As US delegation heads to Dharamsala, Tibetans pin hopes on Biden-Dalai Lama meeting

Dharamsala, Jun 16 (IANS): As a high-level bipartisan US congressional delegation, led by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, is visiting India this week to have an audience with the Dalai Lama, in support of Tibet, the administration in exile is pinning hopes on a meeting between the Nobel Peace laureate and US President Joe Biden during the former’s visit to America starting June 20.

The US congressional meeting with representatives of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), also known as the Tibetan government in exile, is likely to provoke a diplomatic protest from Beijing, which regards “the Dalai Lama as a separatist and sees any foreign official contact with him an infringement of its sovereignty”.

Apart from meeting the spiritual leader, the US delegation will meet with Indian government officials and the American business community to strengthen relationships.

The visiting delegation comprises former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Gregory W Meeks, House Rules Committee Ranking Member Jim McGovern, House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Indo-Pacific Ranking Member Ami Bera, and Congresswomen Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Nicole Malliotakis.

In India, the delegation is expected to meet the Dalai Lama, 88, in McLeodganj -- a small and quaint hill station in the suburbs of Dharamsala overlooking the Himalayas -- on June 18-19.

CTA officials told IANS the proposed visit is the most significant contact since the Dalai Lama met the then President Barack Obama in Washington in 2016.

“India is the world’s largest democracy and an important strategic partner of the United States,” said McCaul in a statement.

“I look forward to meeting with government officials and the American business community to learn how we can continue to strengthen our relationship with India. I am also honoured to have the opportunity to meet with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. Tibetans are a democracy -- loving people who wish to practise their religion freely.

“This visit should highlight the bipartisan support in the US Congress for Tibet to have a say in their own future.”

“I look forward to joining Chairman McCaul and Speaker Emerita Pelosi to demonstrate the strong bipartisan support for the US-India relationship,” stated Ranking Member Meeks.

“Over the past 25 years, our relationship with India has transformed to become one of the United States most consequential. I’m also honoured to have a chance to meet with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and to hear his views on how the American People can help advance the Tibetan people’s struggle for autonomy.”

Earlier this month, the Dalai Lama office said he is travelling to the US for medical treatment of his knees and there will be no public engagement during the visit.

This has been the first visit abroad of the globetrotting monk since the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic was detected in December 2019.

“There will be no engagements, including public audiences, of His Holiness from June 20 onwards until further notice,” an official statement said.

“His Holiness the Dalai Lama is scheduled to travel to the United States for medical treatment of his knees. Upon his return to Dharamsala, regular engagements will resume,” it added.

His last visit to the US was in June 2017.

The last high-level visit that signifies Washington's significant support for the Tibetan issue was a meeting between the Dalai Lama and the US Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues Uzra Zeya at his official residence here on May 19, 2022.

In the run-up to the high-profile visit, Senator Ben Cardin, Chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, wrote on X on June 14, “Proud to see Congress pass the ‘Resolve Tibet Act’ this week.

“This legislation is a powerful reaffirmation of the United States’ steadfast commitment to the people of Tibet.”

A representative from the spiritual leader told IANS that since George H.W. Bush (1991), the Dalai Lama has met all the US Presidents, including Barack Obama on four occasions: February 18, 2010, July 16, 2011, February 21, 2014, and June 15, 2016.

The Dalai Lama and Obama met in the Map Room of the White House, rather than the President’s Oval Office usually reserved for visiting heads of state.

In 2017, Obama met the spiritual leader in New Delhi, the sixth in the series, to discuss promoting peace in the world.

Likewise, the Buddhist monk, known for his simplicity and jovial style, met Bill Clinton and George W. Bush several times.

In 2007, the Dalai Lama received the US Congressional Gold Medal, even in the face of protests by China.

The 88-year-old monk, who was enthroned two years before President Biden was born, has lived in exile in India since fleeing Tibet during a failed uprising against the Chinese government in 1959.

He met with Presidents, Prime Ministers and crown rulers of major nations, including US President Franklin Roosevelt, who sent the Dalai Lama the gift of a pocket watch when he was a young boy.

The Dalai Lama, who visits only on invitation, described the gold watch as magnificent and even took it with him when he fled Tibet in 1959.

In his election campaign, Biden had said if voted to power, his administration would sanction Chinese officials responsible for human rights abuses in Tibet, besides meeting with the Dalai Lama.

“During the forthcoming visit of His Holiness to the US, an invite from the White House would provide an opportunity to advance US support for the middle-way approach,” a representative from the spiritual leader's office told IANS.

The “middle-way approach” demands “greater autonomy” for the people in Tibet.

The 14th Dalai Lama was born on July 6, 1935, in a small village in the remote Amdo region of Tibet.

The Dalai Lama, who along with many of his supporters fled the Himalayan homeland and took refuge in India when Chinese troops moved in and took control of Lhasa in 1959, views himself as a simple Buddhist monk.



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