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US backs Tibetans' right to practice faith, choose religious leaders

Thursday - September 19, 2019 4:16 pm , Category : WORLD
Washington, Sep 19 (IANS) Amid widespread concerns over China actively planning for the successor to the Dalai Lama, a top US official has said that Beijing should allow Tibetans to practice their faith freely, including choosing religious leaders, without interference.
David Stilwell, Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, US State Department, told a Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday that the US believe that Tibetans, like all faith communities, must be able to practice their faith freely and select their leaders without interference.
"We will continue to assert this belief, and we remain committed to supporting meaningful autonomy for Tibetans."
His statement comes as US lawmakers have introduced a bill demanding that Beijing stay away from the octogenarian Tibetan spiritual leader's succession.
The bill, introduced in the House of Representatives by James McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat, also lays out a road map for punitive action against Chinese officials who interfere in the Dalai Lama's succession.
The legislation would "strengthen US support for the Tibetan people in their struggle for human rights, religious freedom and genuine autonomy", McGovern said in a statement on Wednesday.
Stilwell told the Senate hearing on US Policy in the Indo-Pacific Region: "Nor will we be silent about the Chinese government's repression at home. As Secretary Pompeo has said, the ongoing human rights crisis in China is "truly the stain of the century".
"In Xinjiang, authorities are deliberately attempting to strangle Uighur culture and stamp out the Muslim faith, including by detaining more than one million ethnic and religious minorities in camps.
"And in Tibet, where the Communist Party's oppression goes back decades, thousands of Buddhist monks and nuns have been evicted from their residences in just the past year alone.
"Disturbingly -- and ironically -- the party (Communist Party) continues to assert its role in the Dalai Lama's reincarnation process, even as President Xi has urged party members to remain "unyielding Marxist atheists".
"We believe that Tibetans, like all faith communities, must be able to practice their faith freely and select their leaders without interference. We will continue to assert this belief, and we remain committed to supporting meaningful autonomy for Tibetans," he said.
Separately, the bill introduced by McGovern, puts a condition that Beijing should not be allowed to expand its diplomatic stations in the US until Washington us able to establish a consulate in Lhasa -- echoing the tit-for-tat nature of last year's Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act.
The bill, the Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2019, is an amendment to the Tibet Policy Act of 2002, which codified in broad terms US government support for the Tibetan people.
It requires that the US administration consider any Chinese official who is "complicit in identifying or installing a government approved candidate" as Tibet's spiritual leader, contrary to the current Dalai Lama's instructions, to be subject to economic sanctions and prohibited from entering the US.
In July this year, China had conveyed that the successor of the Dalai Lama has to be decided within China and any interference by India on the issue will impact bilateral ties.
Senior Chinese officials and experts told a visiting team of Indian journalists that the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama must be approved by the Chinese government and the selection should take place within the country based on an over 200-year old historical process.
In August, the Dalai Lama, 84, assured his followers, especially Tibetans, that he is in the best of health and will live to be 110 years old.
Concerns about his health were voiced following news of his being admitted to a private hospital in Delhi due to a chest infection in April.

--IANS rn/in