McLEOD GANJ, India, 16 November 2020
World leaders congratulated Joe Biden on his election as the next President of the United States. The Dalai Lama was among the first to congratulate him and wish him well. China was among the last countries to do so — while Russia and Brasil are yet to formally recognise him. A few days into the vote count it became clear that Biden would be the next President. The unpredictable swing states eventually favoured Biden as the mail-in ballots came in.
Donald Trump has refused to concede defeat. Dejected, Trump claimed the election was tainted by widespread voting fraud, but without producing any evidence for these claims. Now in his desperate clinging to power, he’s spreading misinformation, filing lawsuits, and mounting challenges against election officials to overturn the results. Disruption in the transition process to the new president is already evident as Biden is being denied resources by the Trump administration to initiate the formal transfer of power.
Quite a large number of Tibetans in the US, irrespective of whether they could vote or not, expressed their support for Trump. As well, many in India and some in Tibet have shown their moral support for Trump. They believed that Trump was good for Tibet, and was confronting China. These misplaced ideas, however, were based on limited information, so to speak. The two Tibetan-language radio services funded by the US, broadcast from Washington DC, are their only source of information. In fact, their whole worldview is based on the broadcasts of these two services. These “Tibetan Trumpers” are mostly those who have come from Tibet, and their main means of communication is just the Tibetan language. One could guess what they would come to with that kind of limited information.
For instance, after Trump started saying “China virus”, blaming the entire pandemic on China, these Trump supporters were thrilled, thinking those words would hurt and caused huge damage to China, not knowing that Trump was using that gimmick to deflect attention from his failure in handling the rapid spread of Coronavirus in the US.
They even believe that the Congressional Gold Medal awarded to the Dalai Lama in 2007 was from a Republican President George Bush. Actually this Congressional (not Presidential) medal was decided on by the members of the Congress when the Democrats dominated the House. Of course, many centrist Republicans did support the conferment as well.
All the legal Acts related to Tibet signed by the US Presidents were bills sponsored by Democrats, be it the 1,000 Tibetan Resettlement Project 1990 (Barney Frank, D-MA), Tibetan Policy Act of 2001 (Tom Lantos, D-CA), Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act of 2018 (Jim McGovern, D-MA), or the Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2019 (Jim McGovern, D-MA). Of course, the bills were approved with bipartisan support, clearly showing Tibetans have supporters from both sides of the aisle. What is important here is to look at the person holding the top post. Bush junior is regarded highly by the Dalai Lama, for instance.
Strangely, the political leader of the Tibetans-in-exile (known as Sikyong in Tibetan), Lobsang Sangay, also showered huge praises on Trump, saying he’s among those US Presidents who have given the strongest support for Tibet. He used the events of Trump signing the Reciprocal Access Act, and the few million dollars given in aid to Tibetans in India and Nepal, as a sign of “strong support” for Tibet. He totally discredited the Representatives who introduced the bills at the first place.
After being in the US less than a month ago, Sangay will again travel there, this time to Washington to lobby for the Tibetan Policy and Support Act, now pending at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to have it approved and brought forward to get the presidential signature before Trump leaves the White House. This bill, introduced by Democrat Jim McGovern, was successfully passed by a bipartisan majority in the House, but has been sitting at the Committee on Foreign Relations since January. What made it so important for Sangay to lobby now for this bill, is another question.
Trump didn’t confront China on human rights, freedom, democracy, rule of law, or global warming, let alone speak on Tibet. The word ‘Tibet’ has never once come from his mouth, so much for “strong support”. On the contrary, when Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to UN, sought permission in June 2018 to take a diplomatic envoy to meet with the Dalai Lama, Trump refused permission, in order not to offend China.
Add to all that, Trump is anti-immigrant, and there are still many Tibetans who need to become legal residents. Most of them haven’t felt the American experience yet, and are naïve in thinking that all white Americans are supporters of Tibet and the Tibetan cause. They have only met or seen some liberal American travellers in McLeod Ganj, India, and they think all white Americans are Tibet supporters. Do they really think that the big white men in the US clasping huge machine guns would support Tibet and the Tibetan cause? These racist white supremacists would thrash even these Tibetan Trumpers if they went to one of their neighbourhoods. Trump’s speeches and actions amplify and stoke racial discord, clearly marking him as a racist and a white supremacist.
The Dalai Lama has accused Trump of having a “lack of moral principle.” Trump’s “America First” policy, the withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, and the migrant crisis, particularly at the US-Mexico border, are some of the major concerns that earned that scathing remark from the Dalai Lama, who has also mocked Trump’s weird hair and his “small” mouth.
Biden, as a veteran politician, has an in-depth understanding of the Tibetan issue. He has met with the Dalai Lama and supported the Tibetan cause in the past. During his campaign trail, he promised to meet the Dalai Lama and continue to support the Tibetan cause, if he was elected President. As a liberal, and a believer in democracy, freedom, and equality, Biden will not be a person who will get stuck with the temperature of the elections, looking at who voted for him or not, but will move forward to lead. He will understand the equally big and loud and clear support for him from the liberal left Tibetans. When he becomes President, come January, irrespective of those Tibetan Trumpers, he will do all that needs to be done, to uplift the lives of people, heal the divide, bring back the lost glory of America, and keep the promises.
The Tibetan Trumpers wouldn’t make much difference with their voting for Trump, if they ever voted, or if they could vote at the first place, as they are mostly in the blue states — New York, California and Minnesota. There are about 30,000 Tibetans in the US today. New York has the maximum concentration with about 15,000, and California has about 5,000. Minnesota, has the third largest with about 4,000.
Now what Biden could do for Tibet, and he probably would do, is to help these Tibetans without papers. To process a few thousand Tibetans wouldn’t be difficult. In any case, he has promised to legalise some 11 million immigrants. If he move fast with this, Tibetans would qualify and would become legal residents. Two, there’s no reason to think that Biden will not continue to provide funds to the Tibetans as the previous US governments have done, to help in preserving and promoting their culture, language, art, traditions, education, and health.
Post pandemic, it could be expected that he will make space and time to meet with the Dalai Lama, as he promised. But more than these, what is urgently needed for him to do is address the human rights situation, and the environmental degradation in Tibet.
It is widely expected that Biden will have a strong China policy. He will hit China at the right spots by speaking about human rights abuses, Tibet, East Turkistan and Inner Mongolia included, the rights restrictions in Hong Kong, the constant threat to Taiwan, undue territorial claims, and for more freedom and rule of law in China.
At the global level, Biden has promised to rejoin the Paris climate accord to tackle global warming; he will consider science over dogma, and join hands with international institutions in fighting the Coronavirus pandemic; promote democratic values by forging alliances with the free world to combat authoritarianism. He plans to invest in clean energy over fossil fuels in rebooting the US economy. And his choice of a woman running mate — Kamala Harris — also the first Black woman and the first of Indian descent to hold the post of Vice President, is already a milestone that the world appreciated. In all, this duo — Biden and Harris — will reposition the US to lead the free world in the best way that everyone will cherish.
About the author
Lobsang Wangyal lives in McLeod Ganj, India, and edits the Tibet Sun website.
More articles by Lobsang Wangyal on Tibet Sun.