House of Representatives Passes the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act Introduced by Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA)
Congressman McGovern’s remarks upon passage, as delivered:
“Mr. Speaker, today is a great day for human rights. The House is about to approve our bipartisan bill –The Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act — that will impose real consequences for China’s bad behavior in Tibet.
America’s foreign policy ought to send the message that we value human rights. That we stand with those working for freedom. That those values compel us to speak out when we see something that’s wrong. And that we will hold accountable those who violate the basic human rights we are all entitled to. And that’s exactly what this bill today is all about.
The basis of diplomatic law is mutual access and reciprocity. But while Chinese diplomats, journalists and tourists travel freely within the United States, the government of the People’s Republic of China has erected many barriers to travel in areas of China inhabited by ethnic Tibetans.
U.S. diplomats, journalists, and tourists must obtain permission to enter the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), a requirement that does not exist for any other provincial-level entity of China. Visitors also face obstacles to their ability to travel to Tibetan areas outside the TAR.
But under this bill Chinese authorities who are involved in the design and implementation of policies that restrict travel to Tibetan areas become ineligible to receive a visa or be admitted to the United States.
This is a victory for the human rights of Tibetans and Americans.
Restricted access to Tibet has many negative consequences for Tibetans in China and for citizens of the United States.
Tibetans are left isolated from the rest of the world. Their well-documented suffering under Chinese rule — arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment, extensive government surveillance, restrictions on the use of their language and their religious and cultural practices — all these violations of fundamental human rights are hidden from sight.
Preventing diplomats, journalists, and tourists from traveling to Tibet makes it much harder to assess the full scope of these abuses.
I know first-hand how important access to Tibet is because I had the opportunity to join Leader Pelosi and several other Members of Congress for a visit there in November of 2015. I saw the tight control the government exercises over virtually all aspects of the daily lives of Tibetans. And I had people thank me for being there, remembering them, and fighting for their rights.
On the other side, China’s travel restrictions deny Americans the right to visit one of the most beautiful places on earth, and to experience Tibetan culture in all its richness.
And in emergencies, Americans may be denied help due to China’s restrictive policies.
I am reminded that after an October 2013 bus crash in the TAR which left three Americans dead and many others injured, U.S. consular officers faced a long delay in obtaining permission to travel to the region. This severely hindered their ability to serve American citizens in distress.
And following a 2015 earthquake that trapped dozens of U.S. citizens in the TAR, the U.S. Consulate General faced significant challenges in providing emergency consular assistance.
This is simply unacceptable.
So if China wants its citizens and officials to continue to travel freely in the U.S., Americans — including Tibetan Americans — must be able to travel freely in China, including Tibet, beginning now.
This bill will move us in the right direction on this basic but very important issue.
Let me also take a moment to recognize several organizations with which I have had the privilege to work on behalf of the human rights of all Tibetans.
I thank Human Rights Watch, the Office of Tibet, Students for a Free Tibet, and most especially the International Campaign on Tibet. Without their commitment and persistence, this bill would not be on the floor today.
With this bill we are taking an important step forward on behalf of the human rights of Tibetans, we are reaffirming our support for the leadership of his holiness the Dali Lama, and we are sending a message to the government of China: human rights are not negotiable. Supporting human rights is the moral thing to do. It is the right thing to do. And it is the American thing to do — for Tibetans, in China and everywhere else in the world.
I thank the gentlelady for yielding that time and I yield back the remainder of my time.”