US Congress Passes Bill on Reciprocal Travel to Tibet

By Roseanne Gerin
china-potala-palace-lhasa-tibet-file-photo.jpg A view of the Potala Palace, the former residence of the Dalai Lama which is now a museum and UNESCO World Heritage Site, in Lhasa, capital of western China's Tibet Autonomous Region, in a file photo.

The United States House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a bill that will deny U.S. entry to Chinese officials who prohibit American citizens from entering western China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, following heavy lobbying by Tibetan-Americans and Tibet supporters for members of Congress to pass it.

The bipartisan Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act aims to open up the isolated and repressed region to U.S. diplomats, NGO workers, journalists reporting on human rights abuses, and others whom Chinese authorities prevent from traveling freely.

“Today is a great day for human rights,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in Congress, who introduced the legislation. “If China wants its citizens and officials to continue to travel freely in the U.S., then Americans — including Tibetan Americans — must be able to  travel freely in China, including Tibet, beginning now.”

A formerly independent nation, Tibet was taken over by and incorporated into China nearly 70 years ago when military forces drove the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhism’s spiritual leader, and 80,000 of his followers 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.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said the bill is important as a means of supporting Tibetans and for addressing China’s “hostility” toward the U.S.

“I have been increasingly worried about the impact of China’s intimidation tactics on U.S. policy toward Tibet, but with this bill, we are sending a clear message that we will not let Beijing’s immoral, unjust, and destabilizing treatment of the Tibetan people go unaddressed,” she said in a statement. “The United States must make Tibet a priority in our relations with Beijing, and I am very pleased we are moving in that direction with this important bill.”

In remarks to Congress on Wednesday, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) expressed her support for the act.

“[W]e're very proud of that; that takes an important step forward to advance the future of freedom, dignity and prosperity for the Tibetan people,” she said.

Americans can only travel to the region under monitoring by Chinese authorities, while Chinese citizens are free to travel anywhere in the U.S., noted the Washington,D.C.-based International Campaign for Tibet in a statement issued Thursday.

“The approval of the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act by the House is an indication of Congress’ continuing concerns about China’s treatment of the Tibetan people,” said Matteo Mecacci, the organization’s president.

“It is a strong statement by the United States that puts pressure on the Chinese government to open up Tibet to the outside world and shows that their propaganda is hollow,” he said.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), cosponsor of the Senate version of the bill, tweeted on Wednesday that he and Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) are “working hard” to get the bill on the desk of President Donald Trump before the end of the year.


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