Tibet Back On The Map

The recent visit of a U.S. congressional delegation to India to meet with the Dalai Lama in Dharamshala grabbed global attention. This visit, just after the Indian general elections, is startling for various reasons. This delegation, led by Representative Jim McGovern, a long-time advocate for Tibetan rights, underscores rekindled U.S. support for the Tibetan cause. The visit aimed to discuss human rights, religious freedom, and preserving Tibetan culture. This visit is believed to mark a policy change for the US vis-à-vis Tibet. Considering the recent global landscape, this visit is seen as a pressure tactic to counter China’s occupation on Tibet. In this piece, we’ll analyse the ratio behind this visit against the backdrop of the US’s history regarding the Tibetan freedom struggle and what role India has to play in this regard.

Also Read- Annexation Of Tibet: 73 Years Of Tyranny & Treachery


The relationship between the United States and Tibet is complex and multifaceted, rooted in both geopolitical strategy and humanitarian concerns. The U.S. has shown intermittent interest in Tibet, particularly in the context of its broader foreign policy towards China.

  • Early Relations: Initial contact between the U.S. and Tibet began in the early 20th century when Tibet was still a relatively isolated region under the suzerainty of the Qing Dynasty and later the Republic of China. The U.S. recognised the strategic importance of Tibet but did not establish formal diplomatic relations.
  • Post-World War II and Cold War Era: After World War II and during the early Cold War, Tibet’s status became more critical. The U.S. viewed Tibet as a potential buffer state against communist China. In the 1950s, following the People’s Republic of China’s assertion of control over Tibet, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) provided covert support to Tibetan resistance fighters. This support was part of a broader strategy to counter communist expansion in Asia.


Tibet resistance force.
  • Dalai Lama’s Exile and US Support: In 1959, after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, the 14th Dalai Lama fled to India. The U.S. provided substantial aid to the Tibetan government-in-exile and offered public and political support to the Dalai Lama as a symbol of Tibetan cultural and religious identity. Over the years, the U.S. Congress and successive administrations have voiced support for Tibet’s cultural autonomy and human rights, though formal recognition of Tibetan independence has not been forthcoming.
  • Special Frontier Force: Vikas Battalion: The US had a huge role in the formulation of the SFF, or Vikas Battalion. SFF is a highly trained special forces unit specialising in mountain warfare, guerrilla warfare, and counter-insurgency operations. After the 1962 war, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Intelligence Bureau (IB) decided to train a 5,000-strong force of Tibetans for possible missions against China. This collaboration dates back to the 1950s when the CIA and IB established Mustang Base in Mustang, Nepal, which trained Tibetans in guerrilla warfare. It was these Mustang rebels who safely brought the 14th Dalai Lama to India during the 1959 Tibetan Uprising.
  • Human Rights and Advocacy: The U.S. has been a consistent advocate for human rights in Tibet. Various acts and policies, such as the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002, have been enacted to promote the protection of Tibetan identity and the preservation of Tibetan culture.


The current visit by a US delegation to meet the Dalai Lama carries deep symbolic and strategic significance. The bipartisan 7-member delegation of US lawmakers met the Tibet government-in-exile in Dharamshala. This visit came after the US Congress passed a bipartisan bill called the “Resolve Tibet Bill.” This bill seeks to push Beijing to hold a dialogue with Tibetan leaders that has been stalled since 2010. The goal is to secure a negotiated agreement on Tibet and address Tibetan aspirations related to cultural, religious, and linguistic identity. This bill is about to get President Biden’s assent and has been a centre for China’s frustration. The recent visit is an extension of this bill seeking to question the China’s imperialist designs in the region.

The visit is also a geopolitical signal to China. Amidst rising US-China tensions, particularly over trade, technology, and regional security issues, this meeting underscores the US’s willingness to challenge China on sensitive issues like Tibet. India’s role as a host for the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan exile community adds another layer of significance. The US delegation’s visit to India highlights the strategic partnership between the two democracies. It serves as a reminder of their shared values and common interests in promoting regional stability and countering Chinese hegemony in the region. Furthermore, this visit garnered international attention to the Tibetan issue, encouraging other countries to consider their stance on Tibet and human rights in China. It could potentially galvanise global support for Tibet and pressure China to address human rights concerns.


India plays a crucial role in the US-Tibet dynamics and the broader context of Tibet’s geopolitical situation. India has historically maintained a delicate balance between supporting the Tibetan cause and managing its diplomatic relations with China. While it offers refuge to the Dalai Lama, India has also officially recognised Tibet as part of China, in line with the “One China” policy. By facilitating the meeting, India signals its willingness to assert its strategic interests and support for Tibetan autonomy, despite the potential backlash from China. The visit brings global attention to India’s role in hosting the Dalai Lama and supporting Tibetan refugees. It reinforces India’s position as a key player in the international dialogue on Tibet. Furthermore, this visit underscores the strategic cooperation between the US and India in maintaining regional stability and countering Chinese influence. It highlights India’s importance in US strategic calculations concerning the Indo-Pacific region.

Modi with US delegation.


The U.S. delegation’s visit to the Dalai Lama is not just a reaffirmation of long-standing support for Tibet but also a strategic move with broader geopolitical implications. It underscores the growing ties between the U.S. and India and signals a joint stance against China’s policies in Tibet. The visit highlights the continuing significance of Tibet in international diplomacy and the ongoing struggle for the preservation of Tibetan cultural and religious identity. This visit also depicts the US soft power in sensationalising the Tibet issue in the global media. Indubitably, this visit came as a shocker for China as it exposed China’s occupation atrocities in Tibet. Now it’s about time to see how this visit impacts the Tibet cause, but it’s fair to say that Tibet has re-emerged on the global landscape after being dormant for several decades.


Anmol Kaushik

Hi, I'm Anmol Kaushik, I'm currently pursuing Law (4th year) at Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies (GGSIPU). I'm a defence enthusiast and a keen geopolitical observer.

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