On Tibet, India must make up its mind

On Tibet, India must make up its mind

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama talks with journalists in Geneva, Switzerland March 11, 2016. Credit: Reuters File Photo

The US government’s enactment of the Tibetan Policy and Support Act (TPSA) of 2020 marks an important milestone in its policy towards Tibet and China. Hitherto, Washington, while broadly supportive of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan cause, was careful to avoid riling China on the Tibet question. Therefore, it did a balancing act in its relations with the Chinese government and the Tibetan government-in-exile. With the enactment of the TPSA, Washington has come out more overtly in support of the Tibetans. Not only has it extended recognition to the Central Tibetan Administration and to Lobsang Sangay as its president but also, it has reaffirmed the right of Tibetan Buddhists to determine the succession of the Dalai Lama without interference from the Chinese government. Chinese officials who interfere in the selection and installation of the present Dalai Lama’s successor would be liable to US sanctions, including travel restrictions. The new law also calls for the setting up of a US consulate in Lhasa and extends financial assistance to non-government organisations working among Tibetans in the Tibetan Autonomous Region.

The US move has been welcomed by the CTA, Tibetan communities, and rights activists worldwide. It will be quietly applauded by several governments, too, including India, which are concerned over the manner in which Beijing has disrespected the Dalai Lama and ridden rough-shod over Tibetan autonomy, demography and cultural and other rights. Beijing’s systematic Hanification of Tibet and its imposition of a State-sanctioned Buddhism on its people is disturbing. Its plans to install the 15th Dalai Lama via a process sanctioned by the Communist Party of China rather than allow the Tibetan people and their institutions to select him is particularly distressing in this regard. The TPSA and similar moves that other countries may make is the outcome of this Chinese disregard for Tibetan sentiments and rights.

The US has taken a strong position in enacting the TPSA. The question is whether it will implement it. Although the law enjoys bipartisan support, the incoming Joe Biden administration may be circumspect and selective in implementing the law, especially since normalising ties with Beijing is likely to be an important item on its agenda. Coming at a time when India’s relations with China are particularly troubled, the US’ enactment of the TPSA, which puts pressure on China, is a welcome development. But India must make up its own mind, too. India, which has for 60 years done more to keep Tibetans’ aspirations alive than any other country and to protect the Dalai Lama, cannot sit idly by if Beijing decides to dictate matters relating to his succession.