Obstacles include refusals of diplomatic visits, harassment of journalists and rejections of tourist visits at politically sensitive times, report says
Pandemic measures also used as a ‘pretext’, report says – but China says US sanctions and appointments of Tibet-related officials prompted its restrictions
By Owen Churchill
March 18, 2022
Paramilitary police hold a ceremony to mark the anniversary of the crushing of the 1959 Tibetan uprising and the Dalai Lama’s flight into exile. Photo: AP
Foreign diplomats, journalists and tourists were “systematically” denied access to China’s Tibet autonomous region over the past year, according to a new US government assessment, indicating that Washington’s efforts to pressure China into opening up the tightly guarded region have not succeeded.
Compounded by the coronavirus pandemic and China’s closure of the US embassy in neighbouring Sichuan province, there was no sign of a loosening of restrictions compared with 2020, the State Department said in an annual report to Congress published on Thursday.
The obstacles, the report alleged, included harassment of US journalists, the stonewalling of diplomats’ engagements with locals in Tibetan areas outside Tibet, and the refusal by the Chinese government to greenlight any visits to Tibet by the US chargé d’affaires at its Beijing embassy.
In one incident, a US diplomat reported being blocked from boarding a plane during a personal trip to a Tibetan prefecture – referring to one of the areas outside Tibet that are home to large populations of ethnic Tibetans. Another was prevented from accessing a prefecture on a cycling tour.
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“[China’s] security forces used conspicuous monitoring to intimidate US diplomats and officials including while on personal travel to Tibetan areas, followed them, prevented them from meeting or speaking with local contacts, harassed them, and restricted their movement in these areas,” the report said.
The dire assessment comes despite attempts by Washington to force Beijing to relax the limits it has long imposed on Tibet, including by sanctioning Chinese officials involved in formulating or enacting those restrictions. Asked about the report, Liu Pengyu, a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, said that the State Department’s accusations “disregard the facts and are fraught with bias”. China would continue to welcome foreigners to Tibet for travel and business, Liu said, “but the precondition is that they must abide by the Chinese laws and relevant regulations and go through necessary procedures”. Beijing has previously characterised the US law requiring the annual report as a form of “foreign interference”.