US lawmakers in India to meet Dalai Lama, discuss Tibet-China dispute bill

Former U.S. House speaker Nancy Pelosi is welcomed by the Tibetans upon her arrival in Kangra

By Charlotte Greenfield

DHARAMSALA, India (Reuters) - A group of U.S. lawmakers arrived in India on Tuesday to meet Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, with the head of the delegation saying President Joe Biden would soon sign a bill that aims to press China to resolve the Tibet dispute.

The bill seeks to push Beijing to hold talks with Tibetan leaders, stalled since 2010, to secure a negotiated agreement on Tibet and spur China to address Tibetan people's aspirations on their historical, cultural, religious and linguistic identity.

The visit, likely to rile Beijing at a time when the U.S. and China have sought to stabilise rocky ties, comes days ahead of a U.S. trip planned by the Dalai Lama for medical treatment, but it is unclear if he will have any engagements during it.

The bipartisan delegation of seven lawmakers, headed by Republican Representative Michael McCaul and including Democratic former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, arrived in the Himalayan town of Dharamsala.

It is home to the 88-year-old Tibetan monk in exile.

"We are very excited to see His Holiness tomorrow to talk about many things, including the bill we just passed out of Congress that basically says the United States of America stands with the people of Tibet," McCaul said.

He was referring to a meeting set for Wednesday morning.

Asked if Biden will sign the bill soon, McCaul responded, "Yes, he will, he will."

McCaul, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, was referring to the legislation, 'Promoting a Resolution to the Tibet-China Dispute Act', also known as the Resolve Tibet Act.

U.S. lawmakers have regularly visited Dharamsala and touted the work of the Dalai Lama to draw global support for linguistic and cultural autonomy in his remote, mountainous homeland.

Beijing, which considers the Nobel peace laureate a dangerous "splittist" or separatist, said it was "seriously concerned" about the visit and the bill expected to be signed by Biden.

"We ... urge the U.S. to fully recognise the anti-China and separatist nature of the Dalai clique, abide by its commitments on Tibet-related issues, refrain from any form of contact with it, and stop sending erroneous messages," foreign ministry spokesperson Lin Jian said on Tuesday.

Lin said Tibet's affairs are purely the internal affairs of China, which brooks no interference from external forces.

"We urge the U.S. side to honour its commitment of recognising Tibet as part of China and not supporting Tibetan independence, and not to sign the above-mentioned bill," Lin told a regular briefing.

Beijing would take "resolute and forceful measures" to safeguard its sovereignty, security and development interests, he added.

The Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet. Chinese officials chafe at any interaction he has with officials of other countries.

The Dalai Lama has met U.S. officials, including presidents, during previous visits to the United States, but Biden has not met him since taking office in 2021.

Crowds of Tibetans, among them school children holding banners, gathered at the airport of the small hill town to greet the visiting lawmakers, while dozens of monks and nuns in maroon robes cheered as they got into vehicles.

"Over the last two years the Resolve Tibet Bill was passed ... and it is now on the desk of President Biden, so that will be a game changer," said Tenzin Lekshay, spokesperson for the Central Tibetan Administration, or government in exile.

(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield in Dharamsala, India; Additional reporting by Ethan Wang in Beijing; Writing by YP Rajesh; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)