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US Policy on Tibet Has Lost its Way. We Want to Change That.

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The Debate | Opinion | East Asia

US Policy on Tibet Has Lost its Way. We Want to Change That.

For years, Chinese officials have attempted to rewrite history. Now 2 Congressmen say the U.S. should push back on the CCP’s distortion of history rather than abetting it. 

US Policy on Tibet Has Lost its Way. We Want to Change That.
Credit: Depositphotos

Qin Gang, ambassador to the United States from the People’s Republic of China (PRC), wrote in the Washington Post recently that “Taiwan has been an inseparable part of China’s territory for 1,800 years.”

The problem is not only that his statement is historically inaccurate — but it also follows a pattern of revisionism from PRC officials. In addition to Taiwan, this revisionism has been aimed at undermining the dignity and freedom of the Tibetan people, whom the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) does not consider worthy of basic human rights.

Speaking up for the truth must be part of any foreign policy that prioritizes human rights. Pushing back on these lies, and the human rights atrocities they perpetuate, requires innovative solutions to counter misinformation. We believe that our new bill, the Promoting a Resolution to the Tibet-China Conflict Act, will do just that.

For years, PRC officials have attempted to rewrite history in order to further their own agenda and systematically deny entire groups of people even the most basic freedoms.

For example, consider Tibet. In 1950, the People’s Liberation Army occupied Tibet, the first-ever CCP presence on Tibetan soil. A decade of broken promises about autonomy led to a revolt in 1959, and the PRC unilaterally asserted its right to rule. For decades now, PRC officials have denied the people of Tibet the ability to practice their own religion, speak their own language, and partake in their own culture, even driving the Tibetan spiritual leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, into exile.

Self-determination — the right of a people to decide how they are governed — is a fundamental human right enshrined in international law, including a key treaty ratified by the PRC government. But since the 1950s, the PRC has denied Tibetans this right. Every major decision in Tibet is made by CCP officials.

For decades, the Dalai Lama has fought for his people’s right to determine their fate under an approach called the “Middle Way,” a term that represents a compromise between total PRC control and full Tibetan independence.

But over time, this position has been eroded by PRC propaganda that redefines Tibet’s status and history. Abetted by an international community unwilling to push back, Chinese officials have claimed Tibet as an internal matter that is of no business to outsiders.

Since the 1990s U.S. administrations of both parties have called on Chinese authorities to engage in dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives. To entice the CCP officials to participate in this dialogue, U.S. officials began stating that the U.S. considers Tibet a part of the PRC. Dialogue did start, but stopped in 2010. The CCP chose oppression over negotiation, and yet the U.S. has allowed the concession to remain.

So why do American diplomats continue to say, “Tibet is part of China?” This kind of rhetoric undermines both the U.S. position and the Tibetans’ freedoms. The CCP then uses it to support the lie that “Tibet has been a part of China since ancient times,” and the State Department perpetuates this propaganda by failing to rebut it. Young foreign service officers enter with the impression that, rather than an unresolved conflict, Tibet is an internal matter of China, which is exactly what PRC wants them to think.

U.S. policy on Tibet has lost its way. That is why we are introducing the Promoting a Resolution to the Tibet-China Conflict Act. The bill would make it U.S. policy that the Tibetan people have a right to determine how they are governed, and ensure that U.S. policymakers accurately treat this issue as an unresolved conflict between Tibet and the PRC, not as an internal affair of China.

Finally, our bill gives the State Department important new tools to counter PRC disinformation on Tibet. It directs the State Department’s Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues to ensure that U.S. government statements and documents do not support PRC propaganda on about the history of Tibet, the Tibetan people, and Tibetan institutions — including the Dalai Lama. We believe our bill will strengthen bipartisan support for dialogue between PRC officials and the Dalai Lama.

The CCP’s fabricated history and claims of ancient ownership of Tibet are part of a larger neo-imperialist effort to expand the CCP’s control and deprive people of their freedom, autonomy, and self-determination. We see it in Taiwan. We see it in Xinjiang. We see it in Hong Kong. And we see it in Tibet.

The United States should support the people of Tibet in pushing for a say in how they are governed. And we should push back on the CCP’s distortion of history rather than abetting it. Our bill does just that.