This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
In a move pushing for greater U.S. access to Tibet, now largely closed by China to American diplomats and journalists, President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed into law a bill denying visas to Chinese officials responsible for blocking entry to the Beijing-ruled Himalayan region.
The Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act of 2018 will require the U.S. Secretary of State, within 90 days of the bill’s becoming law, to identify Chinese officials responsible for excluding U.S. citizens, including Americans of Tibetan ethnic origin, from China’s Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), and then ban them from entering the United States.
The law also requires the State Department to provide to the Congress each year a list of U.S. citizens blocked from entry to Tibet.
The bill had passed in September in the U.S. House of Representatives, and then went to the Senate for approval, where it passed on Dec. 11.
The legislation is based on the diplomatic principle of reciprocity, in which “countries should provide equal rights to one another’s citizens,” the Washington D.C.-based International Campaign for Tibet—which had lobbied strongly for the bill—said in a Dec. 11 statement welcoming its passage in the Senate.
In a statement on Thursday, Lobsang Sangay—president of the India-based exile Central Tibetan Administration—welcomed the bill’s passage and signing into law, saying it “sends the right message of hope and justice to Tibetans in Tibet.”
“The Reciprocal Access to Tibet Law will not only make the perpetrators of human rights violations accountable but also bolster institutional and diplomatic engagement on Tibet,” Sangay said.
“On behalf of six million Tibetans I extend profound appreciation to the President for signing the bill into law,” he said.
A shared goal
Speaking on background, a State Department spokesperson said the department “shares Congress’s goal of seeing Americans be able to access Tibetan regions.”
“The United States seeks reciprocity from China regarding the open access that China and many other countries enjoy in the United States.”
Meanwhile, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying on Thursday slammed Trump’s signing of the bill into law, saying the new law sends “seriously wrong signals” of support to what she called forces working to separate Tibet from Chinese rule.
“If the United States implements this law, it will cause serious harm to China-U.S. relations and to the cooperation in important areas between the two countries,” she said.
A formerly independent nation, Tibet was taken over and incorporated into China by force nearly 70 years ago, following which Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and thousands of his followers fled into exile in India.
Chinese authorities now maintain a tight grip on the region, restricting Tibetans’ political activities and peaceful expression of ethnic and religious identities, and subjecting Tibetans to persecution, torture, imprisonment, and extrajudicial killings.