Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) today delivered the following statement during the Committee’s markup of the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act of 2017 (H.R. 1872). The Committee approved this bill by voice vote.
Chairman Goodlatte: H.R. 1872, the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act of 2017, addresses an issue of longstanding and increasing concern regarding China’s treatment of Tibetans living in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) and other Tibetan areas controlled by China.
In 1950, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army went into Tibet in order to establish control over the region. In the years since then, as noted by the U.S. Department of State, the Chinese Government “has imposed severe restrictions on Tibetans’ ability to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
Such restrictions occur with regard to religious practices, freedom to travel, freedom to practice cultural and language preferences, and other aspects of life.
In addition, the Chinese government routinely engages in human rights abuses, such as extrajudicial killings, torture, and arbitrary arrests.
In fact, the Chinese government’s actions are so severe that in recent years, over 150 Tibetans have self-immolated in a last ditch effort to get the rest of the world to focus on the problem.
In order to prevent documentation of the religious freedom restrictions and other human rights abuses to the outside world, the Government of China has severely limited access by foreign nationals to the Tibetan regions.
Such limitations prevent access to U.S. officials seeking diplomatic and consular access, journalists, human rights workers, and even tourists. When rare access is granted, activities are closely monitored by the PRC and information dissemination is restricted.
Matteo Mecacci, the President of the International Campaign for Tibet, has stated that “The Chinese leadership is seeking to enforce complete isolation on Tibet, often described as being worse than in North Korea, where at least some foreign media are based. Independent international observers are shut out of Tibet, or allowed to visit only under strictly controlled circumstances, while numerous delegations of Party officials face no obstacles in travelling to Western democracies to spread their propaganda.”
In fact, travel by Chinese nationals, including those with direct and substantial involvement in the formulation of policies to restrict access to Tibet, is routinely allowed by governments all over the world, including the United States. During FY 2017, for instance, nearly 1.5 million tourist visas were issued by the United States to Chinese nationals. And those visas are valid for ten years – during which the Chinese nationals can visit the U.S. multiple times. During that same period, the United States issued nearly 4,500 diplomatic visas to Chinese officials.
H.R. 1872 prohibits an individual who is “substantially involved in the formulation or execution of policies related to access for foreigners to Tibetan areas” from being granted a U.S. visa if the Secretary determines that 1) the requirement for specific official permission for foreigners to enter the Tibetan Autonomous Region remains in effect; or 2) such requirement has been replaced by a regulation that has a similar effect and requires foreign travelers to gain a level of permission to enter the Tibet Autonomous Region that is not required for travel to other provinces in China; and 3) restrictions on travel by officials, journalists, and citizens of the United States to areas designated as ‘Tibetan Autonomous’ in the provinces of Sichuan, Qinghai, Yunnan, and Gansu of China are greater than any restrictions on travel by such officials and citizens to areas in such provinces that are not so designated.
Any visa currently held by such individuals will be revoked under the bill.
The bill then requires the State Department to report annually to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees as well as the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on the number of actions taken regarding visas pursuant to the legislation.
According to the State Department, in recent years there have been very small inroads made with regard to access to the Tibetan areas. And while some have expressed the concern that moving this bill could make the Chinese Government roll back some of those inroads, moving this bill is the right thing to do. It is time that Congress take a stand with regard to access by foreign nationals to the Tibetan regions.
I want to thank Congressman McGovern for his work on this issue and I urge my colleagues to support the bill.
I yield back the balance of my time.