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US lawmakers meet Tibet’s Dalai Lama, warn China on choice of successor

A group of U.S. lawmakers who met the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama in Dharamshala on Wednesday said they would not allow China to influence the choice of his successor, comments expected to anger Beijing which calls him a separatist.

They also signalled that Washington would pressure Beijing to hold talks with Tibetan leaders, stalled since 2010, to resolve the Tibet issue with a bill President Joe Biden is expected to sign soon.

The bipartisan group of seven, led by Michael McCaul, a Republican representative from Texas, who also chairs the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, met the Nobel peace laureate at his monastery in the northern town of Dharamsala.

“It is still my hope that one day the Dalai Lama and his people will return to Tibet in peace,” McCaul told a public reception after the meeting.

Beijing has even attempted to insert itself into choosing the successor of the Dalai Lama, he said, but added, “We will not let that happen.”

The Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet. Having suffered from health problems for years, the 88-year-old is set to fly to the United States this week for medical treatment.

The question of his successor has been a contentious and widely-debated issue.

Beijing has said the tradition must continue and its officially atheist Communist leaders have the right to approve the successor, as a legacy inherited from China’s emperors.

Tibetan tradition holds that the Dalai Lama is reincarnated after his death, and the current leader has said his successor may be found in India.

The dispute indicates the power and influence attaching to the role and the tussle between Beijing and its rivals to control it, analysts say.

The U.S. group, which includes Democratic former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, arrived on Tuesday to a warm reception from school children, Buddhist monks and nuns.

Pelosi said that approval by Congress for the legislation, titled the ‘Promoting a Resolution to the Tibet-China Dispute Act’, or the Resolve Tibet Act, sends a message to China that Washington is clear in its thinking on the issue of Tibet.

“This bill says to the Chinese government: things have changed now, get ready for that,” Pelosi said to cheers from hundreds of Tibetans at Wednesday’s event.

Beijing, which calls the Dalai Lama a dangerous “splittist” or separatist, said it was seriously concerned about the visit of the lawmakers to Dharamsala and the bill.

It urged the lawmakers not to make contact with what it calls the “Dalai clique” and Biden not to sign the bill.

Chinese officials chafe at any interactions of the Dalai Lama with officials of other countries, though he has met U.S. officials, including presidents, on previous U.S. visits.

Biden, however, has not met the Dalai Lama since taking office in 2021 and it is not clear if the Tibetan leader will have any engagements during this month’s visit.

(Reuters)

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