US law on Tibet reaffirms Washington’s status as global bully

Today, Trump has zeroed in on Tibetan separatism,  an issue sensitive to Beijing. Tomorrow,  another US administration may get upset with the Indian government and pass a law demanding something or the other on Kashmir.

White House
Political observers are anticipating a rousing inaugural address by the president-elect Joe Biden, who is known to toil over his speeches

With the exception of China, no other country has objected to a new United States law on Tibet that envisages a US consulate in the capital Lhasa besides stipulating that Beijing must not interfere in the succession process of the Dalai Lama.

US allies, including India, are possibly happy that the Trump administration is pushing China to a corner, or at least attempting to with the Tibetan Policy and Support Act, 2020 passed earlier this week. The Chinese government finds it has no one to come to its support against the US move.

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That is not entirely a surprise as China is increasingly being perceived as a belligerent nation that is needlessly engaged in a hostile border transgression against India in the Ladakh area and  ‘encroaching’ on islands in the Pacific that are claimed by Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam among other countries in the region.


While it is understandable that countries with an axe to grind against Beijing are smug,  the larger issue that has been overlooked is how can one country legislate on issues that are internal to another sovereign nation.

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The US may be the world’s superpower but can it appropriate for itself the right to interfere in the affairs of other nations? Going by the silence across the various capitals, it seems so. The rest of the world has, by default, allowed Washington to do exactly what it wants even if it means violating international rules of sovereignty and the principles of non-interference.

Nearly 18 years ago,  the US government of George W. Bush came up with cock-and-bull stories about weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and invaded the country – without the concurrence of the United Nations Security Council which is required under international law. The disastrous after-effects of that invasion are still reverberating around the world, especially in the Middle-East.

Described as part of Bush’s ‘war on terror,’ the 2003 invasion instead exponentially pushed up terrorism around the world with the emergence of organisations like the Islamic State.  But the Bush administration has never been held to account. When it comes to the US, the world acquires feet of clay and loses its voice.

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For decades, the US has brazenly interfered in the politics of Latin America. Among the more recent ones is Washington’s role in Venezuela and Brazil with serious consequences.  A left-leaning democratic government of Nicolas Maduro took over power after the death of charismatic president Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 2013.

An economic crisis largely due to the fall in the international price of oil caused mass disturbances in that oil-exporting country. The administration in Washington recognised the opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela president after an election in 2019 in which the results were contested.

The US action would be unthinkable for any country as it was an internal Venezuelan issue. Again, there was no murmur from any other nation against this patently illegal move. It is another matter that Maduro has resisted attempts to unseat him and continues to head the government.

In Brazil, pro-US politicians backed by Washington carried out a veritable parliamentary coup against the Workers’ Party government of Dilma Rouseff in an almost filmi, unbelievable process that eventually gave rise to a rightwing government under controversial president Jair Bolsanaro. “It is clear that the executive branch of the US government favours the coup underway in Brazil, even though they have been careful to avoid any explicit endorsement of it,” said a detailed HuffPost investigation into the issue.

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It is like the rest of the world has given a carte blanche to the US to undertake any action it deems fit to arm-twist any nation. And remember, this can work against anyone. US politicians went hot under their collar when news emerged that the Russians interfered in their country’s 2016 presidential elections and have instituted inquiries that have gone into how this could happen. Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, as a popular saying goes.

Today, Trump has a bone to pick with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping and has zeroed in on Tibetan separatism, an issue sensitive to Beijing. Tomorrow, another US administration may get upset with the Indian government and decide to pass a law demanding something or the other on Kashmir, or asking New Delhi to deal with the farmers protest in a certain way.

Already New Delhi is cross with Canada’s Trudeau government which expressed concern over India’s farmers’ protest and said it would stand by peaceful protests anywhere in the world. The howls of protest from New Delhi clearly indicate that none wants an external power to have a say in what is considered an internal matter.

For a mere statement, the Indian government and analysts condemned the Canadian government. How would it be if the Trudeau dispensation were to legislate in Canada on the farmers’ issue? And, more importantly, what would be its locus standi? The same logic applies to the US, as well, vis-a-vis China.

In the case of Tibet, all countries including the US have recognised it as part of China. At a joint press conference in 2014 with President Xi, reports quoting the then US president Barack Obama said, “We recognize Tibet as part of the People’s Republic of China. We are not in favour of independence.” The EU similarly in 2008 reaffirmed Tibet as an integral part of China, and so did the French in 2009.

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India’s A.B. Vajpayee government in 2003 recognised Tibet as an integral part of China under the Principles of Relations and Comprehensive Cooperation.

A large part of Tibet is autonomous but that only means a degree of self-rule within the sovereignty of China.

How China deals with the issue of Dalai Lama’s succession is between Beijing and Tibetan Buddhist representatives. For the US to dictate on the manner of succession is beyond its jurisdiction.

The contentious legislation on Tibet has been steered by the Trump administration which has only a few more days left in office. As commented upon in these columns earlier, the powers that a lame-duck president in the US enjoys is a dangerous proposition for the world as the outgoing individual has no accountability but enjoys full powers of an elected president.

While the issue of Tibetan separatists fighting for an independent nation is an internal matter between the insurgents and the government in Beijing, the US’s wilful interference (including in other countries) tends to unsettle the global order.

In a world that is already grappling with COVID, issues of survival and the economic downturns, the wild west-type indiscretion by the Washington administration has the potential to ignite an irreversible process of global anarchy, if the Chinese retaliate.