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US to issue sanctions over forced assimilation of Tibetans

Chinese President Xi Jinping waves to deputies at the 13th National People's Congress in Beijing on Tuesday, March 20, 2018. (Lan Hongguang/Xinhua/Sipa USA/TNS)
August 23, 2023

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

The United States will impose visa sanctions against Chinese officials responsible for the forced assimilation of more than a million young Tibetan children into state-run boarding schools, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement on Tuesday.

The State Department “is taking steps to impose visa restrictions” on Chinese government officials “for their involvement in the forcible assimilation of more than 1 million Tibetan children in government-run boarding schools,” according to the statement.

“These coercive policies seek to eliminate Tibet’s distinct linguistic, cultural, and religious traditions among younger generations of Tibetans,” the statement said, urging officials “to end the coercion of Tibetan children into government-run boarding schools and to cease repressive assimilation policies” in Tibet and elsewhere in China.

It did not provide details about which officials would be impacted by the sanctions, or when. An official at the State Department, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Radio Free Asia that visa records were confidential under U.S. law so those impacted would not be identified.

But they said those impacted were “current or former” Chinese officials “believed to be responsible for, or complicit in” repressing Tibetans.

Forced schooling

2021 report by the Santa Fe, New Mexico-based Tibet Action Institute found that hundreds of thousands of Tibetan children between the ages of 4 and 18 years old were being taken from their families and forced to live in state-run boarding schools, often losing the ability to speak Tibetan.  

The report said that the “teachers only speak in Mandarin and conduct all school curriculum in Mandarin, including nursery rhymes and bedtime stories” and that “the implications for whole generations of Tibetans and the long-term survival of Tibetan identity are grave.”

Authorities, it said, justified the forced schooling as a way of providing education to Tibetans spread out across a large geographical area.

Liu Pengyu, spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, told Radio Free Asia on Tuesday that China “firmly opposes the smears against boarding schools in Tibet” and called the use of such schools “a common international practice.” 

“Boarding schools have gradually developed into one of the important modes of running schools in China’s ethnic minority areas, and the centralized way of running schools effectively solves the problem of ethnic minority students’ difficulty in attending school at a distance where the local people live scattered,” Liu said. 

“The relevant U.S. restrictive measure seriously interferes in China’s internal affairs and seriously undermines China-U.S. relations.”

U.N. experts in February said they had determined at least a million Tibetan children were being held in the schools, where “the educational content and environment is built around majority Han culture.”

“We are very disturbed that in recent years the residential school system for Tibetan children appears to act as a mandatory large-scale programme intended to assimilate Tibetans into majority Han culture, contrary to international human rights standards,” the experts said.

“As a result,” the experts added, “Tibetan children are losing their facility with their native language and the ability to communicate easily with their parents and grandparents in the Tibetan language, which contributes to their assimilation and erosion of their identity.”

Sanctions welcomed

Tencho Gyatso, president of the International Campaign for Tibet, told Radio Free Asia he welcomed the news of the planned sanctions.

“China’s unconscionable separation of Tibetan children from their families cannot be left unchecked. It shows the depths of Beijing’s plan to eliminate the Tibetan way of life and turn Tibetans into loyal followers of the CCP,” Tencho said, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.

“This boarding school program targets the most vulnerable and impressionable minds and is aimed at converting Tibetans into Chinese, cementing the Chinese government’s control over Tibet and annihilating the Tibetan culture and way of life,” she said.