Trump budget proposal slashes aid to Tibetans

30th May 2017

State Department budget proposal would cut aid to two key Tibetan organisations

Over a million dollars in aid to Tibetans could be cut from the US government spending plans as part of a budget proposed last week by President Donald Trump.

Trump’s first budget for the US State Department proposes slashing aid to two key organisations, the Ngwang Choephel Fellows and the Tibet Fund, both of which have received US aid to carry out activities inside Tibet and with Tibetan refugees.

The Ngwang Choephel Fellows Programme carries out activities to preserve Tibet's culture and to support economic development and environmental conservation inside Tibet.

The Tibet Fund, established in 1981, works to preserve the cultural and national identity of the Tibetan people, and provide funding for health care, education, refugee rehabilitation and community and economic development programs. According to its website, the Tibet Fund serves more than 140,000 Tibetan refugees living in India, Nepal and Bhutan.

In the budget (PDF) the money allocated to Ngwang Choephel Fellows is reduced from the current figure of $574,000 to zero. The line for the Tibet Fund, which in the 2016 budget received $500,000, is missing entirely, with a footnote stating that the Tibet Fund is being folded into a budget line for "special academic exchanges".

"Tough choices"

The budget request does not cut all aid to Tibetans, stating that humanitarian protection and assistance programs in South Asia will continue, allowing partners to help Tibetan refugees in India and Nepal meet their basic needs.

The entire State Department budget has been slashed by 28 percent to fund Trump’s plans for increased spending on military and security, prompting what he has called some "tough choices".

Trump's spending proposals have now been sent to Congress, where they will need to be approved by 1 October. Reports suggest that it will face strong opposition. If approved, the budget will go into effect as of 1 October 2018.

A break with past policy?

Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, and who recently lead a delegation to Dharamasala, expressed concern over the proposed budget.

Her spokesman told PTI News that Pelosi "is very concerned about the zeroing out of aid to the Tibetan community in the Trump budget proposal."

He added: "As she has said many times, including during her visit this month to His Holiness The Dalai Lama in Dharamshala, if the US does not speak out for human rights in China, we lose all moral authority to talk about it elsewhere in the world".

US foreign policy in recent years has been guided by the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002. Under this act, introduced under President George W. Bush, the US has provided aid to Tibet for the purpose of "support[ing] the aspirations of the Tibetan people to safeguard their distinct identity."

The act established the position of United States Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues to “promote substantive dialogue between the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the Dalai Lama or his representatives.” According to the State Department’s own website, this position is currently vacant. The previous Special Coordinator, Sarah Sewall, moved on following the changeover from the Obama to the Trump administration in January.

Take action

Tibetans need our support. Add your voice to the international pressure calling on China to halt further evictions and demolitions at Larung Gar Buddhist Institute.