Wake-Up India: US’ Tibet Policy & Support Becomes Law; Should India Play The Tibet Card Now?

Will India join hands with the US in safeguarding Tibet? Despite several warnings from China, US President Donald Trump signed a bill into law that calls for building an American consulate in Lhasa and checks Beijing’s interference in the reincarnation of the new Dalai Lama. 

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The Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2020 (TPSA) calls for building a US Consulate in Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet, and makes it US policy that decisions regarding the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama are exclusively within the authority of the current Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhist leaders, and the Tibetan people.

It further provides that the Chinese government’s interference in the process will invite serious sanctions and visa restrictions.

Following the Galwan valley clash between Indian and Chinese troops in June, New Delhi has stepped up its ante and has increasingly aligned itself with the US in a bid to contain the Chinese threat. As many as 20 Indian soldiers were killed in the incident while the Chinese side did not reveal their casualty figures.  

According to Major General Ashok K Mehta (retd), a founding member of the Defence Planning Staff, the forerunner of the current Integrated Defence Staff, India’s boundary dispute is intrinsically linked to Tibet.

In an opinion piece for The Quint, General Mehta explained that New Delhi’s recognition of Chinese sovereignty over Tibet was contingent upon China’s acceptance of Tibetan autonomy.

“The Dalai Lama gave up the quest for independence in exchange for genuine autonomy within China. Beijing has squashed autonomy and not kept its side of the bargain with Tibet and China,” he wrote.

The Chinese foreign ministry “firmly rejected” the new US law. Beijing has reiterated that the issue is internal and the new law is a way to “crackdown on China, with Tibet being one of the few ‘cards’ it can play.”

Arguing over America’s intent to open a new consulate in Lhasa, China’s state-owned Global Times said the US has “ulterior motives” for opening a consulate in Tibet, without explaining what these motives are. 

India’s Tibet Story

After the failed uprising in 1959 in Tibet, the 14th Dalai Lama was forced to flee to India. A Tibetan government-in-exile was set up in Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh.

However, in 2003, India recognized Tibet as a part of the territory of the People’s Republic of China. Tibetans have been resisting the Chinese occupation for decades.

The movement has now been rekindled after a Tibetan-origin soldier with India’s special forces was killed during a military operation in Eastern Ladakh in August.


Following the India-China war in 1962, the Special Frontier Force (SFF) was formed by recruiting thousands of exiled Tibetans. Recently, amid the current standoff, the SFF was used to carry out an operation in eastern Ladakh on the intervening night of 29-30 August that helped capture critical heights in the region.

Earlier, SFF has been involved in several covert operations including the 1971 war, Operation Blue Star in Golden Temple Amritsar, Kargil conflict, and counter-insurgency operations in the country. There are several other operations that SFF took part in but the details of those are classified. 

Beijing has repeatedly warned India that “playing the Tibet card” will “only make its own situation worse”.  India’s acceptance and support of the Tibetian government have irked China for decades now.

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