China Still Blocks US Travel to Tibet, State Department Says in Second Annual Report

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tibet-lhasa-tourists-crop.jpg In a file photo, tourists walk through the Potala Palace, in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.

UPDATED 05:00 p.m. EST 08/07/20

Beijing still tightly restricts travel by U.S. citizens to Tibet and other Tibetan regions of China, the U.S. State Department says, describing the situation as “unimproved” in its second report to Congress under a law aimed at pressing Beijing to allow greater access to the Himalayan region.

Signed into law in December 2018, the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act requires the Department to identify, and to bar from entry into the United States, Chinese officials responsible for excluding U.S. citizens, including Americans of Tibetan ethnic origin, from travel in China’s Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).

The law also requires the State Department to provide to the Congress each year a list of U.S. citizens denied entry into Tibet.

China’s government last year “systematically impeded travel to the [Tibet] Autonomous Region (TAR) for U.S. diplomats and officials, journalists, and tourists in 2019,” the Aug. 5 Report to Congress says, describing the situation as “unimproved” from that described in last year’s report.

Even when permitted, U.S. official visits to Tibet “were highly restricted,” the report says, adding that travel in Tibetan areas outside the TAR were also closely supervised by Chinese police and government officials.

“PRC security forces used conspicuous monitoring to intimidate U.S. diplomats and officials, following them at all times, prevented them from meeting or speaking with local contacts, harassed them, and restricted their movements in these areas,” the report said.

China’s government meanwhile “heavily restricted and controlled access for U.S. journalists to the TAR and directly threatened to expel journalists reporting on developments [there],” according to the report.

Chinese officials and other citizens enjoy far greater access to the United States than they allow to travelers wishing to visit Tibet, a State Department spokesperson told RFA.

"The United States seeks fair, transparent, and reciproval treatment from the People's Republic of China for our citizens."

"We will continue to work closely with Congress in pursuit of our shared goal of seeing Americans have full access to China, including the [Tibet] Autonomous Region and other Tibetan areas," the State Department said.


Beijing’s continuing restrictions on foreign travel to Tibet stand in violation of the principle of reciprocity among countries, Matteo Mecacci, president of the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet, said in an Aug. 5 statement.

“The TAR is the only region of China that requires a special permit for foreign citizens to travel there, while no such restrictions are imposed for Chinese citizens in the United States or other democratic countries. This is unacceptable,” Mecacci said.

“The isolation of Tibet from the outside world is part of the Chinese government’s strategy to hide the reality in which the Tibetan people have been forced to live under the oppressive rule of the Chinese Communist Party since the 1950s with no civil, political and human rights,” Mecacci said.

Restrictions on U.S. travel to Tibet are an admission by China that life in Tibet “is not going so well for many people there,” added Timothy Heath, a senior international defense analyst with the RAND Corporation.

“And the Chinese government is embarrassed about that,” Heath said.

“They are reluctant to allow Westerners to go and see for themselves what the situation is like, because they know that for Western people, and for many people, what they find there will not be viewed as acceptable, and will be viewed as highly repressive, abusive, and just intolerant of minorities.”

Beijing's claims challenged

Access by foreign travelers to Tibet is essential for the world to examine Beijing’s claims of stability and progress in Tibet and other Tibetan areas of China, said Tsewang Gyalpo Arya, spokesman for Tibet's Dharamsala, India-based government in exile, the Central Tibetan Administration.

“If China claims that Tibetans in Tibet are happy and free, they must let the international community investigate those claims and see for themselves if they are true,” he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on July 7 announced visa restrictions on Chinese government and Communist Party officials deemed involved in the blocking of access for foreigners to Tibetan areas. Beijing said that it would enact similar measures against “U.S. individuals with egregious conduct related to Tibet issues.”

On July 27,  the U.S. consulate in the southwestern city of Chengdu was closed in retaliation for the earlier U.S. order to shutter the Chinese consulate in Houston, amid allegations from the Donald Trump administration that the facility was a hub for espionage activities.

China denied the allegations, but later made similar claims about the activities of U.S. personnel based in Chengdu. A mission human rights experts said was critical in gathering reliable information coming out of Tibet and Xinjiang.

A formerly independent nation, Tibet was taken over and incorporated into China by force nearly 70 years ago, following which Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and thousands of his followers fled into exile in India.

Chinese authorities maintain a tight grip on the region, restricting Tibetans’ political activities and peaceful expression of ethnic and religious identities, and subjecting Tibetans to persecution, torture, imprisonment, and extrajudicial killings.

Reported by Tashi Wangchuk for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Tashi Wangchuk and Tenzin Dickyi. Written in English by Richard Finney.

UPDATED to include comments by a State Department spokesperson received on Aug. 7, 2020.


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