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US Senate passes bill to impose visa ban on Chinese officials

PTI /Washington
Filed on December 12, 2018
US Senate passes bill to impose visa ban on Chinese officials

The bill now heads to the White House for US President Donald Trump to sign into law.

The US Senate has passed a crucial bipartisan legislation that seeks to impose a visa ban on Chinese officials who deny American citizens, government officials and journalists access to Tibet, the remote Himalayan homeland of the exiled Dalai Lama. 'The Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act', seeking unhindered access to Tibetan areas to US officials, journalists and common citizens, something which is routinely denied by the Chinese government, was passed by the House of Representatives in September.

The legislation, passed unanimously, comes amidst the Trump administration imposing massive trade import duties on China that has started impacting the Chinese economy.

The bill now heads to the White House for US President Donald Trump to sign into law.

"The Senate tonight passed the House companion to my Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, critical legislation based on the principle of reciprocity that has long been missing from our relationship with China," Senator Marco Rubio, a key sponsor of the one of bill said Tuesday night.

"Looking forward to the President signing this into law soon," he tweeted.

The Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act of 2018-which was introduced in the House of Representatives by Representatives Jim McGovern and Randy Hultgren and in the Senate by Marco Rubio and Tammy Baldwin - is bipartisan legislation designed to address China's exclusion of American journalists, diplomats and citizens from Tibet.

"The Tibet Reciprocity Act is an important statement of our values, and I am happy to see it sent to the President's desk before the end of the year," said Senator Robert Menendez, one of 14 cosponsors of the bill. 

"This legislation is simply about fundamental fairness. Chinese citizens enjoy broad access to the United States, and I think that is terrific," he said. 

Menendez said it is unacceptable that the same is not true for US students, journalists or diplomats going to Tibet, including Tibetan-American constituents just trying to visit their country of origin.

"If China wants its tourists, officials, journalists and other citizens to be able to travel freely across the US, American citizens must be able to travel freely in China, including Tibet. The International Campaign for Tibet should be commended for its work on this bill and for being a steadfast champion of fairness and decency for all people, including Tibetans," Menendez said.

 The bill received support from both sides of the aisle in Congress.

The 14th Dalai Lama, who is 83 lives on exile in India. He fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in his homeland. 

The bill requires the Secretary of State to assess the level of access to Tibet for US citizens within 90 days of the enactment of the legislation and to send a report to Congress identifying Chinese officials who are responsible for keeping Americans out of Tibet.

The Secretary of State will then ban those officials from receiving visas to enter the US. The bill is predicated on the widely accepted diplomatic principle of reciprocity, based on which countries should provide equal rights to one another's citizens.

"When it comes to Tibet, Beijing does not reciprocate," said International Campaign for Tibet.

Although Chinese citizens, journalists from state-sponsored propaganda outlets and bureaucrats of the Chinese Communist Party travel freely throughout the US and lobby the American government on Tibetan issues, Beijing effectively prevents American diplomats, politicians, journalists, aid workers and tourists from entering Tibet-except on strictly controlled official tours that hide the truth about the immense suffering there, it said.

"This is truly a historic moment in the United States' support of the Tibetan people and for its strategic security interests in the region," said ICT president Matteo Mecacci.

"By passing this landmark bill, which implements the diplomatic principle of reciprocity, Congress is saying loud and clear that Tibet's future is and will continue to be a foreign policy priority for the US. Furthermore, the American people's overwhelming support for Tibet shows that the citizens of the free world are opposed to unfair policies that foster Beijing's authoritarian rule and influence all over the world," Mecacci said. 

Since Trump assumed office, the impact of human rights issues on Sino-US ties has been waning largely because of Trump's policy preferences. But Washington, especially the US Congress, is still paying close attention to human rights issues and has been constantly raking them up.


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