McGovern, chair of the House Rules Committee and the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, spoke on the House floor in support of the bipartisan bill shortly before its passage Jan. 28.

“Our bill updates and strengthens the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002 to address the challenges facing the Tibetan people,” he said. “But perhaps as importantly, it reaffirms America’s commitment to the idea that human rights matter. That we care about those who are oppressed, and we stand with those who are struggling for freedom. That we have a moral obligation to do something when we see something that is not right. It should be clear that we support a positive and productive U.S.-China relationship, but it is essential that the human rights of all the people of China are respected by their government.”

According to information from McGovern’s congressional office, if the bill is signed into law, it would support democratic governance in the Tibetan exile community, direct the U.S. State Department to begin multinational efforts to protect the remote Tibetan plateau’s environment and water resources, and require that no new Chinese consulates should be established in the United States until a U.S. consulate is established in Lhasa, Tibet’s traditional capital.

The law would also “establish as U.S. policy that the succession or reincarnation of Tibetan Buddhist leaders, including a future 15th Dalai Lama, is an exclusively religious matter that should be decided solely by the Tibetan Buddhist community” and “send a clear message that Chinese officials who interfere in the succession or reincarnation process will be subject to targeted financial, economic and visa-related sanctions, including those contained in the Global Magnitsky Act,” which authorizes the U.S. government to sanction people it views as human rights offenders.

Tibetan Buddhists believe that when a Dalai Lama dies, he is reincarnated as a child and is identified through a search traditionally spearheaded by the Panchen Lama, a spiritual authority whose reincarnation is in turn identified with help from the Dalai Lama.

In 1995, the 14th Dalai Lama identified Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, a 6-year-old boy, as the Panchen Lama. However, the Chinese government rejected the appointment and arrested the child and his family, who have not been seen since.

The Chinese government then named Gyaltsen Norbu as the 11th Panchen Lama, who critics fear will select a Dalai Lama loyal to the communist regime. Tenzin Gyatso has heavily criticized this move and said, as a result, he will either not reincarnate again or do so in a region not under Chinese control.

In a telephone interview Monday, McGovern told the Greenfield Recorder this bill “puts some teeth into” the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002, which guides American policy pertaining to Tibet and Tibetans. The American government, he said, has a moral obligation to speak out when people are being persecuted. He said China is trying to erase Tibetan culture, history and language, and some Tibetans have been tortured or killed.

“No government has the right to interfere in a religion,” he said, adding that China selecting a Dalai Lama would be like a country picking the pope.

McGovern, who said he has met with the current Dalai Lama on multiple occasions, said he started drafting this current legislation about a year ago.

He introduced the bill with his fellow co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Chris Smith, a Republican congressman from New Jersey, as well as Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, and Ben Cardin, D-Maryland. McGovern said he is optimistic about the bill’s fate in the Senate.

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