SEATTLE, Washington — H.R. 4331: The Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2019 is a bill currently in the U.S. Congress that aims to support the Tibetan Buddhist community in China. It will do this by giving government grants to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that seek to improve “economic development, cultural preservation and education” in Tibet. Additionally, H.R. 4331 aims to increase the United States’ involvement in Tibetan human rights issues by establishing a consulate in Tibet. This will ensure water rights for Tibetan residents and evaluate China’s involvement in religious freedom and human rights abuses in Tibet.
Tibetan Poverty: A Look at the People
Human Rights Watch reports that Tibet is under persistent land grabs and has a lack of freedom of speech and religion because of China’s oppressive rule. These violations of human rights have also had serious effects on the Tibetan economy, poverty and employment rates. Although some experts in China claim that poverty rates in Tibet have dropped 20 percent in the last four years, locals and the international community alike have balked at this number. In fact, forced housing relocation and resettlement have pushed the poorest Tibetans out of their homes. A minimum of 25 percent of Tibetans have been forcibly relocated.
The Chinese government has released figures showing booming economic growth in Tibet. It predicted a 10 percent growth in GDP in 2018. The unemployment rate that year was 2.83 percent after the creation of 54,000 new jobs in urban areas. Regardless, the Tibetan people themselves are still among the poorest in China. The minority population makes up at least 48 percent of residual poverty. Many of the Tibetan people live on less than $1 a day and live in harsh or rural climates. This leaves Tibetans economically isolated.
The 2003 resettlement of Tibetans in China led to the forced relocation of many Tibetans into areas with little to no economic infrastructure. This has made it more difficult for Tibetan families to transition out of poverty. Additionally, It is more difficult for Tibetans to gain access to business permits and loans because the economy is largely driven by state-controlled organizations. These structural inhibitions are only a portion of the factors that contribute to the severe poverty among Tibetans. However, H.R. 4331 targets many of these factors and seeks to directly lift Tibetans out of poverty.
H.R. 4331 Goals and Outcomes
Although there have been Tibetan support acts in the past, H.R. 4331 will establish a new formal relationship between the U.S. and Tibet, allowing for increased aid and intervention. Another addition to the current support from the United States to Tibet will be economic assistance. If passed, H.R. 4331 would allow the State and Commerce Departments to increase the economic self-sufficiency of the Tibetan people. Additionally, the bill would condition a U.S. consulate for China to ensure that it allows Tibetans to maintain sovereignty over natural economic resources like land, mineral reserves and mines.
In addition to ensuring direct action on part of the United States government, H.R. 4331 would provide funding for NGOs to help economically develop Tibet and improve and fund education. NGOs would also receive funding to assist and encourage Tibetans to develop the raw resources present in Tibet. A conservative estimate of natural resources in Tibet reports that resources are worth $1.5 million in exports annually. This could significantly increase the number of jobs available and alleviate poverty. NGOs will also be given funding to address growing water insecurity, protect the environment from industrial pollution and recommend strategies for environmentally conscious economic development.
A Lasting Effect
The Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2019 seeks to address the most serious causes of poverty among Tibetans by targeting education, employment, water access and land displacement. Through H.R. 4331, the United States would increase international presence in Tibet, protecting a vulnerable population from further exploitation both environmentally and economically. H.R. 4331 would provide an international framework that would increase freedom and economic growth among Tibetan populations. The House passed the bill, and it is now being sent to the Senate for further review.
– Denise Sprimont