By Tenzin Sangmo
The new US state dept. report on RATA.jpg
DHARAMSHALA, March 26: A new US State Department report to the Congress published yesterday spelt out how China continues to severely restrict access to Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) for US journalists, officials, diplomats and tourists.
International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), one of the main advocates in the passing of the act, wrote, “This report shows the US government is serious about implementing the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act (RATA).”
The act enacted on December 19, 2018 seeks to confront China’s double standard of denying US diplomats, reporters and tourists entry to the TAR and other Tibetan areas under Chinese control even though Chinese bureaucrats, state media and ordinary citizens are free to travel throughout the US.
Section 4 of the act first requires the State Department to come up with a list by the end of 2019 of banned Chinese officials involved in restricting access of US citizens and then revoke or deny US visas to these Chinese officials.
The ICT President Matteo Mecacci said, “The demand for China to respect reciprocity with the US has now moved past the issue of trade to freedom of movement. Such demand should expand to other civil liberties such as freedom of information and academic freedom.”
Some of the major findings of the report include the instance of Chinese government denying five of nine official requests from the US diplomatic mission in China to visit TAR, including the US Ambassador’s request.
In both 2017 and 2018, US diplomats were denied access and interrogated by the local authorities in Tibetan areas of Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (TAP) in Sichuan province and Ngaba (Chinese: Aba) TAP in Sichuan province, despite the prior reassurance from provincial authorities that international diplomats were free to travel in these two prefectures without presentation of diplomatic notes.
Those who got into Tibet were subjected to intimidating and conspicuous monitoring with Chinese-appointed minders following around and obstructing free communication.
Journalists were usually restricted and those reporting on developments in the TAR were threatened with the possible eviction.
According to the report, the only trip of international journalists to the TAR including two journalists from US outlets Bloomberg and NBC respectively was monitored and controlled throughout. All other journalists’ requests were rejected, according to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC).
The FCCC’s 2018 annual report stated that coverage from “Tibet proper remains off-limits to foreign journalists.”
“I was explicitly told reporting on Xinjiang or Tibet was off limits,” a reporter for a UK media outlet told the FCCC in 2018.
The sentencing of the Tibetan language activist Tashi Wangchuk to five years in prison for “inciting separatism” after he appeared in a New York Times
documentary calling for linguistic and cultural rights in Tibet acted as further intimidation for the local Tibetans and media alike.
The report said that in February 2018, A Tibetan journalist with the Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that customs officials at the Baiyun International Airport in Guangzhou interrogated him at the airport in August 2017, seized his electronic devices and denied him entry into China to visit his mother.
Members of the Tibetan community in the US reported self-censoring their behavior in the US for the fear of retribution against their family members in Tibet and future access to Tibet.
The Chinese authorities also denied access to the TAR for many international tourists during periods the Chinese government considered politically sensitive, including the March anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan Uprising against China’s invasion of Tibet and the Dalai Lama’s birthday in July.
The report found the situation to have worsened in 2018.