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Wiping Off the Red Paint: Washington Countering Chinese Propaganda on Tibet

What is happening?

On June 19th, a bipartisan seven-member delegation of U.S. lawmakers visited Dharamshala, India, where they met with the Tibetan government-in-exile and the 14th Dalai Lama. Republican Congressman and Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Michael McCaul led the delegation, which included notable figures such as former Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. After the meeting, the U.S. members of Congress greeted supporters who had gathered outside the Tibetan spiritual leader’s residence. On that occasion, they jointly announced the purpose of their visit to the Himalayan foothills – the approval of the Resolve Tibet Act, which passed both houses of the U.S. Congress over a week ago and is expected to be signed by President Joe Biden soon. The People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) adversaries were indeed swift, with the Global Times accusing the US of making “a lousy move” and playing the “Dalai card.”


What is the broader picture?

The Tibetan spiritual leader has a long history of meeting with US officials, including presidents from Jimmy Carter to Obama. However, the intensity of interactions at the highest level recently diminished. Donald Trump never met with the Dalai Lama during his tenure. Since taking office in 2021, Joe Biden has not met the Dalai Lama, despite having criticized his predecessor on this issue during the 2020 electoral campaign. Some analysts even believe that the current meeting between US lawmakers and the Dalai Lama is intended to compensate for the Biden administration’s reluctance to publicly express support for Tibetans.

In Dharamshala, Pelosi personally presented the Dalai Lama with a framed copy of the new bill. This is not only an artifact but also a symbolic reminder that the United States continues to support the efforts of the Tibetan government-in-exile in its fight for autonomy and freedom within the internal structure of the PRC, as well as efforts to prevent the forced Sinicization of Tibet. The Central Tibetan Administration regards this matter as a long-standing cultural genocide of its nation, dating back to the 1950s. In this context, there is a within the U.S. political establishment that the PRC should engage in dialogue with the government-in-exile on the unresolved status of occupied Tibet and a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides. However, all efforts of this nature have met stiff resistance from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which considers the issue a fait accompli, a position that goes hand in hand with the official party line. The CCP falsely claims that Tibet has belonged to China “since ancient times” and frames all calls for peaceful dialogue as an attempt by the US to undermine the territorial integrity and internal sovereignty of the PRC. The Tibet issue is also part of a broader crackdown on the pursuit of autonomy by China’s minorities, including people in East Turkestan.

For this reason, Beijing has not held any talks with the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile since 2010. The CCP also set as a condition for further negotiations the requirement that the government-in-exile must accept the premise that Tibet has historically always been a part of China. However, the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration refuse to take such an argument. Not only because it is false but also because the Tibetan exile leaders could lose all legitimacy in the eyes of the international community if they did so.

Therefore, the newly passed bill goes hand in hand with the long-standing U.S. policy of supporting national self-determination for Tibetans. It is crucial that today, the bill seeks to respond mainly to the propaganda and misinformation campaign increasingly coming from the PRC on the Tibetan issue. These include, in addition to the false claims about the historical unity of Tibet and China already mentioned, the accusations of U.S. efforts to secede East Turkestan from the PRC, or the question of the Dalai Lama’s successor. The PRC has already laid claims to his installation as the representative of a puppet government in Tibet, and the United States has announced in response that it will not recognize any choice of the 15th Dalai Lama by Beijing. It is also worth noting the propaganda concept of the Dalai clique, which is used in Chinese political discourse to describe the group of supporters around the current Tibetan government-in-exile. Beijing uses this term to imply that it is a small group of conspirators rather than legitimate representatives of the Tibetan people and portrays it as a separatist movement seeking to secede Tibet from China when, in fact, the Dalai Lama is only seeking greater autonomy. This term is part of a broader Chinese narrative that frames the Tibetan issue in terms of national unity and the territorial integrity of the PRC. The Chinese authorities use similar rhetoric to delegitimize the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile, portraying it as a subversive faction rather than a genuine movement for the rights of Tibetans to preserve their own distinct culture.


Why does it matter?

If U.S. efforts have any chance of success, Americans and the broader international community must gain a deeper understanding of how China reports on Tibet and the framing and rhetoric it uses in this context so that it does not unwittingly adopt them in the future. It is precisely this kind of misleading narrative and misinformation that the newly passed amendment seeks to address in its clause-by-clause language. For example, it explicitly mentions that although the United States considers Tibet part of the PRC, the conflict between the two sides remains unresolved for the time being. The bill also says that the legal status of occupied Tibet must be determined in the future by international law or that specific claims made by the PRC about the Tibetan issue are false. Finally, it also says that US public diplomacy must address and counter this misinformation campaign in the long run.