The US Congress has approved legislation that includes a provision for $5 million to construct a US consulate in Lhasa, Tibet. The provision additionally directs the State Department, under the principle of reciprocity, to agree to the construction of a Chinese consular post anywhere in the United States only when the Chinese government agrees to the U.S. consulate in Lhasa. The Lhasa consulate provision is included in the Emergency Supplemental bill (H.R. 2642) approved by the House on June 19 and by the Senate on June 26.

“A US consulate in Lhasa is key to opening a locked-down Tibet. It will protect the interests and safety of Americans traveling in Lhasa and improve the quantity and quality of information available from inside Tibet,” said Todd Stein, ICT Director of Government Relations.

Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) authored the Lhasa consulate provision in the Emergency Supplemental bill. It was cosponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and strongly supported by Representative Mark Kirk (R-IL) in the House. Establishment of a diplomatic presence in Lhasa was urged by Congress in the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002.

Senior State Department officials have confirmed that Lhasa is now their number one priority on a list of locations in China that the US government has been looking at for future consulates. The principle of reciprocity as applied in this case means that for every consular post China establishes in the United States, the United States is able to establish one in China. The Chinese and US governments have been in discussion about the possibility of establishing additional consulates in several locations in the United States and China.

“The reciprocity language in the legislations gives the US government the necessary leverage with the Chinese and increases the likelihood of actually realizing this important foreign policy initiative,” Stein concluded.

The Chinese authorities said this week that the Tibet Autonomous Region has re-opened to foreign tour groups on Wednesday after a stoppage of more than three months due to the March protests and riot in the regional capital of Lhasa, a local official said (Xinhua, June 24). The flow of tour groups is likely to be limited and highly managed, and there is no indication yet of when individual tourists will be permitted entry.