Washington: The US has hinted that it will oppose any move by China to impose its own Dalai Lama on the Tibetan people as Washington believes that the decision to pick the successor to Tibet's current top Buddhist leader should be as per religious traditions and the state has no role in it.
China has grown increasingly wary about who will succeed the 14th Dalai Lama, who lives in India on exile. The current Dalai Lama, who is 83, was designated by high priests as the next Dalai Lama when he was just 2.
According to Tibetan Buddhist tradition, when the current Dalai Lama passes away, he will reincarnate as another person. China has maintained that it has the authority to appoint the successor to the 14th Dalai Lama, who is loyal to Beijing.
Explaining the Trump administration's stand to lawmakers on Tuesday, Laura Stone, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said the US has a clear position that religious decisions should be made by religious organisations, not by political regimes.
"The United States has a very clear position that decisions, religious decisions, should be made within religious organisations, that this isn't the role of the state," Stone told the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific and International Cybersecurity Policy during a Congressional hearing.
Stone was responding to a question from Senator Cory Gardner.
"China has said that they will pick the next Dalai Lama. The Tibetan Policy, actually in 2002, mandated that American officials visit Tibet on a regular basis. I want to get into both of these. If China proceeds and tries to impose a Dalai Lama what will the US response be?" the senator had asked.
Gardner said it was clear that this Congress would not recognise a Chinese imposition on the Tibetan people.
Stone said the senator asking such a question was an important signal in itself to the Chinese government that this was the kind of issue that the United States was watching very closely and at very senior levels.
"I wouldn't want to prejudge exactly how this, a future scenario, would roll out but I would like to lay a marker that that is the clear position of the United States government and, I think, widely supported within the American society, that those are the kinds of decisions that should be made by religious communities on their own and without outside interference," she asserted.
In his remarks, Gardner said the crackdown in the Tibet Autonomous Region was intensifying while Beijing continued to refuse negotiations with the Central Tibetan Administration.
"Human rights defenders are routinely jailed, tortured, and otherwise deprived of liberty. A genuine freedom of speech and assembly are nonexistent. Corruption and abuse of power are rampant. The judicial system is a tool of the state and the party and not an impartial arbiter of legal disputes," he said.
The United State, Stone said, was deeply concerned at the lack of meaningful autonomy for the Chinese people. "We have certainly pressed for the release of detained activists throughout the entire country, but very importantly, on the Tibet plateau and in historical Tibet," she said.
The US has been pushing for access to Tibet with the Chinese authorities, Stone said, adding "I know that's an important issue. We do want to work with Congress on that shared goal and we do continue to have very serious concerns about the ability of the Tibetan people to continue to have the ability to express their unique culture, their unique language, and their religious practices."
While Beijing views the Dalai Lama as a separatist who seeks to split Tibet from China, the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize laureate says he only seeks greater rights for Tibetans, including religious freedom and autonomy.
Senators Gardner and Ed Markey reflected the sentiments of the US Congress, seeking equal access of Americans to China as being done by the US to the Chinese. A legislation is currently being moved in the Congress in this regard.
"We need to consider reciprocal access as part of our policy in approach to Tibet and to China and what's being done to address this and to promote our access to Tibet. Do you share the goals of our Reciprocal Act? he asked.
In the absence of such a reciprocity, the Act calls for sanctions against Chinese officials.
"We certainly share the goals and we do look forward to working with you to figure out how best to achieve those goals," Stone said, confirming that the US government would implement the provisions of the Reciprocal Act if signed into law.