By Tenzin Sangmo
DHARAMSHALA, Dec. 12: After receiving support from the US State Department last week, Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act (H.R. 1872) gets passed in the US Senate by unanimous consent on Tuesday.
It is a bipartisan legislation drafted to counter China’s constant exclusion of American journalists, diplomats and citizens from Tibet.
International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), which led a campaign for the act for years have dubbed it a legislative landmark. ICT has been working closely with Tibetan-American associations, Tibet support groups and Tibetan NGOs since 2014 to get the bill passed ICT chairman Matteo Macacci said, “This is truly a historic moment in the United States’ support of the Tibetan people and for its strategic security interests in the region.”
The bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.) and in the Senate by Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) The bill was passed in the US House of Representatives in September this year.
Expressing his happiness at seeing the bill advancing to the president’s desk before the end of the year, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), one of the 14 cosponsors of the bill said, “The Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act is an important statement of our values.”
It now goes to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign the bill into law. The bill, once signed, mandates the Secretary of State to assess the level of access to Tibet for US citizens within 90 days of the enactment of the legislation and to send a report to Congress identifying Chinese officials who are responsible for keeping Americans out of Tibet. The Secretary of State will then ban those officials from receiving visas to enter the US.
The bill is envisaged on the common diplomatic principle of reciprocity where countries are expected to provide equal rights to one another’s citizens. China hasn’t reciprocated such access. While Chinese diplomats, journalists, tourists and other citizens remain free to travel across the US, Beijing hasn’t allowed its American counterparts from visiting or enjoying similar access to Tibet.
Meanwhile, Tibetans and supporters have welcomed the development, calling it "victory for all who care about freedom and human rights.” Executive Director of Students for a Free Tibet, Dorjee Tseten, said, “For what is likely the first time ever, the U.S. Congress has passed stand-alone legislation focused exclusively on Tibet.
“This is also an important victory for the grassroots Tibet movement and many should be congratulated and thanked for their leadership including the Office of Tibet in Washington, DC, Tibetan Associations across the U.S., the International Campaign for Tibet, and all of those individuals working tirelessly behind the scenes,” said Dorjee, who is also a member of the Tibetan parliament in exile.