WASHINGTON (CN) — It’s not often that a member of Congress makes a legislative commitment to a Hollywood actor — but that’s what top House Republican Michael McCaul did during a press conference Tuesday afternoon.
McCaul, the Texas lawmaker who chairs the lower chamber’s foreign affairs committee, told actor Richard Gere that his panel would debate a proposed bill that, if made law, would amend existing U.S. policy on Tibet to actively counter what the congressman said was a disinformation campaign from China.
“Our bill rejects the [Chinese Communist Party’s] claims that their tyranny over Tibet is a legitimate government, and asserts that the people of Tibet have a say in their future,” McCaul said at Tuesday’s press conference with Gere and the bipartisan group of lawmakers behind the measure. “We cannot allow the CCP to suppress the vibrant history and resiliency of the Tibetan people or Tibetan Buddhism.”
Beijing annexed Tibet in 1951 and dissolved the nation’s independent government eight years later, following an uprising. The Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader, fled the country at that time. Beijing considers Tibet a part of greater China from its earliest history.
If approved, the legislation sponsored by McCaul and Massachusetts Democrat Jim McGovern would enshrine Tibet’s right to self-determination in U.S. policy and would reject China’s historical claim over the region.
The measure would also amend the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002, directing the State Department to publish periodic reports on its efforts to counter disinformation about Tibet from the Chinese government, including campaigns aimed at obfuscating Tibetan history or institutions such as the Dalai Lama. The bill would task the State Department’s designated coordinator for Tibetan issues with countering Beijing’s disinformation as well.
“When it comes to Tibet, we are running out of time, and we need to do something different,” McGovern said at Tuesday’s presser. “Let’s get this bill passed and send a clear and unambiguous message to the people of Tibet and the Chinese government that the whole world is watching what happens. We will not remain silent.”
Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley, who supports the proposed bill, said that the U.S. has a moral obligation along with the broader international community to push back against what he said were human rights abuses committed by Beijing in Tibet and against the Uyghur Muslim population in China’s Xinjiang province.
“We need to realize that this is an unresolved conflict, not an internal affair,” Merkley said of Tibet. “We must refresh U.S. policy towards Tibet and we must push for negotiations that advance freedoms for the Tibetan people and a peaceful resolution to China’s conflict.”
Gere, who has long been a proponent of Tibetan self-determination, remarked at the bipartisan support for the proposed legislation. “Have you ever seen an event where Republicans and Democrats get along this well?”
The actor suggested that the Chinese government’s policy toward Tibet is increasingly drawing scrutiny across the globe.
“I think today is a beginning point of where we can end up, and not just here in Washington,” Gere said. “I see this as a moment of possibility, and I want us all to grab this now. This bill that we’ve been talking about is about setting the record straight and setting history straight.”
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