Jan. 29 (UPI) -- The U.S. House of Representatives has overwhelmingly passed legislation in support of protecting human rights in Tibet, the latest congressional condemnation against China's treatment of its citizens.
Passed by lawmakers 392-22 on Tuesday, The Tibet Policy Support Act of 2019 aims to update its predecessor signed in 2002 with the aim of protecting Tibetans from continued Chinese oppression.
If enacted, it would establish a U.S. policy that recognizes the succession or reincarnation of Tibetan Buddhist leaders as an exclusively religious matter overseen solely by the Tibetan Buddhist community, and impose sanctions against Chinese officials who interfere in this process.
It would also mandate that no Chinese consulate be established on U.S. soil until a U.S. consulate is established in Lhasa, Tibet's historical capital.
"It should be clear that we support a positive and productive U.S.-China relationship but it is essential that the human rights of all the people of China are respected by their government," said Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Mass., in his remarks from the House Floor before the vote.
McGovern, who introduced the bill in September and is chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, told lawmakers that the human rights situation in Tibet has worsened in recent years and the Chinese government has refused dialogue with Tibetan leaders while restricting access to Tibet, an autonomous region within China, of both natives and foreigners.
In the commission's 2019 annual report, it said in the past year Chinese authorities have continued to "systematically repress the peaceful exercise of internationally recognized human rights and intensify their restriction on the religious and cultural life of Tibetans."
The report also noted that the Chinese government last year restated its claim as the sole authority to select the next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said from the floor that by passing the bill they would be supporting the Tibetan people's right to religious freedom and autonomy.
"We are sending Beijing a clear signal that they will be held accountable for interfering in Tibet's religious and cultural affairs: making clear that Chinese officials who meddle in the process of recognizing a new Dalai Lama will be subject to targeted sanctions," she said.
The vote comes after President Donald Trump last year passed a bill in support of Hong Kong protesters who have been battling the Chinese government for months.
Following Trump signing the bill into law, the Asian nation retaliated by suspending U.S. port calls to the autonomous region and imposing sanctions against NGOs.
International Campaign for Tibet president Matteo Mecacci applauded the passing of the Tibet Policy Support Act of 2019 and said it reflects the widespread of support of the American people for their cause.
"By passing the Tibetan Policy and Support Act today, the House is sending another clear message to Beijing that U.S. support for Tibet is getting stronger and more institutionalized and will not waver despite China's bullying tactics," Mecacci said in a statement. "We look forward to this bill passing the Senate next and to it becoming law."