Democrats, Republicans call for Biden to support Tibet autonomy


Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle on Tuesday voiced support for an autonomous Tibet, calling on the Biden administration to advance a policy that helps free the territory, which remains under strict control by the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing. 

“Tibet has generated deep bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress for several decades. Advocacy for the rights and dignity of the Tibetan people is essential to any principled foreign policy,” House and Senate lawmakers wrote in a letter to the administration.

The letter was sent to Uzra Zeya, the under secretary of State for Civilian security, democracy and human rights, ahead of her expected appointment as President Biden’s special coordinator for Tibetan issues. 

The letter is being led in the Senate by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and in the House by Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Chris Smith (R-N.J.).

The lawmakers advocated for nearly a dozen actions and policies they stand ready to support, including Biden inviting the Dalai Lama to the White House, expanding U.S. access to Tibet, reinvigorating American diplomatic focus on the territory and rallying allies to strengthen the U.S. position toward Tibet.

“Tibet matters to us, not only as an issue that is important to our constituents and the Tibetan-American community, but also as a tangible manifestation of a principled foreign policy that prioritizes human rights and the quest for human dignity. We stand ready to work with you on this urgent moral issue,” the lawmakers continued. 

The letter received praise from the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), a U.S.- and European-based organization focused on human rights and democratic freedoms for the Tibetan people.

“These letters provide a vital framework for the next special coordinator to address China’s oppression in Tibet while making it clear that Congress expects the Biden administration to act quickly and meaningfully to support the Tibetan people,” said Franz Matzner, ICT’s government relations director.

Beijing annexed Tibet in 1951 and claims it as an inalienable part of China. But independence activists and their supporters say Chinese rule has repressed Tibetans religious life and culture.

Human rights group say that Chinese authorities have carried out numerous human rights violations including use of lethal force to suppress protests, engaged in arbitrary detentions and torture — most notably since 2008 following a brutal crackdown by Beijing against pro-independence protests in Tibet.

Vocal and robust American support for Tibet is likely to garner a strong reaction of condemnation from Beijing, which views such statements as foreign interference in domestic Chinese policy. 

The Biden administration has sought to rally allies and partners to more forcefully confront what it says are Beijing’s human rights abuses, particularly against the Uyghur ethnic minority in China’s Xinjiang province, which the U.S. has labeled as a genocide. 

The administration announced earlier this month that it will be carrying out a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics set to be held in Beijing in February in opposition to China’s human rights abuses.

Biden held a virtual meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in November, where he “raised concerns about the PRC’s practices in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong, as well as human rights more broadly,” according to a readout from the White House.

Updated 5:13 p.m.

Tags Chris Smith Dalai Lama Joe Biden Marco Rubio Patrick Leahy Tibetan independence movement US-China relations

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