US diplomat urges partner countries to introduce reciprocal access laws on Tibet

US Special Coordinator for Tibet Robert Destro
US Special Coordinator for Tibet Robert Destro
US Special Coordinator for Tibet Robert Destro
9th December 2020

New Special Coordinator for Tibet Issues called on countries to follow the USA’s example

The United States Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, Robert A. Destro, has encouraged other countries to pass laws to improve access to Tibet.

The Tibet Sun reported the remarks, which took place during a virtual event held last Friday titled, ‘Religious Freedom in Tibet: The Appointment of Buddhist Leaders and the Succession of the Dalai Lama’. Destro used this opportunity to slam the Chinese government for  what he called its “repressive” regime, elimination of Tibetan language and culture, with special focus on the sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism and the abduction and ongoing absence of the Panchen Lama. 

Destro also called on China to abide by the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, which was passed signed into law the US in 2018. The law is designed to press China for greater access to the areas of western and central Tibet governed as the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), including unhindered access for diplomats, journalists and other foreigner visitors. The law also stipulates that Chinese officials responsible for denying access to Tibet be denied access into the US.

Going further, Destro stated that like-minded countries to pass their own version of the law to improve freedom of access to the TAR.

The so-called TAR was established in 1965, thereby making it a provincial-level division of the People’s Republic of China. While it is labelled as “Autonomous”, the TAR is one of the most tightly-controlled places in the world. The Tibetan way of life and culture are subject to increasingly rigid restrictions and hundreds of thousands of Han Chinese workers have been incentivised to relocate to Lhasa and other Tibetan cities, where they enjoy preferential treatment.  In the capital Lhasa, the square in front of the Potala Palace, the residence of the Dalai Lama, now flies the Chinese flag.

Due to tight control of press in mainland China, particularly in the TAR, access to Tibet remains restricted.  China opened its doors to tourism in Tibet for the first time in the 1980s with visitors attracted to Tibet’s religious and cultural heritage, including the Potala Palace, Jokhang  Temple and the Tashilhunpo Monastery, as well as environmental wonders such as Namtso Lake. Nonetheless, tourism in Tibet is still restricted for non-Chinese passport holders and currently, foreigners must apply for a Tibet Entry Permit. Diplomats, foreign governments, independent journalists and human rights researchers are routinely denied access to the TAR, and those who do get in are required to travel with government minders.

There are signs that other countries may replicate the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act. Earlier this year on 6 July 2020, coinciding with the 14th Dalai Lama’s 85th Birthday, Tim Loughton MP, the co-chair of the All-party Parliamentary Group for Tibet presented a Ten Minute Rule Bill – Tibet (Reciprocal Access Bill) at the UK House of Commons. Were the bill to become law, the Secretary of State would report annually on restrictions imposed by China on UK nationals visiting Tibet, as compared to access to “other” parts of China. The bill thereby allows provision for identification of Chinese official imposing such restrictions and for denying their access into the UK as a reciprocal measure.  Mr Loughton was commended by the Office of Tibet in London for presenting this bill.

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Between 2011 and 2016, Tibet was ruled by Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, who imposed a range of repressive measures to crack down on Tibetans and erradicate their culture. He has now been given free reign to inflict these policies on the Uyghur people. His crimes demand action - tell the UK to impose sanctions on Chen.