Welcoming the Congressional passage of the Reciprocal Access To Tibet Act, a top American Senator on Wednesday said the legislation represented a strong, bipartisan step toward addressing that decades-long injustice.
Passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate, the Reciprocal Access To Tibet Act now heads to the White House for US President Donald Trump to sign into law. Among other things, the Act seeks to impose a visa ban on Chinese officials who deny American citizens, government officials and journalists access to the Tibetan areas.
Passing this legislation "represents a strong, bipartisan step toward addressing that decades-long injustice", US Senator Patrick Leahy said on the Senate floor.
Stating that the Chinese government arbitrarily required a special permit for a foreign diplomat, reporter or tourist to visit Tibet -- a requirement China did not impose for travel to any other provincial-level jurisdiction, even Xinjiang -- he alleged that it frequently denied requests for these permits to Tibet.
"And even when it does grant permits, it generally requires foreigners to be accompanied at all times by a government-designated guide. This arbitrary system not only makes it exceptionally difficult to report on the situation in Tibet, but also gives the Chinese government a significant leverage -- which it reportedly exploits in various ways -- over persons who hope to obtain a permit," Leahy said.
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He added that in a 2015 white paper, the Chinese government had claimed that under Chinese rule, "Tibet has been transformed from a poor and backward society to one that is advanced in both economy and culture".
Setting aside this statement would look perfectly at home among the discredited justifications for 19th-Century colonialism and if it were true, then one would expect China to welcome the world to witness its rule in Tibet, he said.
"Yet in 2016, The Washington Post reported that Tibet 'is harder to visit as a journalist than North Korea'. International media cannot even enter Tibet except on infrequent, tightly-controlled tours organised by the Chinese government. The situation is much the same for US diplomats," Leahy said.
And it was not just journalists and officials whose freedom of movement was restricted, he noted, adding that Tibetan-Americans attempting to visit their homeland reported undergoing a discriminatory Chinese visa process, different from what was typically required for American citizens, and often found their requests arbitrarily denied.
"I have heard about this problem directly from my Tibetan-American constituents in Vermont. I have spoken about it with the leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile," Leahy said, adding, "With this legislation, we are now a step closer to the day when all American tourists, journalists and diplomats can make such a trip without undue restrictions."
"This legislation will also make it more difficult for China to hide its atrocious human rights record in Tibet behind a cloak of isolation. It will make it easier for Tibetans inside Tibet to interact with the outside world and more likely for the world to realise that Tibetans are a distinct people who deserve their right to self-determination," the Senator said.