The US has accused China of “systematically” impeding access to Tibet by imposing restrictions that have barred diplomats and foreign journalists from visiting the remote Himalayan region, drawing a strong reaction from Beijing which warned that Washington’s interference in its internal affairs would harm bilateral ties.
The US State Department in a report documented access problems to Tibet. The report to Congress, mandated by the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, passed with bipartisan support in December.
“The Chinese government systematically impeded travel to the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) and Tibetan areas outside the TAR for US diplomats and officials, journalists and tourists in 2018,” said the report.
Even visits by US diplomats were “highly restricted,” it said.
“Chinese government-designated minders followed US diplomats and officials at all times, prevented them from meeting or speaking with local contacts, interrogated them and restricted their movement in these areas,” the report said.
The State Department said that China last year rejected five of the nine US requests to visit Tibet.
China sent troops into remote, mountainous Tibet in 1950 in what it officially terms a peaceful liberation and has ruled there ever since.
The Dalai Lama, the highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism, fled into exile in India in 1959 after a failed uprising against the Chinese rule.
While Beijing views the Dalai Lama as a separatist who seeks to split Tibet from China, the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize laureate says he only wants greater rights for Tibetans, including religious freedom and autonomy.
Quoting the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China, the State Department said that only seven international journalists sought permission to visit Tibetan areas last year, compared with dozens in past years.
The report said that China denied access to tourists during times seen as politically sensitive.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that the US report “severely violates the basic norms governing international relations” and interfered in China’s internal affairs.
China has opposed the report as it also sends a “seriously wrong message to Tibetan independent and separatist forces. It is highly detrimental to our cooperation and exchanges,” he said.
“This so-called report is full bias and totally ignoring the facts. We never accept that. I want to stress that Tibetan affairs are purely China’s internal affairs and allow no interference from foreign countries,” he said.
China’s Tibet is open to people of all countries, he said, adding “considering special geographical and climate conditions, the Chinese government exercised certain protection and management measures over the entry by foreigner”.
“This is totally necessary. Our position will never change. We welcome foreigners to visit Tibet. But the condition is that they have to abide by Chinese laws and regulations and go through relevant procedures,” he said.
“We urge the US to stop such wrong doing and try to remove the negative effects. We urge the US side to stop using Tibet related issues to interfere in our internal affairs, least it should harm bilateral relations and our cooperation,” he said.