Congressional committee moves to restore US aid for Tibet

[PTI] WASHINGTON, July 20, 2017: Reversing the Trump administration’s move to slash aid to Tibetans to zero, a key congressional committee has approved a bill to maintain the US policy of providing funds for Tibet and support “democracy and human rights programmes” in the Chinese-ruled region.

The administration, in its maiden budget proposal in May, had cut the US aid to Tibet to zero, esulting in a huge disappointment to the large Tibetan community around the world over the U-turn in America’s decades-old policy.

Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi had then expressed concern over the move. The US State Department, however, had described the decision as one of the “tough choices” it had to make as its budget itself had been slashed by more than 28 per cent.

But in a report accompanying the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill 2018, the House Appropriations Committee said it “continues to support democracy and human rights programmes for Tibet” and that “not less than the amounts provided in fiscal year 2017” be continued for such purposes.

The appropriations will be effective for the next fiscal beginning October 1.

The committee’s recommendation includes USD 1 million for the Office of the Special Coordinator for Tibetan issues.

Noting that the Tibetan language services of ‘Voice of America’ and ‘Radio Free Asia’ (RFA) provide the only sources of independent information accessible to the people of Tibet, the committee recommendation provides USD 4.2 million for RFA, including funds to continue the Tibetan language service.

It also recommended USD 8 million – same as the 2017 fiscal year – to support activities that preserve cultural traditions and promote sustainable development and environmental conservation among Tibetan communities in the Tibetan Autonomous Region and other Tibetan autonomous areas in China.

Noting that Tibetans in South Asia face developmental challenges, it has proposed USD 6 million to continue to support the exiled community in India and Nepal in the areas of education, skills development and entrepreneurship.

Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama, who leads the exiled members of the community, fled to India in 1959 after a failed uprising against the Chinese rule in his Himalayan homeland. China sees the 82-year-old leader as a separatist who plotted to divide Tibet from China.

The House Appropriations Committee in its report supported the continued allocation of funds to assist Tibetan refugees in Nepal and India – commensurate with prior years.

The committee expressed concerns over the reports that Nepal has handed over Tibetan refugees to Chinese border authorities, in contravention of Kathmandu’s international obligations to protect refugees fleeing persecution.

“The committee supports efforts by the Secretary of State to work with the Government of Nepal to provide safe transit for Tibetan refugees and legal protections to Tibetans residing in Nepal,” the report said.

An ‘Economic Support Fund’ will be made available for programmes to preserve Tibetan culture, development, and the resilience of Tibetan communities in India and Nepal, and to assist in the education and development of the next generation of Tibetan leaders from such communities, according to the bill.

According to a CRS report, the total financial assistance to the Tibetan cause was more than USD 24 million in 2014.

Since 2014, there has been a gradual decline in Tibetan funding. The House Appropriations Committee, however, proposes to reverse that trend.