Two Chinese paramilitary policemen patrol near the iconic Potala Palace in Lhasa in China's Tibet Autonomous Region. The US Congress has voted to demand access for US diplomats, journalists and tourists to Tibet. Photo: AFP/Johannes Eisele
Chinese paramilitary police patrol near the iconic Potala Palace in Lhasa, capital of Tibet Autonomous Region. Photo: AFP / Johannes Eisele

Tibet’s government-in-exile cheered the US Senate’s passage of an act demanding US diplomats, journalists and other Americans be allowed to freely visit Tibet, but Beijing warned President Trump if he signs it into law, “China-US ties and cooperation in major areas” could suffer retaliation.

The Reciprocal Access To Tibet Act of 2018, now awaiting President Trump’s signature, includes preventing Chinese officials receiving US visas if they are involved in blocking Americans from Tibet.

“The Act interferes in China’s domestic affairs with reckless disregard for facts, and goes against the basic norms of international relations,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang.

“We urge the US administrative bodies to take immediate measures to stop it being signed into law, so as to avoid impairing China-US ties and cooperation in major areas,” Lu said in Beijing on December 14.

Act passed by Senate, House

China’s retaliation may include denying some US officials from receiving visas to China, reported Beijing’s Global Times.

The Senate passed the act on December 11 after approval from the House of Representatives in September.

The Senate’s passage of the act was “a triumph today for American citizens, including lawmakers, activists and human rights advocates concerned about the decades-long repression in Tibet,” said Tibet’s government-in-exile, known as the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), based in Dharamsala, India.

“The Chinese government continues to violate the Tibetan people’s basic freedoms, arrests them for such crimes as celebrating the Dalai Lama’s birthday, tortures them for protesting peacefully and even
murders them if they try to flee into exile,” the CTA said earlier this month.

“Hundreds of Tibetan prisoners of conscience are locked up in Chinese prisons, where torture is endemic, and have no access to any meaningful legal defense,” it said.

“Countries should provide equal rights to one another’s citizens,” said the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), which pushed the act’s passage.

“Chinese citizens, journalists from state-sponsored propaganda outlets and bureaucrats of the Chinese Communist Party travel freely throughout the US and lobby the American government on Tibetan issues,” the ICT said in a December 11 statement.

“China invariably rejects applications from journalists, diplomats, political leaders and rights monitors unless they are officially invited for strictly chaperoned tours to theatrically prepared sites, or otherwise known for their unabashed support for its rule in Tibet,” the Tibetan Review reported on December 16.

Annual report required

“Tibetan citizens of the United States are subjected to particularly severe restrictions when applying for visas. The new legislation particularly emphasizes access for these categories of visitors,” said the India-based Review, which opposes China’s “occupation” of Tibet.

“This bill requires the Department of State to report to Congress annually, regarding the level of access Chinese authorities granted US diplomats, journalists and tourists to Tibetan areas in China,” a summary by the US Congress said.

“No [Chinese] individual who is substantially involved in the formulation or execution of policies related to access for foreigners to Tibetan areas may enter the United States,” if Americans are blocked, Congress’s summary said.

Opponents of China’s 1959 seizure of Tibet say Beijing’s current maps show a truncated area described as the Autonomous Region of Tibet.

Other parts of Tibet’s larger former territory have been given to neighboring Chinese provinces.

But The Reciprocal Access To Tibet Act of 2018 includes the dismembered “Tibet Autonomous areas in Sichuan, Qinghai, Yunnan and Gansu provinces.”

Qinghai province, for example, includes the mountainous Amdo region where the current 14th Dalai Lama was born or “reincarnated” into poverty in the isolated Takster village.

Foreign visitors not welcome

Chinese officials renovated his childhood home in Takster and installed a CCTV security camera monitoring anyone who comes close, according to a journalist who found the home’s wooden gate locked earlier this year. A sympathetic neighbor warned him to leave because police could arrest foreign visitors.

The Dalai Lama, who said in a 2015 speech “I am Marxist,” travels the world supporting Tibetan culture, Buddhism and human rights.

He resides in self-imposed exile in McLeod Ganj village in the Himalayan mountains above Dharamsala, India, after fleeing Tibet in 1959 fearing imprisonment or execution by the Chinese.

China’s wariness about allowing Americans unrestricted access into Tibet may stem from the US Central Intelligence Agency’s multi-million dollar secretive guerrilla war in Tibet during the 1960s.

Assisted by the CIA, Tibetans were trained in Colorado and parachuted into Tibet in a lost fight against the Chinese.

“The goal was to keep the dream of a free Tibet alive while harassing the [Chinese] Red Army in western China,” wrote Pulitzer Prize-winner Tim Weiner in his 2007 book Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA.

The CIA also “paid an annual subsidy of some $180,000 directly to the Dalai Lama, and it created Tibet Houses in New York and Geneva to serve as his unofficial embassies,” Weiner said.

In 1972, President Nixon abruptly stopped the CIA’s assistance to Tibetan guerrillas when he visited Beijing and shook hands with then-Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong, paving the way to normalization in relations in 1979.

Today in Tibet, “residents of both Chinese and Tibetan ethnicity are denied fundamental rights, but the authorities are especially rigorous in suppressing any signs of dissent among Tibetans, including manifestations of uniquely Tibetan religious belief and cultural identity,” New York-based Freedom House said in its Freedom in the World 2018 report.

A double standard

China’s “policies encourage migration from other parts of China, reducing the ethnic Tibetan share of the population,” the report said.

“China’s repression in Tibet includes keeping out those who can shine a light on its human rights abuses against the Tibetan people,” Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) said while sponsoring the act.

“We should not accept a double standard where Chinese officials can freely visit the United States while at the same blocking our diplomats, journalists and Tibetan-Americans from visiting Tibet,” Rubio said.

China insists it “liberated” Tibet from a repressive, feudal rule dominated by Tibetan Buddhist lamas and wealthy nobles, and later stopped Beijing’s destructive policies against Tibet committed during Mao’s disastrous 1965-75 Cultural Revolution.

Tens of thousands of foreign and Chinese tourists visit Tibet each year. Lhasa, the capital, has been modernized with an influx of Chinese residents and linked to other cities with a high-speed train.

China also uses Tibet’s high mountains as a strategic military position against possible hostilities with India to the south. The two countries fought a brief border war in 1962.

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