Congress calls on Trump Administration to implement statutory obligation by appointing a US Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues

As the Trump Administration prepares to name the next level of officials for the State Department, 37 members of Congress have written to President Trump reminding him of his statutory obligation, established under the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002, to appoint a Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues. The letter begins: “As members of the United States Congress, we write to urge you to appoint the position of Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues at the US Department of State as soon as possible.”

In the letter, dated June 21, 2017, the Members of Congress told the President: “The preservation of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural and linguistic traditions and the equal protection of human rights of Tibetans in China have widespread support among the American people and strong bipartisan support in Congress. The core purpose of the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002 (TPA), the principal legislation guiding U.S. policy toward Tibet, is “to support the aspirations of the Tibetan people to safeguard their distinct identity.” In order to achieve this purpose, the Congress established the position of Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues whose mandates include to vigorously promote the policy of seeking to protect the distinct religious, cultural, linguistic and national identity of Tibet,” and to press for “improved respect for human rights.”

Section 621 of the Tibetan Policy Act says, “There shall be within the Department a United States Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues.”

The members of Congress also said the Special Coordinator should be at the level of an Under Secretary of State, saying, “Since the passage of the TPA, the position of Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues has been designated at the level of Under Secretary of State. We strongly encourage you to continue this practice, as a means of communicating to the Chinese government that your administration shares the commitment of past administrations and the US Congress to the rights and well being of the Tibetan people.”

From the very beginning of the Trump Administration, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and US Ambassador to China Terry Branstad have stated, on the record, they will encourage dialogue between Beijing and representatives of the Dalai Lama. Secretary Tillerson also said he will encourage China and all governments “to respect and preserve the distinct religious, linguistic, and cultural identity of the Tibetan people worldwide.”

The letter highlighted the current “critical time for Tibetans” with the “systematic suppression of basic human rights and religious freedom.” It also points out that “no talks have taken place between representatives of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government since January 2010, even as millions of Tibetans have pinned their hopes for a better future on the dialogue process, continuously supported by previous U.S. administrations. The first step toward addressing all of these problems is to name a new Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues.”

Congressmen Jim McGovern and Randy Hultgren, co-chairs of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, led this initiative. Congressman McGovern said, “The human rights crisis facing Tibetans gets worse and worse every day. Our letter to President Trump urges him to take the first step to focus his Administration’s attention on this problem, by naming the Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, a position established by law. Filling the Special Coordinator position will send a clear message to China that the rights of Tibetans remain at the top of the U.S. government’s agenda.”

After the letter initiative began in Congress, Tibetan-Americans and Tibet supporters in the United States, including thousands of ICT members (who wrote to the Trump Administration) as well as Tibetan Association members, have supported it. The letter was also one of the ‘asks’ during the 2017 Tibet Lobby Day.

Following is the full text of the letter. (Download the letter »)

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