US warns access to Tibet is increasingly limited

3rd April 2019

A report to US Congress demonstrates the tightening restrictions regulating American citizens, including the country’s representatives and ability to travel to Tibet.

In December 2018, President Trump signed into law the 'Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act of 2018'. The bill is based on the concept of reciprocity and aims to encourage Beijing to permit Americans to travel freely through all of China without hindrance, just as America enables unrestricted travel for Chinese nationals throughout the entirety of the USA.

In a bid to achieve fairness and transparency, the act calls for access to Tibet for diplomats, officials, journalists and other civilians. The new bill seeks to bar visa access to America for any Chinese officials who do not permit travel to Tibet for Americans.

Section four of the act requires the Secretary of State to submit to Congress an annual report outlining the current access levels to Tibet. Furthermore, there will be a detailed comparison looking at the difference between access permitted to the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) and Tibetan areas outside the TAR, and other parts of the People's Republic of China. It will also  assess levels of access for Tibetans versus non-Tibetans, and the developments in access since the prior reporting year.

The first report since the acts enactment was published in March 2019. The report outlines the increasingly restrictive measures that the ruling Chinese Communist Party imposes on American visitors.

Chinese officials have proceeded to increasingly impede access to Tibet for journalists, diplomats, US officials and tourists alike. In 2018 China denied five out of nine requests for diplomatic missions to Tibet, and only allowed one closely monitored journalistic trip.

The few who were granted access reported significantly tighter monitoring from Chinese officials than in previous years. Accounts state that they were accompanied by Chinese officials at all times, restricted to a set path, frequently interrogated as to their intentions, and religious leaders and NGO personnel were removed from their residences by Chinese security before US nationals reached them.

The report also depicts a significant increase in surveillance involving both technology and plain clothed officers. It makes reference to New York Times journalist Steven Lee Myers and French photographer Gilles Sabrié, who while writing a story on a Tibetan ceremony, were detained and escorted to the airport by Chinese security personnel. The incident represents the escalating crackdowns on the freedom of movement and speech for those attempting to enter the Tibetan region.

The report to Congress notes that only seven international journalists applied for visas to Tibetan areas in 2018 with others noting ‘the futility of applying’. This is a decrease on previous years, when there were dozens of applications.

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Internet giant Google has been working on a search engine for the Chinese market: Project Dragonfly. Dragonfly would censor information on human rights abuses in Tibet and give the Chinese security services access to the data of people making searches. These dangerous plans have been opposed by Tibetans, Uyghurs, Chinese dissidents, human rights defenders and Google's own employees. Get involved - tell Google's executives to stop Project Dragonfly.