US Ambassador on week-long Tibet visit on rare permit from China

US Ambassador to China Terry Branstad. (Photo courtesy: AFP)

(, May20’19) – Such is the difficulty and rarity of a permit for a Western diplomat – or a UN human rights official too, for that matter – to visit Tibet that just allowing one makes international news headlines. In a first since 2015, China has permitted US Ambassador Terry Branstad to visit the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and neighboring Qinghai province over May 19-26, reported Reuters May 20, citing the US Embassy in Beijing.

“The Ambassador welcomes this opportunity to visit the Tibet Autonomous Region, and encourages authorities to provide access to the region to all American citizens,” the Tibetan Service of May 19 quoted the spokesman as saying.

The Reuters report noted that the permit of a visit by ambassador Branstad followed the passage of a law in Dec 2018 that requires the United States to deny visas to Chinese officials in charge of implementing policies that restrict access to Tibet for foreigners, especially US officials, journalists and other citizens. The Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act decried China for restricting access to Tibet for US officials and citizens while availing free travel to the US for its officials and citizens. The US government is required to begin denying visas by the end of this year.

“This visit is a chance for the ambassador to engage with local leaders to raise long-standing concerns about restrictions on religious freedom and the preservation of Tibetan culture and language,” an embassy spokesperson was quoted as saying.

The report said Branstad would travel to Qinghai (which made up most of independent Tibet’s Amdo or Domey Province) and neighbouring TAR from May 19 to 25 on a trip that would include official meetings as well as visits to religious and cultural heritage sites.

Max Baucus, President Barack Obama’s envoy to Beijing, was the last US ambassador to visit Tibet, in May 2015, noted the (updated) report.

Delegations of Chinese parliament from the TAR as well as of Chinese Tibetologists regularly visit the USA and other western countries to say how happy and prosperous Tibetans are under Chinese rule, the purpose being to fend off reports about widespread and systematic official human rights abuses as well as moves to decimate Tibetan culture and identity.

Branstad’s visit comes amid tensions between China and the USA over trade. China struck a more aggressive tone in its trade war with the United States on May 17, suggesting a resumption of talks between the world’s two largest economies would be meaningless unless Washington changed course.

The Reuters report noted that while the Donald Trump administration had taken a tough stance towards China on trade and highlighted the security rivalry with Beijing, it had so far not acted on congressional calls for it to impose sanctions on China’s former Communist Party chief in Tibet, Chen Quanguo, for the treatment of minority Muslims in the Xinjiang region, where he is currently the party chief.

A State Department report in March said Chen had replicated in Xinjiang policies similar to those credited with reducing opposition to Chinese rule in Tibet, the report noted.


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