By Tenzin Sangmo
TerryBranstad, the US Ambassador to China. File photo_ AFP
DHARAMSHALA, May 20: The U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad is on a visit to Tibet this week, the first to the region by a U.S. ambassador since 2015, reported Reuters
The visit springs from the passing of several acts in December 2018 seeking to address uneven travel access to Tibet and other US interests in the Indo-Pacific region.
The Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act (RATA) signed into law on December 19, 2018, requires the US to deny visas to Chinese officials responsible for restricting access to Tibet for US diplomats, journalists and citizens. The US is required to begin denying visas by the end of this year.
China had criticized the US for passing the act saying it was “resolutely opposed” to the legislation as China considers it an internal affair, and cautioned that the legislation will “seriously harm” their relations.
The US State Department said in March that five out of nine US requests to visit Tibet were rejected last year, including one by Branstad. But Chinese authorities have cited special "geographic" and "climatic conditions" as reasons for restricting access to the Himalayan region.
The visit underway from May 19 to May 25 will include official meetings as well as visits to religious and cultural heritage sites.
“This is a chance for the ambassador to engage with local leaders to raise longstanding concerns about restrictions on religious freedom and the preservation of Tibetan culture and language,” the spokesperson of US embassy in Beijing reportedly said.
The Chinese government is accused of committing gross human rights violations in Tibet which Beijing insists is not the case and that Tibetans enjoy extensive freedoms and economic growth.
Terry Branstad who was confirmed by the Senate as the U.S. Ambassador to China in May 2018 said during the confirmation hearing that if confirmed, he would urge Chinese authorities to engage in meaningful and direct dialogue with the Dalai Lama and his representatives without preconditions to lower tensions and resolve differences.
He further said he would raise concerns about the lack of regular access to Tibet and “will also continue to press the Chinese government to allow for the option to open a U.S. Consulate in Lhasa.”