Norman Baker’s take on the Reciprocal Access To Tibet Act

As both the President of Tibet Society, the world’s oldest pro-Tibet group, and a Honorary member of the Global Committee for the Rule of Law “Marco Pannella”, I am delighted to see the progress being made to demand reciprocity from the Chinese government in terms of access to Tibet.

On 25 September, the United States House of Representatives passed the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act. This piece of legislation, introduced by Democrat congressman Jim McGovern, represents a major development on the status of Tibet and for US-China relations. The bipartisan bill promotes access to Tibet for United States officials, journalists, NGOs and citizens. Under the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, Chinese officials who deny Americans entry to Tibet will be denied entry to the US.

Jim McGovern called it “a great day for human rights. The United States must continue to stand squarely for human rights and speak openly against China’s human rights violations in Tibet”. Matteo Mecacci, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: “The approval of the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act by the House is an indication of Congress’s continuing concerns about China’s treatment of the Tibetan people. It is a strong statement by the United States that puts pressure on the Chinese government to open up Tibet to the outside world and shows that their propaganda is hollow”. The Bill now moves on to the Senate.

At present, China tightly restricts access to Tibet for foreign visitors, including preventing journalists from reporting on its human rights abuses which include religious persecution, torture, imprisonments and extrajudicial killings. Even as a British government minister, my request to visit Tibetan areas while I was in China was blocked.

China nearly always forbids American and British journalists, diplomats and citizens from accessing Tibet, even though Chinese citizens are free to travel throughout the US and UK. Foreigners who are allowed into Tibet can only travel under the constant monitoring of Chinese authorities. Their contact with ordinary Tibetans is generally obstructed and in any case, talking to an ordinary Tibetan risks that person being arrested and tortured by the Chinese shortly afterwards.

And the human rights situation in China is becoming worse by the day. Xi Jinping, who is becoming more like Chairman Mao every day, has embarked upon a process of deep Sinicisation. All manifestations of independent thought which are in conflict with the approach of the Chinese Communist Party (as determined by him ultimately) are to be eradicated. Those adhering to religions, and those who come from minority groups, are especially vulnerable. If you are both, like the Tibetans, then you really have drawn the short straw.

But it is not just the Tibetans. Incredibly and disgustingly, around 10% of the Uighur population has been locked up in camps for “re-education”, that is to say brainwashing, made to state that black is in fact white.

The Chinese government gives power to the old saying that men prefer darkness to perform evil deeds. For their behaviour is not only indefensible in moral terms, but contrary to the terms of the Chinese constitution itself which guarantees all sorts of rights on paper, rights it turns out, which are not worth the paper they are written on. If the Rule Of Law is to be respected, it requires respect in practice, not simply on bits of paper that can be waved around in world forums.

China is a hugely powerful nation, may indeed in our lifetimes become THE most powerful nation, even more so as the Trumpian US withdraws into itself and leaves the world clear for China to pursue its foreign policy objectives.

In these circumstances, it is vital that what pressure can be applied on China is indeed applied, and this Bill represents a useful tool. It remains to be seen whether the Bill achieves its aim of curtailing China’s highly restrictive access to Tibet, or is simply a hit the Chinese will take in terms of reciprocal access to the US.

I hope other democratic nations, particularly the EU, Canada and Australia, will follow suit. The rot has to be stopped. The real danger is that the Chinese contempt for the rule of law is allowed to run rampant, that will become the international norm, and then we really will be back in the dark ages.

Norman Baker

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