Tibet constitutes one-fourth of China’s territory, and it has been a ground of protests against Chinese rule for decades. Tibetans and advocacy groups say China has occupied the autonomous region of Tibet. Because of the delicate political situation, the Tibetan plateau has long been monitored by central and local security officials.
They make it difficult for foreigners to enter most of the Tibetan areas, and those restrictions have become tougher since widespread protests occurred in 2012.
President Donald Trump has enacted a law that requires the State Department to punish Chinese officials who bar American officials, journalists and other citizens from free travel to Tibetan areas in China. Trump's signing of the bill to “blacklist” Chinese officials for restricting Americans' access to Tibet is a just and appropriate move.
China has long restricted foreigners’ access to Tibetan areas. The government and the ruling Communist Party bar foreign diplomats and journalists from visiting central Tibet, called the Tibet Autonomous Region, except going on carefully organized propaganda tours. Ordinary foreign tourists who want to go on a trip to central Tibet, which includes the capital city of Lhasa, must join a tour group, often with compatriots. The new U.S. law, enacted on Dec 19 and called the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, requires the secretary of state, who is now Mike Pompeo, must within 90 days give Congress a report that outlines the level of access to Tibetan areas that Chinese officials grant Americans.
The secretary is then responsible for determining which Chinese officials are instrumental in placing limits on foreigners traveling to Tibet and barring them from getting visas to the United States or revoking any valid visas they have. The secretary must make this assessment annually for five years.
The goal of the law is to compel Chinese officials to relax the limits they impose on travel to Tibetan areas. Even if China doesn’t act, the law will send a strong message to the country, which has already slammed the bill and refused to soften its stand regarding Tibet. Since China bars entry for foreign travelers into certain areas of Tibet without government escort, there must be something that it wants to hide in Tibet. China doesn’t want to allow the world to see Tibet.
China has a record of human rights violations in Tibet. “Today is a great day for human rights,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass), who introduced the legislation alongside Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.). “The United States must continue to stand squarely for human rights and speak openly against China’s human rights violations in Tibet.”
According to the advocacy group International Campaign for Tibet, “The bill is expected to help curtail China’s isolation of Tibet, a historically independent nation that China has occupied for nearly 70 years. Chinese authorities have taken measures to restrict access to Tibet for foreign visitors, including preventing journalists from reporting on its human rights abuses, which include religious persecution, torture, false imprisonment and extrajudicial killings.”
The new law cites Larung Gar, a huge Buddhist center in Sichuan Province, as an example of a Tibetan area that Chinese officials have hidden from foreigners in recent years. That is because officials have been razing the homes of many monks and nuns there.
According to Human Rights Watch, Chinese propaganda masks repression of Tibet. “Orwell himself would be hard pressed to invent a better vocabulary of totalitarian management,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch last year. “But ultimately the message of the Chinese authorities’ terms for Tibetans is clear: political nonconformity will be punished, severely.”
China has campaigned against the 14th Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetans, who is globally respected. In the wake of the announcement of the new US law, officials in Tibet stepped up criticism against the Dalai Lama.
Tibet regional authorities have published a series of articles urging the public to understand the 14th Dalai Lama's "reactionary essence in politics," "hypocrisy in religion," and fraudulence in his tricks, state-run Global Times reported on Dec 21.
Clearly, China has an agenda for Tibet that it wants to hide by restricting unescorted or open access to Tibet, carrying on repressive measures there, and bad-mouthing the Dalai Lama. President Trump deserves praise for the bold move in enacting the new law. Chinese officials should get a taste of their own medicine.