Reps. McGovern, Pitts introduce Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act

Today, Members of Congress introduced bipartisan legislation to promote travel by Americans to Tibetan areas where access is routinely denied by Chinese authorities.

The bill, H.R. 4851, the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, was introduced by Representatives Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Joseph Pitts (R-PA) on June 12, 2014.

“The bill’s premise is straightforward. If China doesn’t allow foreigners into Tibet, then we shouldn’t allow Chinese officials with oversight on Tibet into our countries, said Matteo Mecacci, President of the International Campaign for Tibet. “Chinese leaders praise the landscape and people of Tibet, yet keep it hidden from view. Freedom of access to Tibet should be demanded of China just as established powers already provide to travelers from China. I thank Congressmen McGovern and Pitts for their leadership.”

“Restricted access to Tibet leaves Tibetans in virtual isolation from the world community, limiting international exchange and the ability to objectively assess the human rights situation there,” said Congressman McGovern in a press release. “I am grateful to the Tibetan community in Massachusetts and to the International Campaign for Tibet for all of their hard work and activism on this important issue. Our aim is not to limit exchange; it is to foster exchanges between America and Tibet. Our goal is an open and accessible Tibet, where Americans can visit and learn from the wonders of the Tibetan Plateau – its natural beauty, its people, and its rich culture and religious heritage.”

The legislation would deny access to the United States by Chinese officials who are responsible for creating or administering policies on travel to Tibetan areas until China eliminates discriminatory restrictions on access by Americans to Tibet. It cites the diplomatic principle of reciprocity, wherein “a country should give equivalent consular access to the nationals of another country in a reciprocal manner to the consular access granted by such other country to its own citizens.”

Specifically, the bill requires the State Department to report on access granted by Chinese authorities to Tibetan areas and make a list of Chinese officials in responsible positions. If restrictions on access to Tibetan areas are greater than to non-Tibetan areas, then the officials cannot come to the U.S.

The initiative cites State Department frustrations on lack of access to Tibet. The Department reports that the Chinese “denied more than 10 requests for United States diplomatic access to the Tibet Autonomous Region between May 2011 and December 2012, and that when such requests are granted, diplomatic personnel are closely supervised and given few opportunities to meet local residents not approved by authorities.” At the same time, Chinese officials have repeatedly stated that Tibet is open to foreign visitors, according to the legislation’s findings.

No Member of Congress appears to have visited Tibet since the 1990s. ICT knows that some requests by Members to visit Tibet in recent years have been turned down. A few visits by Congressional staff have occurred since 2008, but they were on a tight itinerary controlled by government minders. By contrast, delegations of Chinese Tibetologists or officials from the Tibetan Autonomous Region have visited the U.S. Congress on several occasions in recent years.