U.S., China trade visa curbs over Tibet

Access restricted: U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad speaking with a monk at the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, Tibet, in May 2019.  

The U.S. and China imposed visa restrictions on each other in tit-for-tat moves over their disagreement on Tibet, adding fuel to the diplomatic fire between the superpowers.

China announced on Wednesday its curbs on people from the U.S. who “behave badly” on Tibet-related issues, in retaliation for American curbs unveiled a day before.

Officials not named

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday that he was taking action against an unspecified number of officials under a new U.S. law that presses China to let Americans visit the far west region, renewing a call for “meaningful autonomy” in the predominantly Buddhist area.

“Unfortunately, Beijing has continued systematically to obstruct travel to the Tibetan Autonomous Region and other Tibetan areas by U.S. diplomats and other officials, journalists and tourists, while PRC officials and other citizens enjoy far greater access to the United States,” said Mr. Pompeo. He restricted visas to Chinese officials determined to be “substantially involved” in the exclusion of foreigners from Tibetan areas.

The State Department declined to name the officials or say how many people were affected, citing U.S. confidentiality laws.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian expressed China’s “firm opposition” to the move and urged the U.S. to “immediately stop interfering in China’s internal affairs through Tibet-related issues”. “In response to the wrong actions of the U.S., China has decided to impose visa restrictions on U.S. personnel who behave badly on Tibet-related issues,” he said.

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Amid high tension with China, the U.S. has increasingly been issuing such visa sanctions, earlier taking action over Beijing’s clampdown on free expression in Hong Kong and its incarceration of some one million Uighurs. The Tibet action comes under a 2018 law passed by Congress that aims to pressure China over its tight restrictions in the Himalayan region.

No journalist allowed

Beijing has largely barred foreign journalists from visiting Tibet since 2008, when the region experienced a wave of self-immolations as protests, and has not responded to U.S. requests to set up a consulate in the regional capital Lhasa.

The International Campaign for Tibet, a rights advocacy group close to the Dalai Lama, welcomed the implementation of the law.

The campaign said it saw momentum, pointing to a recent joint call by 57 European parliamentarians from 19 countries to set up their own version of the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act.

A British MP has also introduced similar legislation.

The U.S. action comes one day after the 85th birthday of the Dalai Lama, who has spent most of his life in exile in India.

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Printable version | Sep 24, 2021 5:45:38 PM |

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