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US turns heat on China with tough new policy on Tibet and Taiwan

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(This story originally appeared in on Dec 28, 2020)

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump and the US Congress have upped the ante on China, legislating new policy aimed at challenging Beijing’s efforts – acquiesced for years by Washington to bully Tibet and Taiwan into submission.

Contained in the massive spending bill signed into law by President Trump on Sunday night is the Tibet Policy and Support Act (TPSA), which bolsters support for autonomous conduct of Tibetan affairs and calls for the establishing of a US consulate in Lhasa, and the Taiwan Assurance Act which strengthens military ties with Taiwan.

Coming on the heels of China’s massive indoctrination efforts in Tibet, including setting up military camps, the TPSA reaffirms the rights of Tibetans to choose a successor to their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, while mandating sanctions on Chinese officials who interfere in the selection.

The TAA supports Taiwan’s meaningful participation in United Nations bodies while normalising regular arms sales and strengthening its defense capability.

The provisions freaked out Beijing, which has long carried out pogroms aimed at decimating Tibetan culture and religion with impunity in the face of successive US administrations and lawmakers being in thrall of China’s economic growth. Trump is the first president who openly blew the whistle on the damage China is causing to the US economy, although it took the coronavirus pandemic for him to spring into action.

Warning that the US action constituted interference in China’s internal affairs, a Chinese spokesperson asserted in Beijing that “the determination of the Chinese government to safeguard its national sovereignty, security and development interests is unwavering.”

The spokesman also said Washington should not put the parts of the acts which “target China” into effect in order to avoid harming Sino-US relations, a reference to the “discretion” — cowardice in the eyes of critics — previous US Presidents exercised while considering previous such legislative provisions as “advisory” in order to not aggravate Beijing.

Although the Tibetan cause — and the Dalai Lama — has the respect and backing on the Hill, notably from the powerful House speaker Nancy Pelosi herself, successive US Presidents gradually dialed down support in the face of China’s growing clout. US timidity was underscored by President Obama’s decision to downgrade the venue of his meeting the Dalai Lama from the Oval Office to the Map Room, from where, according to one account, he was ushered out of the back door past heaps of trash.

The coronavirus pandemic, which Trump insists on calling the “China virus,” has reset Washington’s view of Beijing, with many more lawmakers taking a hard line on China. Given House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s long standing ties to the Tibetan cause, the incoming Biden administration is also expected to hew to the new policies outlined in the legislation.

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