Last update06:25:38 AM GMT

President Trump proposes zero aid to Tibet programs, reverses decade old US policy

Trump’s cuts to foreign aid face resistance in Congress. Photo: File
Washington DC — President Donald Trump’s proposed 2018 budget, if voted into effect, would immediately halt all funding critical to advancing freedom in Tibet. Proposed budget cuts would eliminate all USAID programming for Tibet and funding for the Ngawang Choephel Fellows program, which finances educational and cultural exchanges for Tibetan refugees.

Tibetan refugees in South Asia, particularly in the Indian hill town of Dharamshala also stand to be affected by the ripple effects of this significant policy reversal by the United States.

A State Department official “As we work to streamline efforts to ensure efficiency and effectiveness of US taxpayers’ dollars, we acknowledge that we have to prioritise and make some tough choices”. Economic development programs in Tibet will take the most significant hit. In addition to the cuts outlined above, the administration is believed to be considering to abandon the Tibet Fund. Nor does the budget proposal outline how cuts to the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) will impact programs toward Tibet.

There is hope however, as US policy towards Tibet historically has been dictated by Congress and not presidential administrations, and the current House of Representatives is widely expected to reject Trump's proposal.

The U.S. policy towards Tibet is currently driven by the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002 which was signed by the last Republican President, George W. Bush. Enacted into law on September 30, 2002, as part of the Foreign Relations Authorisation Act, FY2003, it lists its “purpose” as being “to support the aspirations of the Tibetan people to safeguard their distinct identity.”

These cuts and policy reversals come at a time when the Chinese government has been steadily threatening the cultural identity of Tibetans, demolishing one of the world’s largest Tibetan Buddhist academies, the Larung Gar, and reducing the population of monks and nuns from 12,000 to less than 5,000 after its partial destruction in 2016. Protests against Chinese occupation have also increased, with over a hundred fifty monks having self-immolated since February 2009.

Speaking at The Heritage Foundation, Dr Lobsang Sangay, president of the Central Tibetan Administration, reaffirmed Tibet’s commitment to the “Middle Way” approach. “The Middle Way approach” explained Sangay, “is in the middle of seeking separation or independence from China but at the same time ending the present repressive policies of the Chinese government.”

It toes the line taken by the Dalai Lama, when he was the political head of Tibet, as it seeks to find independence and freedom for the Tibetan people within the framework of the constituition of the PRC. It is a peaceful initiative, one that embraces dialogue with the Chinese government. The last two U.S. administrations affirmed that policy, but it remains to be seen whether it will be supported by the Trump administration which has said surprisingly little on Tibet.

Defunding efforts to empower Tibetans sends the signal that the present U.S. administration no longer prioritizes advancing liberty in places like Tibet and Xinjiang where China has been proven to use systematic human rights violations to maintain control.

The United States Congress and US Administrations have for the last few decades supported the aspirations of the Tibetan people “to safeguard Tibet’s distinct historical, religious, cultural, and linguistic identity and the protection of human rights.” as stated by numerous Congressional Resolutions, US Presidents statements and the Tibetan Policy Act.

As a result, humanitarian and development assistance programs have been supported in the US State Department budget for the Tibetan people, both in Tibet and in exile, to enable them to preserve and promote their distinct culture, identity and way of life, and to empower them economically. This assistance over the years has had a very positive impact on the development of the Tibetan community.

In addition to the direct economic and humanitarian assistance provided to Tibetans in Tibet and in exile, hundreds of Tibetan students in exile who have availed themselves of the educational assistance programs, are now at the helms of the Tibetan governance structure in exile and are able to make concrete contributions to the Tibetan community.

Tibetan communities in exile and abroad are concerned by the reduction of financial support to Tibet programs, as proposed in President Donald Trump‘s fiscal year 2018 budget, announced on May 23, 2017.

According to media reports, many Tibetan government and non-government organs have already reached out to the offices of the relevant Committees in both the House and the Senate and will be following up on this, as the Congress will now take up the President’s budget proposal.


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