In-Depth: Rep. James McGovern (D-MA) introduced this bill to create reciprocity between U.S. and Chinese citizens’ abilities to travel in each others’ countries:
“The rationale for the bill is simple. While the Chinese enjoy broad access to the United States, the same is not true for U.S. diplomats, journalists or tourists going to Tibet, including Tibetan-Americans trying to visit their country of origin. This is simply unacceptable. If China wants its citizens and officials to travel freely in the U.S., Americans must be able to travel freely in China, including Tibet.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who introduced companion legislation to this bill in the Senate, said:
“The Chinese government’s oppression of Tibet includes keeping it off limits to Americans, journalists and others who can shine a bright light on the human rights violations committed daily against the Tibetan people. We should not accept a double standard where Chinese officials can freely visit anywhere in the U.S. while they block our diplomats, journalists and Tibetan-Americans from visiting Tibet. This bipartisan bill will hold China accountable for its oppression and make it clear that if Chinese government officials want to enjoy the privilege of entering the United States, they must allow equal access to Tibet.”
The International Campaign for Tibet, U.S. Congressional Executive Commission on China, and United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) support this bill. The International Campaign for Tibet’s president, Matteo Mecacci, said:
“This bill is another example of the consistent support the United States Congress has for Tibet. It conveys a clear message to the Trump Administration regarding the implementation of the principles of ‘reciprocity’ in its relations with China, aimed at promoting more access to Tibet for US citizens, including diplomats, politicians, non-governmental organizations, and journalists. While Chinese officials and citizens have unfettered and free access across the United States of America, US officials and citizens, including Tibetan-Americans, are highly restricted in traveling to Tibet. Unless restrictions on US citizens and officials are eased, then Chinese officials with oversight on Tibet policy should not be allowed into the United States… For decades, restricted access to Tibet for independent observers, journalists and diplomats and international organizations has shown that the Chinese government has no credibility when it comes to assess the reality of the situation inside Tibet; why does the Chinese government not allow visitors to travel freely to Tibet if it does not have anything to hide?”
This bill passed the Committee on the Judiciary on a unanimous voice vote with the support of 55 cosponsors, including 11 Republicans and 44 Democrats.
Of Note: The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) entered Tibet in 1950 to establish control over the region. In the years since then, the State Department notes that the Chinese government has imposed severe restrictions on Tibetans’ ability to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms. These restrictions affect religious practices, freedom to travel, freedom to practice cultural and language preferences, and other aspects of everyday life. Additionally, the Chinese government is accused of routinely engaging in human rights abuses such as extrajudicial killings, torture, and arbitrary arrests.The Chinese government’s abuses are so severe, over 150 Tibetans have self-immolated in a last-ditch effort to get the rest of the world to pay attention to them over the past few years.
To prevent foreign media’s documentation of the religious freedom restrictions and other human rights abuses, the Chinese government has severely limited foreign nationals’ access to the Tibetan regions. These limitations prevent access for U.S. officials seeking diplomatic and consular access, journalists, human rights workers, and even tourists. On the rare occasions when access is granted, activities are closely monitored, and the information disseminated is restricted.
Matteo Mecacci, president of the International Campaign for Tibet, states that “the Chinese leadership is seeking to enforce complete isolation in Tibet” to an extent that is even worse than North Korea, where at least some foreign media is based.
Despite the human rights abuses in Tibet, travel by Chinese nationals, including those with direct and substantial involvement in the formulation of policies to restrict access to Tibet, is routinely allowed by governments all over the world, including the U.S. For example, in fiscal year 2017, the U.S. issued 1.5 million 10-year tourists visas to Chinese nationals and 4,500 diplomatic visas to Chinese officials.
In 2002, Congress passed the Tibetan Policy Act (TPA) “to support the aspirations of the Tibetan people to safeguard their distinct identity.” That legislation laid out steps to protect the distinct religious, cultural, and linguistic identity of Tibet, and to press for improved respect for the human rights of the Tibetan people by starting a dialogue between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government; sought the immediate and unconditional release of Tibetan prisoners of conscience; established a U.S. consular office in Lhasa; and requested that the 11th Panchen Lama be allowed to pursue his religious studies without Chinese government interference.
However, there has been little progress on the TPA's goals 15 years later. The Chinese-Tibetan dialogue has been suspended since 2010; hundreds of Tibetan prisoners of conscience exist today, and some have died in custody; there is still no U.S. consular office in Lhasa; the Chinese government has declared that it will decide who will be reincarnated as the next Dalai Lama; and the 11th Panchen Lama, the second-highest leader in the Tibetan religion, is missing.
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / kiwisoul)