This past week, the Tibetan community was sent into a state of shock after learning that Trump’s 2018 budget proposes cutting the United States government’s aid to Tibet. The American government’s financial assistance to Tibetans over the last few decades has been a lifeline for one of the world’s most vulnerable populations. Both the US Congress and successive US administrations have passed numerous resolutions and made multiple statements pledging to support the Tibetan people’s aspirations to “safeguard Tibet’s distinct historical, religious, cultural, and linguistic identity and the protection of human rights.”
While the new White House may be willing to cut Tibet short and sell its politics to a higher bidder in Beijing, there are many leaders in Congress who understand the moral, historical, political and strategic imperative of standing up for Tibet. Here are the top five reasons why Congress must make sure that the US continues its critical aid to Tibet.
1. Tibetans are waging a nonviolent struggle against tyranny and oppression. If we want to reduce violent conflict in the world, we must support those who are using nonviolent methods to fight injustice. Cutting aid to nonviolent programs is a terrible way of fighting terrorism and violence. The most effective way to promote lasting peace and discourage war is by helping nonviolent movements to survive and succeed.
2. Tibet is one of the few bipartisan issues remaining in the polarized American politics of today. Democrats and Republicans have come to disagree on virtually everything. Tibet is one of the few issues that still command the support of both political parties. In these divisive times, we need common ground issues like Tibet to provide the neutral platforms on which Democrats and Republican Members of Congress can rebuild friendship and mutual understanding.
3. The Tibet aid program is not charity, it’s a reparation of sorts. When China invaded Tibet, tens of thousands of Tibetans fought against Mao’s army. The Cold War was at its height and Americans knew little about China. So the US decided to use the Tibetans to contain the Communist expansion and to secure intelligence about China, which was largely inaccessible to Westerners. The CIA ran a covert operation to train and finance Tibetan guerrillas. But the agency’s commitment to the operation was half-hearted and the supplies drastically inadequate. For 25,000 Tibetan soldiers in southern Tibet, for instance, the CIA dropped 700 old guns left over from WWII – barely enough to defeat a battalion, much less an army. Nevertheless, the Tibetans carried out a series of raids on Chinese military convoys. One such raid resulted in the capture of 1,500 Chinese documents containing the first concrete evidence of the “failure of Mao’s Great Leap Forward, famine, and discontent within the PLA.” According to CIA officer Ken Knaus, the “Tibetan Document Raid was one of the greatest intelligence hauls in the history of the agency.”
4. India is bolstering its support for Tibet, and so should the US. The liberal world order has never seemed more fragile, and democracy never more feeble. If we don’t want the authoritarian regimes of China and Russia to write the next chapter of world history in the coming decades, it is incumbent upon the two largest democracies of the world, India and the US, to step up and assert their leadership by supporting the nations that are engaged in life-and-death struggles for freedom, democracy and self-determination. To jaded Americans who take their freedom for granted, these words may ring hollow. But to Tibetans living under the boot of colonial oppression, ’freedom’ and ‘democracy’ are the very words and ideals for which people are laying down their lives.
5. Tibetans still believe in America. This may sound strange, but it’s true. Tibetans are one of the last remaining people on the planet who still believe in America – a rare and endangered species these days – and place their faith in the value of freedom and the virtue of democracy. When the Twin Towers fell in New York, Tibetans swarmed into the temples to offer prayers. Many Tibetan homes in Lhasa raised the American flag in their windows. (Well, some Tibetans did that partly with the intention of taunting the Chinese government, because Tibetans in Tibet often use the American flag as a placeholder for the banned Tibetan national flag. But that doesn’t make the gesture any less meaningful.) Tibet was betrayed by the US when Nixon, after meeting with Mao in 1972, pulled the plug on funding the Tibetan guerrilla force. We cannot betray the Tibetan people again, no matter whatever deal Xi Jinping may have struck with Trump when they met in Florida in April.
For the above reasons, among many others, concerned American citizens should write to their Members of Congress and ask them to reject Trump’s proposal. We should ask our Representatives and Senators to contact their colleagues on the House and Senate State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee – especially Chairman Harold Rogers (KY) and Ranking Member Nita Lowey (NY) for the House, and Chairman Lindsey Graham (SC) and Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (VT) for the Senate – and urge them to strengthen US support for all the programs that support Tibetans in and outside Tibet.