Clash over Tibet between the US and Chinese officials

The US Congress has voted to demand access for US diplomats, journalists and tourists to Tibet, threatening to bar the Chinese officials responsible for the policy from the United States if the region remained walled off to foreigners.

The bill, which passed with bipartisan support, comes after years of concern over human rights violations in the predominantly Buddhist region, where foreigners are generally required to obtain a special permit to visit.

Congress voted to require the State Department to verify each year whether China has granted access to Tibet and ethnically Tibetan areas in line with how it treats the rest of the country.

If restrictions remain in place on Americans seeking to enter Tibet, the State Department would then be compelled to ban Chinese officials responsible for the policy from entering the United States.

Senator Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the bill was “about fundamental fairness.”

The US Congress in session

“Chinese citizens enjoy broad access to the United States, and I think that is terrific,” he said.

“But it is unacceptable that the same is not true for US students, journalists or diplomats going to Tibet, including our Tibetan-American constituents just trying to visit their country of origin.”

The bill passed without objections by a voice vote this week after similar passage in the House of Representatives.

The legislation needs the signature of President Donald Trump, which appears likely as it has wide support within his Republican Party.

The bill comes amid frictions between the United States and China over trade and the arrest in Canada on a US request of an executive with Chinese tech giant Huawei on charges of violating US sanctions on Iran.

A recent op-ed piece in China’s state-run Global Times denounced the Tibet bill and accused the United States of “double standards or even multiple standards on human rights,” pointing to how Washington pulled out of the UN Human Rights Council over the body’s criticism of Israel.

Matteo Mecacci — the president of the International Campaign for Tibet, an advocacy group close to the exiled Dalai Lama that has pressed for the legislation — said the measure was different from trade tensions as it will become part of US law.

“Certainly this is a major step forward because now it is clearly on the agenda of the Chinese government,” said Mecacci, a former Italian MP.

“Our goal is not to stop Chinese officials from coming here. It is to open up Tibet to the world,” he told AFP.

“If they choose to scrap this system of additional permits, that would be, as they would say, a win-win.”

Beijing slams US legislation demanding easier access to Tibet for American journalists, tourists

  • Washington has ‘grossly interfered’ in China’s domestic affairs, foreign ministry says
  • Bill wins bipartisan support as it passes through US Congress and now awaits approval by President Donald Trump

Beijing on Friday rebuked the US Congress over legislation seeking greater access to Tibet, saying American lawmakers had “grossly interfered” in China’s domestic affairs.

Tourist site of Tibet

The bill, which passed this week with bipartisan support, demands access to the region for US diplomats, journalists and tourists, and threatens to bar Chinese officials responsible for the policy from the US if the barriers are not lifted.

Foreign visitors are generally required to obtain a special permit, with the region completely closed off to outsiders at certain times of the year.

“The relevant bill … has disregarded the facts, grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs, and violated the basic norms of international relations,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a regular press briefing.

“China is firmly opposed to this and has already made solemn representations to the US.”

About 40,000 Americans had visited Tibet since 2015, including politicians, he said.

“We strongly urge the US administration to immediately take effective measures to prevent this bill from being signed into law, so as to avoid damage to China-US relations and the cooperation between the two countries in important areas,” Lu said.

The legislation now needs the signature of US President Donald Trump.

Senator Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the bill was “about fundamental fairness”.

“Chinese citizens enjoy broad access to the United States, and I think that is terrific,” he said.

Dalai Lama of Tibet

“But it is unacceptable that the same is not true for US students, journalists or diplomats going to Tibet, including our Tibetan-American constituents just trying to visit their country of origin.”

Meanwhile, the official Tibet Daily said in a lengthy commentary released online late on Thursday that the Dalai Lama had never given up promoting Tibetan independence, dismissing his intentions to seek a “middle way” of genuine autonomy.

March 2019 marks the 60th anniversary of the Dalai Lama fleeing Tibet into exile.

Beijing sent troops into Tibet in 1950 in what it officially terms a peaceful liberation and has ruled there with an iron fist even since. The Dalai Lama, the highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism, fled to India in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.

China routinely denounces him as a dangerous separatist, although the Dalai Lama says all he wants is genuine autonomy for his remote and mountainous homeland.

The head of the Tibetan-government-in-exile, which is based in northern India, denounced the criticism of the Dalai Lama, saying he was the solution to the Tibetan problem because the vast majority of Tibetans accepted him as their leader.

“Intimidation and fear are not the ways to govern Tibetans,” Lobsang Sangay said in the hill station of Dharamsala.

The Dalai Lama on Friday gave a lecture in Mumbai on ancient Indian knowledge, but did not directly mention current relations with Beijing.

“Violence always brings suffering,” he said, in comments streamed live on his Facebook page. “Basic human nature is more compassionate.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Beijing slams US Senate over bill demanding access to Tibet

Donald Trump signs bill on Tibet into law despite China protest 

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump has signed a bipartisan bill on Tibet into law that could enrage China, paving the way to impose a visa ban on Chinese officials who deny American citizens, government officials and journalists access to the sensitive Himalayan region, homeland of the exiled Dalai Lama. 

US citizens including government officials, reporters and tourists who seek to enter Tibetan areas are routinely rejected, and the few who do get in are forced to stay on strictly controlled official tours, where the true situation of the Tibetan people is hidden from them, officials said.

The US President Donal Trump and President Xi Jinping

The situation is worst of all for Tibetan-Americans, who are almost and always denied the right to make a pilgrimage to their ancestral land and to meet their family members there, community members said.

The Wednesday’s move by President Trump came days after China lodged a “stern” diplomatic protest with the US over the Senate passing the legislation with Beijing asking Washington not to make it a law.

China insists Tibet has been part of its territory for centuries. The Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959 amid an abortive uprising against the Chinese rule in his Himalayan homeland.

The White House said that Trump signed into law the ‘Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act of 2018’ which promotes access for diplomats, officials, journalists and others from the United States to China’s Tibetan areas.

The bill, which was earlier passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives, seeks to impose a visa ban on Chinese officials who deny American citizens, government officials and journalists’ access to the remote region of Tibet.

The move also comes amidst Trump administration imposing massive trade import duties on China, the world’s second largest economy after that of America.

However, the bill includes a national security waiver and would require the Secretary of State to submit an assessment to Congress of the level of access to Tibet granted to US officials, journalists and tourists by China.

If the Secretary of State determines that there are restrictions on travel to Tibet, the appropriate Chinese officials will be ineligible to enter the US.

The Tibetan community described it as a historic moment for them.

‘Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act becomes law, marking new era of American support for Tibet’, said International Campaign for Tibet (ICT).

“This is truly a turning point for Americans, Tibetans and all who care about equality, justice and human rights,” said Matteo Mecacci, ICT president.

“By passing this impactful and innovative law, the US has blazed a path for other countries to follow and let the Chinese government know that it will face real consequences for its discrimination against the Tibetan people,” he said.

Congressman Jim McGovern, who introduced the bill in the House of Representatives, said: “I’m glad that the President signed our bill, the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, into law.

“For too long, China has covered up their human rights violations in Tibet by restricting travel. But actions have consequences and today we are one step closer to holding the Chinese officials who implement these restrictions accountable”.

McGovern said he looks forward to watching closely as the law is implemented, and continuing to stand with the people of Tibet in their struggle for religious and cultural freedom.

The Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act is based on the diplomatic principle of reciprocity, which calls on countries to give equal rights to one another’s citizens.

Sponsors of the bill alleged that when it comes to Tibet, China does not reciprocate. Although Chinese citizens travel freely throughout the US, Chinese authorities severely restrict Americans’ ability to access Tibet.

“The Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act specifically highlights the discriminatory attitude of Chinese officials toward Tibetan-Americans who seek to visit Tibet.

“The Chinese embassy and consulates routinely place such Tibetan-Americans under a more stringent and non-consular application process merely because they are of Tibetan-origin. This includes subjecting them to vigorous interviews by United Front officials, collecting personal and family information and eventually denying them access,” ICT vice president Bhuchung K Tsering said.

The ICT said until now, China has been able to use its economic and military power to isolate Tibet without much resistance from the international community. With reciprocal access to Tibet becoming law, China will begin to feel the weight of its unfair policies.

The law requires the Secretary of State to assess Americans’ level of access to Tibet within 90 days of its enactment and to send a report to Congress every year afterward identifying the Chinese officials responsible for keeping Americans out of Tibet.

The Secretary will then ban those officials from receiving visas to enter the US.

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