Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama folds his hands prior to give a speech on September 20, 2018 in Heidelberg, western Germany. - The Dalai Lama is attending the International Science Festival where he is to give a speech on "Happiness and Responsibility". (Photo by Marijan Murat / dpa / AFP) / Germany OUT        (Photo credit should read MARIJAN MURAT/AFP/Getty Images)
The history of the Dalai Lama's exile
03:11 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Lawmakers in the House approved a bill Tuesday afternoon to update the 2002 Tibetan Policy Act, the latest in a series of congressional moves to strengthen America’s stance towards China.

The Tibet Policy and Support Act, introduced by Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat, alongside a bipartisan roster of cosponsors, passed with an overwhelming vote of 392-22.

The legislation would establish as US policy that the succession of Tibetan Buddhist leaders, including a future 15th Dalai Lama, be left solely to the Tibetan Buddhist community, without interference from the Chinese government.

The bill states that if Chinese officials interfere in the process of recognizing a successor or reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, they will be subject to sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act. It also calls for the establishment of a US consulate in Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region. Tibet is an internationally recognized autonomous region within the People’s Republic of China, though many Tibetans dispute the legitimacy of China’s rule.

“It should be clear that we support a positive and productive US-China relationship,” McGovern said ahead of the vote. “But it is essential that human rights of all the people in China are respected by their government.”

Much of the opposition to the bill came from members of the House Freedom Caucus. Fiscal conservatives took issue with spending authorized by the bill, adding up to about $27 million annually over the 2021-2025 period.

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, this authorized spending includes funding for a variety of programs, including efforts to preserve Tibetan language and culture, strengthen Tibetan governance and institutions, and promote sustainable development, education, and conservation, as well as scholarships for Tibetan students.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida has sponsored the Senate version of the legislation, but it has not received a vote in that chamber yet.

In this divided Congress, few matters receive the same sort of broad and consistent support as efforts to address human rights and national security concerns in China.

The House voted in November to pass the high-profile Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, legislation supporting protesters in the special administrative region. They also approved a bill to block crowd control exports to the Hong Kong police force, citing instances of police brutality and crackdowns during the protests. The bills were later signed into law by President Donald Trump.

In December, the House passed the UIGHUR Act, a bill to condemn the Chinese government for its mass internment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. It would enable Magnitsky sanctions on Chinese officials deemed responsible for the concentration camps and would require the State Department to assemble a report on human rights abuses in the region. The Senate had previously passed its own version of the bill, Rubio’s Uighur Human Rights Policy Act.

Senators had hoped to approve the House-passed version of the bill by the end of 2019, but technical changes on some of the sanctions provisions were needed, Sen. Jim Risch, an Idaho Republican who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations committee, told CNN at the time.

The two chambers have yet to reconcile the differences between the measures. Risch had no update on the bill when CNN asked about it on Monday.

This story has been updated with additional developments Tuesday.