The US Congress has passed a crucial bipartisan bill that seeks to impose a visa ban on Chinese officials who deny American citizens, government officials and journalists access to Tibet.
The US has expressed concern in the past about the lack of access to Tibet for American journalists, diplomats, academics and others to report on alleged religious persecution and human rights violations in the former home of the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama.
The legislation, passed by a unanimous voice vote, comes amidst the Trump administration imposing massive trade import duties on China that has started impacting the Chinese economy.
The 'Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act', which seeks to ensure that Americans are given the same access to Tibet that Chinese citizens have to the United States, was passed by the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
"The Reciprocal Act to Tibet Act is about fairness, human rights and careful US diplomacy at its core. For too long, China restricted access to Tibet, preventing journalists from observing human rights abuses in Tibet and preventing Tibetan Americans from visiting their home country. This bill seeks to reset that table," Indian-American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal said on the House Floor.
The bill, she said, is premised on the idea that reciprocity forms the basis of diplomatic law and the practice of mutual exchanges between countries. This bill simply requires that if Chinese officials, journalists and other citizens are able to travel freely in the United States, then it's only fair that their American counterparts are also able to do the same in China and Tibet.
"And if Americans are not granted the same access to Tibet that the Chinese enjoy in the United States, then there should be consequences. This is more than reasonable and long overdue," Ms Jayapal said.
Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen worried that in the years as China has grown in strength and power, Tibet has been purchased to the periphery.
"I was worried that China's bully tactics on display had extended so far that our United States Congress had no longer had the will, no longer had the desire to speak out in support of Tibet," she said.
The Congress is sending a true signal that the US has indeed not forgotten about the people of Tibet, that Congress will not accept Beijing's bullying and intimidation and that the US lawmakers will stand up for human rights for the people of Tibet, she said.
"Beijing's policy's on Tibet are not only immoral and unjust, but are threatening the stability of a crucial area for the US interests. So we must put pressure on China to stop its repression," Ms Ros-Lehtinen said.
Congressman Jim McGovern, prime author of the bill, said that the bill imposes real consequences for China's bad behaviour.
Arguing that the basis of diplomatic law is mutual access and reciprocity, Mr McGovern said that while Chinese diplomats and journalists travel freely in the US, the Government of China has erected many barriers in areas of China inhabited by ethnic Tibetans.
US diplomats and journalists must obtain permission to enter Tibet, he alleged.
"Under this bill, Chinese authorities who are involved in the design and implementation of policies that restrict travel to Tibetan areas become ineligible to receive a visa or be admitted to the United States. This is a victory for human rights of Tibetans and Americans," Mr McGovern said.
Speaking in support of the bill, Democratic leader Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi asserted that the issue of reciprocity is not only a human rights issue, but is also a practical matter. It is very important for the US to have a diplomatic presence in Lhasa. The bill, she said, takes an important step to advance freedom, dignity and prosperity for the Tibetan people.
The bill, Ms Pelosi said sends a clear signal that China's meddling in Tibetan affairs is unacceptable. "For six decades, the people of Tibet have stood defiance in the face of oppression and brutality from an authoritarian China," she said.
Senators Marco Rubio and Tammy Baldwin have introduced a companion bill in the Senate.
The Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act includes a national security waiver, and would require the US Secretary of State to submit to Congress an assessment of the level of access to Tibet granted to American government officials, journalists, and tourists by Chinese officials.
If the secretary determines that there are restrictions on travel to Tibet, the appropriate Chinese officials will be ineligible to enter the US, the bill states.
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