By Choekyi Lhamo
DHARAMSHALA, June 24: China has allowed diplomats from 10 European and other countries to visit two Tibetan areas in Sichuan Province which lie outside the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) an area subject to a stricter regime of travel restrictions than any other regions in China.
ICT said that though it welcomes the interest of the countries in understanding the Tibetan people, it also remarked that visiting two places in the domestic tourist provinces provide little insight into the welfare of the Tibetan people. ICT calls on members of such delegations from other countries to be “mindful of their visits possibly being used for propagandistic means” and to raise issues of religious freedom, persecution of dissenters, and human rights defenders.
Chinese state media outlet Ngaba Daily reported that a group of 21 diplomats based in Chengdu visited Zitsa Degu and Zungchu counties in Ngaba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan on June 17 & 18. The diplomats were from Australia, Austria, France, Germany, Israel, Pakistan, Poland, Singapore, Switzerland, and the United States, and the host was the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Sichuan Provincial Communist Party Committee.
The report said that the aim of the visit was to “show the positive image of the opening of Tibetan areas in Sichuan Province to the outside, and publicize the achievements of the reconstruction” after an earthquake in 2017. It was to investigate the local tourism recovery and targeted poverty alleviation after the epidemic.
ICT remarked on the irony of the venture, “Tourism and related facilities are the least of the problems that the Tibetan people face under Chinese rule.” As China still denies access to Tibet by foreign governments, except on state-sponsored, restricted tours, it claims that the government is “steadily increasing the opening up” of Tibet to the outside world.
In order to visit TAR, all foreigners including diplomats and journalists in China need to acquire a special permit which is almost always denied. Whenever it is not denied, travel in the region is controlled and allowed only through state-approved travel agencies. The US passed the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act in 2018 that requires the US State Department to issue visa sanctions against Chinese officials responsible for not granting American citizens proper access to Tibet.