(TibetanReview.net, May27, 2017) – Reversing decades-old American policy of providing financial assistance to the Tibetan community for safeguarding its distinct cultural identity, United States President Donald Trump has proposed zero aid for it in 2018 in his maiden annual budget proposal to the Congress, reported the PTI news agency May 26. The president’s proposal is by means final, however, and is subjects to congressional amendment, negotiation and approval. Most of the US aid to Tibetans has been Congressionally-driven.
It was in 2002 that the Congress began earmarking Economic Support Fund assistance to Tibetan communities. In addition, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) manages provision of this support out of its India office, the report noted.
The Trump administration has suggested that other countries step in to provide assistance to Tibetans.
The State Department, which sent the detailed proposal to the Congress, has described it as one of the “tough choices” that it had to make as its budget itself had been slashed by more than 28 per cent.
The report said Tibetan community leaders in the US refrained from commenting on the development, saying they were still reading the budget papers. However, they have pointed out that majority of the assistance to the Tibetan people, including for Tibet, so far had been Congressionally-driven.
The report said Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi had expressed concern over the move. Her spokesman Drew Hammill was quoted as saying, “Leader Pelosi is very concerned about the zeroing out of aid to the Tibetan community in the Trump budget proposal.”
The report said the State Department, in its budgetary proposal for the fiscal year 2018 beginning Oct 1, had removed the decades-old Tibet Fund and proposed zero dollars against Ngwang Choephel Fellows. Both the categories were reported to have accounted, in 2017 and 2016, for more than a million dollars.
However, funding for programmes such as the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program, Mobility (Disability) Exchanges, and the Tibet Fund are included in Special Academic Exchanges, whose budgetary allocation had been reduced from more than $14.7 million in 2017 to just $7 million for 2018, the report noted, citing a footnote of the budget.
A State Department official, requesting anonymity, was quoted as saying, “Focusing our efforts will allow us to advance our most important policy goals and national security interests, while ensuring that other donor countries contribute their fair share toward meeting global challenges.”
The report said the move to abolish Tibet fund was expected to be widely opposed in the Congress. It noted that the US policy towards Tibet was currently being driven by the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002 which was signed by the last Republican President, George W Bush.
Foreign Relations Authorization Act, enacted into law on Sep 30, 2002, lists supporting “the aspirations of the Tibetan people to safeguard their distinct identity” as one of its purposes.
The act established in the State Department the position of United States Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues and states that the Special Coordinator’s “central objective” is “to promote substantive dialogue between the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the Dalai Lama or his representatives.”
The US government support for Tibetans under the Act includes assistance for non-governmental organizations to work among Tibetan communities in China; educational and cultural exchange program with “the people of Tibet”; Voice of America and Radio Free Asia Tibetan-language broadcasting into Tibet; and assistance for Tibetan refugees in South Asia.
It also calls for a scholarship program for Tibetans living outside Tibet; and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) human rights and democracy programmes relating to Tibet.
The Special Coordinator is required to “vigorously promote the policy of seeking to protect the distinct religious, cultural, linguistic, and national identity of Tibet” and press for “improved respect for human rights”.
According to a 2015 report on Tibet by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the total financial assistance to the Tibetan cause in 2014 was more than $24 million. This included $1 million for the Office of the Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, $10 million for support to ethnic Tibetans in China through Economic Support Fund, $575,000 for the Ngawang Choephel Exchange Program, $3.8 million for Radio Free Asia Tibetan Service, $3.2 million for the Voice of America Tibetan Service, $2.8 million for NGO Programmes Benefiting Tibetan Refugees in South Asia (Migration and Refugee Assistance), $710,000 towards Tibetan Scholarship Program for Tibetans outside Tibet and $621,000 to the NED’s Tibetan programmes.
The Ngawang Choephel Exchange Program consists of “programmes of educational and cultural exchange between the US and the people of Tibet,” including opportunities for training. It was named in honour of an India-based Tibetan ethnomusicologist and former Middlebury College Fulbright Scholar who in 1996 was sentenced to an 18-year prison term in China on espionage charges.
News about the Trump administration’s proposal to offer no aid to Tibetans emerged as President Lobsang Sangay of the Central Tibetan Administration at Dharamshala, India, concluded a visit to Washington, DC. During the visit he called on President Trump to meet with Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and met with a total of eight members of congress from both the parties, including House Minority (and Democratic) Leader Nancy Pelosi who had only recently led a congressional delegation to Dharamshala.