Access Denied: new US legislation and the lockdown in Tibet

Access Denied
In December 2018, the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act (RATA) became the first major legislation on Tibet signed into law in the US since the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002.

The landmark, bipartisan legislation is an important step toward holding China accountable for restricting access to Tibet. It seeks to challenge the difficulties faced by US diplomats, NGO workers, journalists reporting on human rights abuses and others when they try to enter the isolated and oppressed region. The act does so by denying entry to the US for Chinese officials who are involved in formulating the policies that prohibit American citizens from entering Tibet.

The 90-day period following the adoption of the act on December 19, 2018, during which the US State Department is required to assess Americans’ level of access to Tibet, coincides with a lockdown of Tibet this March, a month of sensitive anniversaries, when foreigners are banned from the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). It also coincides with the most important political meeting of the year, the high-level “Two Sessions” in Beijing, which will take place at a time when Chinese leader Xi Jinping faces scrutiny over a slowing Chinese economy, tough trade negotiations with the US, and growing global criticism over China’s extreme policies in Xinjiang, which were first tried out in Tibet.

In its January 2018 report, “Access Denied: China’s Enforced Isolation of Tibet and the Case for Reciprocity,” the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) documented how multiple requests by diplomatic personnel, journalists and intergovernmental organizations to visit Tibet in recent years have been refused or blocked in contravention of usual diplomatic practice between countries. This new report, published during the 90-day period after RATA’s enactment (which concludes on March 20), provides an update, detailing how:

  • No other province-level area in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has barriers to access equivalent to those in the TAR. This is most evident every year in March, when the TAR is closed to tourists coinciding with the anniversary of the March 10 Tibetan Uprising in 1959 and protests in 2008. This year’s lockdown (from January 30 to April 1) is longer than usual and is particularly significant, as it is the 60th anniversary of the Uprising and the escape of the Dalai Lama and thousands of Tibetans into exile.
  • The TAR is currently the only area of China that requires a separate permit for foreign travelers, including residents, journalists and diplomats based in China. Such visas are routinely denied. Tibetan-Americans also face denial of visas to return home on family visits, which is referenced in the text of RATA.
  • Chinese authorities intensified their propaganda and promotion of Tibet as “open” in 2018, seeking to obscure their covert and coercive policies while at the same time further restricting journalists and governments from engaging with the situation on the ground. PRC authorities have weaponized the issue of access to Tibet, with access granted only on China’s specific terms. Denying access, or threatening to do so, is used as a means of shutting down critiques by government officials, scholars, journalists and independent experts.
  • In 2018, rapidly expanding surveillance and an oppressive climate of fear drove a major deterioration in the work environment for foreign journalists, and there was a downward trend in organized press visits to Tibet permitted by the authorities. The Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC) reported “the darkest picture of reporting conditions inside China in recent memory.”
  • As the diplomatic focus on reciprocal access to Tibet gained attention in 2018, China heightened its propaganda efforts by sending official government delegations to foreign capitals to gain support for its position on Tibet. Over the past decade, nearly three times the number of Chinese state-organized delegations have visited Western countries compared to Western government representatives allowed into Tibet. In 2018, six groups of Chinese government officials representing Tibet visited 13 countries while hardly any foreign governments entered Tibet. The most high-profile Western visit was the December trip to Lhasa by German Human Rights Commissioner Barbel Kofler, who described the human rights situation there as “critical.”
  • In an unprecedented development, tourism, manly Chinese domestic tourists, coexist with the untrammeled powers of a security state engaged in the most widespread political crackdown in a generation. In contrast to the situation in 2018 in Xinjiang (known to Uyghurs as East Turkestan), China claimed an increase in the number of foreign tourists visiting the Tibetan plateau. Nevertheless, for the first time, the dangers of access to both Xinjiang and Tibet for foreign visitors were highlighted in the US State Department’s China Travel Advisory in January 2019.
  • The risks of traveling in the PRC for American and other citizens have generally increased in line with China’s political hostility toward their countries of origin. This follows the detention of two Canadians, former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor, in the wake of Canada’s arrest of a Huawei executive in December 2018. Kovrig and Spavor were detained by Chinese authorities shortly after Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada for possible extradition to the US.[1]
  • While Chinese tourists are increasingly free to come and go in the Tibetan plateau, Tibetans themselves face unprecedented restrictions on their movement. Serious and ongoing restrictions imposed by the Chinese government leave Tibetans locked in virtual isolation from the global community, unable to travel even when they are able to obtain Chinese passports and scholarships abroad, which is rare.

significance of the RATA

In 2018 the incarceration of around 1 million Uyghurs and others, including Kazakhs, brought human rights in China back to the forefront of the international agenda, highlighting China’s deeply oppressive measures, which were first used in Tibet, and the threat that China’s networked authoritarianism presents beyond its borders.[2]

Beijing is now confronting significant pressure and pushback from the international community, particularly the United States, over its business and political practices.

In this context, the concept of reciprocity is increasingly being cited by governments as an instrument for countering China’s one-way influence and economic operations and seeking Beijing’s compliance with international standards and long-term mutual obligations. Major European governments and the United States have referred to reciprocity as a key principle in terms of their bilateral relations with China.

The Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act is an important step towards holding China accountable for its policies in Tibet and recognizing that reciprocity is an important tenet of not only trade, but all aspects of international relations. Its intention is to promote freedom of movement and an open and accessible Tibet for American citizens and for Tibetans themselves.

Rep. Jim McGovern (D- Mass.), who introduced the bill—which received strong bipartisan and bicameral support in Washington—said, “I’m glad that the President signed our bill, the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, into law. For too long, China has covered up their human rights violations in Tibet by restricting travel. But actions have consequences, and today, we are one step closer to holding the Chinese officials who implement these restrictions accountable. I look forward to watching closely as our law is implemented, and continuing to stand with the people of Tibet in their struggle for religious and cultural freedom.”[3]

The signing into law of the Act also undermined China’s intensive propaganda efforts to ensure it controls global perceptions of Tibet. As a result, the Chinese leadership was particularly vituperative in its response to the law. China “resolutely opposed” the law, Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on December 20, 2018, adding that it “sent seriously wrong signals to Tibetan separatist elements.”[4] Hua Chunying warned that: “If the United States implements this law, it will cause serious harm to China-US relations and to the cooperation in important areas between the two countries.”

Beijing prioritizes its campaigns against the Dalai Lama’s influence, Tibetan culture and Tibetan religion, meaning that almost any expression of Tibetan identity not directly sanctioned by the state can be branded as ‘separatist’ and penalized by a prison sentence or worse. This has been a cause of widespread anguish among Tibetans and viewed as a contributing factor in the wave of self-immolations that has taken place across Tibet since 2009. China’s hostile response to the signing of RATA also involved attacks on the Dalai Lama linked to the 60th anniversary in March 2019 of his escape into exile, which was marked by Tibetan communities and supporters worldwide.

The Communist Party-controlled Global Times published an article headlined “Tibet authorities lambast Dalai Lama in series of articles as US passes Tibet Reciprocal Access bill,” referring to unusually long editorials blaming the Dalai Lama for self-immolations across Tibet, as well as widespread protests that broke out in Tibet in 2008.[5] The articles, the first of which was published on the front page of Tibet Daily on December 12, 2018, were subsequently distributed by the TAR Justice department, coinciding with international coverage of the passing of RATA.

The Tibet Daily editorials blamed the Dalai Lama for being “prime leader of separatist political groups pursuing ‘Tibet independence,’ the loyal tool of international anti-China forces, the root cause of social unrest in Tibet, the biggest obstacle for Tibetan Buddhism to establish normal order and a politician under the disguise of religion.” It reiterated accusations made by the Chinese leadership at the height of the wave of self-immolations in Tibet blaming the Dalai Lama, saying that he “also violated the essential religious doctrine of ‘loving kindness and compassion’ by inciting religious believers to self-immolate.”[6]


In its Tibet Negotiations Report, submitted to Congress in May 2018, the State Department said that although it maintained contact with Tibetans in Tibet, “travel and other restrictions made it difficult to visit and communicate with these individuals.” Similarly, in response to questions from Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) as part of a hearing in December 2018, the State Department said, “US government access to the TAR is not regular and is more restricted than travel to other regions or provinces of China. During the past three years, Chinese officials have denied multiple US government requests to meet with TAR officials. Regular trips granted to other US officials are heavily scrutinized.”[7] The full text of the questions by Sen. Gardner and the State Department’s answers are given at the end of this report.

In October 2018, the Chinese Ambassador to the United States, Ciu Tiankai, told National Public Radio that US Ambassador to China, Terry Branstad, had expressed an interest in visiting Tibet.[8] As of this report, Ambassador Branstad has yet to visit Tibet.

The State Department also provided Sen. Gardner’s office with the information[9] below about US officials visiting the TAR in 2018 and said that the Consul General at the US Consulate General in Chengdu has raised the issue of US citizens’ access to the TAR in every meeting with TAR officials, including on specific cases such as these.

April 2018 Consular officer, routine consular visit to Lhokha (Chinese: Shannan)
May 2018 Regional security officers, advance for Ambassador Branstad’s trip Lhasa
October 2018 Consular officers, routine consular visit to Lhasa
November 2018 Consul General in Chengdu and Political Officer, Lhasa

Tibet Autonomous Region under lockdown

The Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act states that within 90 days of its signature—which will be March 20, 2019—and annually thereafter for five years, the State Department must submit and make publicly available a report that includes an assessment of the level of access to Tibetan areas that Chinese authorities gave to diplomats and other officials, journalists, and tourists from the US.[10] The 90-day deadline falls within the longest period of restricted access to Tibetan areas in years. Since 2009, the TAR has been closed off to tourists for at least one month, coinciding with the anniversary of the March 10 Uprising in 1959 and protests in 2008. This year, the closure began on Jan. 30 and does not end until April 1, according to tour operators.[11]

While tour operators explained that the longer closure was likely due to Tibetan New Year (Losar) being earlier than usual this year (Feb. 5, as opposed to mid-February), factors may also include the current political sensitivity over the 60th anniversaries of the March 10, 1959 Tibetan National Uprising in Lhasa, Tibet’s capital, and the Dalai Lama’s flight into exile. The closure, and the intensified securitization coinciding with the anniversaries, are integral elements of the Chinese government’s approach to restricting access to Tibet for independent observers in order to maintain an iron grip in the region while at the same time avoiding any form of external scrutiny.

The lockdown also coincides with the Chinese leadership’s largest political event of the year, a meeting of legislative delegates and political advisers known as the “Two Sessions” of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).

China’s efforts to ensure it controls the narrative on Tibet, both inside and out, have increased, with state media describing a “new historical starting point” for Chinese propaganda that was to be strengthened by the Party state in 2018.[12] Hardline strategies to be strengthened this year to underpin China’s control of access to Tibet involve a dramatic expansion of securitization on the plateau, the engagement of the military in propaganda efforts and a continued focus on obliterating loyalty to the Dalai Lama among Tibetans.

An official report, based on a meeting of the TAR Regional Propaganda Conference in January 2018, repeated the line from a 2016 statement published in official media, urging officials that they must: “Tell the story of Tibet well, spread the good voice’ on Tibet.” The same state media report stated that Tibet’s propaganda departments would “increase their efforts” in 2018 to “educate the news corps in political thought and to train them in professional qualities, speeding up the pace of reform at major media outlets such as Tibet TV, and stimulating internal forces, increasing the strength of support, and ceaselessly improving the fighting force and influence of the Party media.”[13]

Telling China’s story of Tibet

Handpicked government and delegation visits to Tibet are managed by Chinese authorities as part of the “please come in, then go and tell the world” approach (the literal translation is “Please come in,” or “Welcome to enter,” then “Go out”).[14]

This is an integral part of a global strategy by the CCP not only to hide the realities of what is happening in Tibet today, but to dominate and control discourse and further its political agenda and power. While projected as “soft power,” this can be more accurately termed as the implementation of “sharp power,” which “In the new competition that is under way between autocratic and democratic states […] should be seen as the tip of [the CCP’s] dagger—or indeed as their syringe,” according to a National Endowment for Democracy report.[15]

As part of the same process, Chinese government officials, scholars, and religious figures holding official titles are sent across the world to spread China’s official message on Tibet. ICT monitored over 110 such official groups from 2009 to 2018 (see list at the end), with the highest number of 21 delegations in this 10-year period travelling to countries in Europe, as well as to Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Myanmar, Mongolia, Japan, Singapore, and United States in 2017. While the US received most of the delegations in the period from 2009 to 18, ICT monitored a large number of delegations to EU countries, particularly Britain, France, Spain and Germany.

Analysis of the Tibet-related Chinese delegations to the West reveals a specific political agenda often based on Tibet visits or criticism of China’s policies by host governments. In addition, visits can reflect efforts to create divisions between specific governments in terms of an approach to China – for instance, between member states of the European Union who may show differing levels of public support to the Tibet issue and the Dalai Lama.

The Chinese state media made the purpose of the delegation visits clear when it stated during an official tour to Washington, DC, of Tibetan delegates that the purpose was to urge the US to “recognize the anti-China nature of the Dalai Lama clique and not to be in touch or support them”. One of the most prominent critics of the Dalai Lama, Chinese official Zhu Weiqun, said that the Tibetan People’s Congress delegation to Washington in May (2018) were “meant to reaffirm that Tibet is an integral part of China and clear foreign countries’ bias against the region.”[16]

Xinhua acknowledged that the US and Canada were the countries most visited by such delegations, stating that this was because of their “deep misunderstandings” over Tibet.[17]

Several groups of National People’s Congress delegations on Tibet and three groups of TAR People’s Congress delegations visited 13 countries in 2018, including the US, France, Denmark and Lithuania. The state media article report that a key topic of discussion was “how Tibet is an inalienable part of China since antiquity.”[18] The same state media report stated that Tibet received five delegations of foreign parliaments.

The German Human Rights Commissioner Barbel Kofler, who travelled to Lhasa on December 5, is the most prominent official from Western governments to visit Tibet in 2018. Upon return, she described the human rights situation in Tibet as critical, highlighting the “the excessive controls, punishment of relatives for the crimes of family members, prohibition of normal religious freedom and patriotic education that are being carried out in Tibet even to this day.”[19]

Delegations to Tibet in 2018 tended to be from “friendly” countries such as Nepal, which has shaped its foreign policy around China’s influence and investments, becoming a part of China’s strategic imperative and maintain and enforce control in bordering Tibet. Engagement between the two countries has been stepped up since Nepal signed up to China’s One Belt One Road global infrastructure initiative and visits included a delegation of Nepalese MPs to Tibet University in Lhasa in August (2018).[20]

Lobsang Gyaltsen, Chairman of the Government of the Tibet Autonomous Region, meeting Nepal’s President Ram Baran Yadav during his visit to Kathmandu in October 2014.

Various Tibetan and Chinese officials have been prominent in overseas propaganda visits to the US and other countries in the last few years; one of them is Lobsang Gyaltsen (Chinese: Luosang Jiangcun) head of the Standing Committee of the Tibet Autonomous Regional People’s Congress.

In a visit to Europe made in December, the same month as the passing of RATA into law, Lobsang Gyaltsen told Danish Parliamentarians that he hoped they would “recognize the Dalai Lama’s anti-China separatist nature”, taking the hardline approach of stating that: “The contradiction between us and Dalai group is neither a national or religious issue, nor a human rights issue, but a major issue of principle concerning national sovereignty and territorial integrity.” (Xinhua in English, December 16, 2018).[21]

In Australia in September, 2018, an official Tibetan delegation even denied that there was a “Tibet issue” at all.[22] In Australia, intelligence chiefs have sounded the alarm over a systematic Chinese government campaign of espionage and influence peddling that has led to fears over an erosion of Australian sovereignty, while in New Zealand, which also received an official Tibet delegation last year, scholars and government ministers have drawn attention to a disturbing expansion of political influence activities by China, connected to both the CCP government’s domestic pressures and foreign agenda. Analysts in both countries note that a high priority is silencing critique on sensitive political issues such as Tibet or Taiwan.

Another prominent Tibetan official who has travelled to the US and Europe on various occasions is Pema Thinley (Chinese: Baima Chilin), formerly of the People’s Liberation Army, now Vice Chair of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee. Pema Thinley has spoken at think-tanks in Brussels[23] and in Swiss cities with uniform messages including that Tibet is “an inalienable part of China,” and that there is rapid economic progress and positive social change in Tibet.

Pema Thinley (3rd from left), chairman of the Standing Committee of the Tibet Autonomous Regional People’s Congress, and his delegation meeting Latvia’s Speaker of Parliament Solvita Aboltina (3rd from right), in Riga, Latvia, on March 20, 2014.

Yet another Tibetan who is frequently being sent abroad by the Chinese government is Jampa Phuntsok (Qiangba Pingcuo). He has been sent as the Chinese government’s special envoy for events in Mongolia and Zambia. He has also traveled to places ranging from Botswana to Moldova, to Israel, in addition to other countries in Europe and the Americas. In recent years, he has been visiting countries in his capacity as President of China Society for Human Rights Studies.[24]

The Western hosts of these delegations, including respected scholarly institutions, think-tanks, and governments, may not always be aware that while their purpose is presented as engaging in dialogue (and while sometimes a level of engagement may indeed be possible), ultimately these delegations are part of China’s strategic information operations, reflecting the vigorous propaganda efforts of the United Front Work Department. Official Chinese delegations to the West are tightly controlled, and every intention is made to ensure they have the opportunity to issue boilerplate statements without challenge at non-public events. Meetings with Tibetans in the diaspora are avoided, and mostly governments and even civil society and academic hosts concede to their specifications.

All of the delegations from China to the West in 2018 emphasized the message of openness, with to the delegation from the National People’s Congress (China’s rubber-stamp parliament) in May inviting American and Canadian lawmakers to visit Tibet for themselves and enhance “their understanding of Tibet’s reality.”[25]

Shingtsa Tenzinchodrak, a deputy of the National People’s Congress, and his delegation holding a press conference in Washington, DC on March 17, 2009.

However, out of 39 requests for diplomatic access made by the US government to the Tibet Autonomous Region made between May 2011 and July 2015, only four were granted.[26]

Before leaving office, the then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Al Hussein said in June (2018) that despite efforts by his office “to establish conditions conducive to an effective dialogue,” China refuses to give unfettered access to the region. Zeid Al Hussein noted that in the last five years, China had accumulated over 15 pending requests for visits.[27]

Tourist access to Tibet and the control state

The Chinese authorities are seeking to brand Tibet as a romantic ‘Shangri La’ destination, and that there is a tourist boom in Tibet.

Chair of the TAR Che Dalha (Chinese: Qi Zhala), who has received many of the foreign delegations in recent years, including then Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, in 2015, said that this winter the TAR attracted more than 33 million tourists, an increase of 31.5%.[28] Official statistics project arrivals to rise to 35 million visitors by 2020.[29]

While most tourists are Chinese, the Chinese state media gave a particularly high figure for foreign tourists visiting the TAR in 2018 – more than 270,000. In a likely attempt to counter the message of Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, the officials in Lhasa announced that the authorities were planning to simplify application procedures for tourists to enter Tibet “in order to further promote an open-up policy.” A China Daily report on January 10 (2019) stated: “Overseas tourists will find it easier and faster to apply for a travel permit to Tibet this year as the regional government makes efforts to boost tourism.”[30] The China Daily report quoted a Chinese government official in Lhasa saying: “The Tibet Autonomous Region plans to cut the time for issuing travel permits to overseas tourists by half in 2019.”

One of the two lead sponsors of RATA in Congress, Senator Marco Rubio,[31] tweeted on January 11 (2019): “Seems the new Reciprocal Access to Tibet law has gotten the attention of the Chinese Gov’t. Time will tell if they open up Tibet & stop brutally repressing the Tibetan people.”

Interestingly, as the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act moved forward in the legislative process in 2018, the Chinese Ambassador to the United States, Ciu Tiankai, came up with the reasoning that fewer foreigners are given access to Tibet because of altitude. In an NPR interview on October 4, 2018 when asked about access to Tibet for scholars and journalists, Ambassador Tiankai said while they welcome them, in places like Tibet there is restriction “because it’s very high altitude and the climate could be very tough there.”[32]

Similar, on the sidelines of the Two Sessions meetings in Beijing in March, 2019, Communist Party Secretary of Tibet Autonomous Region Wu Yingjie told the media that altitude was an issue for restricting foreigners to Tibet. “After considering the special geographical and climatic conditions, we adopted a series of regulations on foreigners entering Tibet in accordance with the law,” Wu is quoted by Reuters as saying.[33]

For the first time in 2018, the dangers of access to both Xinjiang and Tibet for foreign visitors were specifically referenced in the US State Department’s China Travel Advisory, which stated: “Extra security measures, such as security checks and increased levels of police presence, are common in the Xinjiang Uighur and Tibet Autonomous Regions. Authorities may impose curfews and travel restrictions on short notice.”[34]

Having secured a Chinese tourist visa, foreigners are free to roam across most of the PRC. Even entering the comparatively sensitive regions of Xinjiang and Southern Mongolia (Chinese: Nei Menggu) requires the same tourist visa that grants access to Beijing, Shanghai, and the rest of China. But entering the TAR is impossible without acquiring a Tibet Travel Permit (TTP) and arranging for a state-approved tour guide; no other province-level entity in the PRC has equivalent additional barriers to access.

The requirement for a TTP, and for paid guides, gives Chinese authorities another chance to screen entrants before they are allowed to enter the Tibet Autonomous Region and to raise the cost barrier for travel in Tibet. Applicants are not guaranteed a TTP, and no TTPs are issued at all during the 4 to 6 week period centered on March each year, coinciding with the time of heightened security restrictions aimed at preventing public observances of the anniversary of the 1959 Uprising and widespread protests of 2008. Additional blackout periods may be imposed at other times too, depending on China’s political priorities, as was the case in 2017 when the TAR was closed for 10 days in October during the period of the important 19th Party Congress in Beijing.[35] The stipulation that foreigners hire state-approved tour guides also serves to color and qualify the limited access foreigners have to Tibet.

Restrictions are by no means limited to the TAR, nor is every part of the TAR equally accessible. Tibet travel experts note that Chamdo (Chinese: Changdu) prefecture in the TAR has been completely closed to foreign travelers since 2008, with the exception of Lake Rawok. Restricted areas outside the TAR include Darlag (Chinese: Dari), Gabde (Gande) and Padme (Banma) counties in Golog prefecture, and Semnyi (Menyuan), Chilen (Qilian), Terlinkha (Delingha), and Wulan counties in Tsonub and Tsojang prefectures (all in Qinghai Province), which have been closed to foreigners for over 20 years.

In other cases, more specific closures can target individual towns or monasteries, such as the closure of Larung Gar Buddhist Academy in Sichuan to foreign tourists during and after a government campaign of demolishing monks’ and nuns’ quarters, and expelling thousands of religious practitioners. Section 2 of RATA says that foreign tourists “are banned from visiting the area where Larung Gar, the world’s largest center for the study of Tibetan Buddhism, and the site of a large-scale campaign to expel students and demolish living quarters, is located.”

At first glance the sheer numbers of tourists – mostly Chinese domestic visitors – may seem to suggest that there are no issues with access to the plateau. Certainly Chinese tourists have more freedom to explore different areas of the plateau than Western journalists or government delegations. But they are also evidence of a deliberate strategy by the Chinese government to attract large numbers of Chinese visitors to the scenic sites and cultural icons of Tibet and receive a version of history and traditions overseen by Beijing and its state-trained guides. The calculation is that attracting high-end tourism will not only boost the economy, but will at the same time assert China’s propaganda message of its ownership and dominance of Tibet.

But it can never be fully obscured. Many Chinese tourists too have been horrified by the militarization they see in Tibet, and the intense, repressive political environment since the protests of 2008 and wave of self-immolations. These observations, possible because Chinese travelers get access to Tibetan areas that are denied to foreigners, counter the portrayal by Chinese officials and state media of a supposedly grateful Tibetan population.

Chinese travelers posting messages on the social media platform, Weibo, in Tibet also appear to be afforded greater leeway by the government, while Tibetans who pass on information about Tibet are considered suspect by the state. They find a reality in Tibet that differs sharply from expectations formed through official propaganda about Tibet; often expressing confusion and at times fear over checkpoints and ID searches, or finding that their cell phone and internet service are turned off in Tibetan areas, revealing government efforts to block Tibetans’ communication. Chinese social media posts also raise questions, and criticism, such as this post from 2012: “At night in the square in front of the Jokhang, there are more People’s Armed Police and regular police than other people combined. Is that really necessary?”[36]

The new normal

In its latest report on working conditions in the PRC for journalists, the Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC) stated that their annual survey results “painted the darkest picture of reporting conditions inside China in recent memory”. In their 2018 report on media freedoms in the PRC, the FCCC said that: “Rapidly expanding surveillance and widespread government interference against reporting in the country’s far northwestern region of Xinjiang drove a significant deterioration in the work environment for foreign journalists in China in 2018.”[37]

The FCCC documented that of two reporters who tried to report from Tibetan-inhabited areas outside the TAR, experienced restrictions or problems in gaining access. A reporter for the UK media told the FCCC that they had been “explicitly told reporting on Xinjiang or Tibet was off limits.”[38]

China’s restrictions on reporting in Tibet are even harsher than in the rest of the PRC. While journalists struggle to pursue stories in Chinese cities and rural areas, conventional reporting is largely impossible in Tibet.

Writer Tim Robertson captured the experience of the intrusion of the surveillance state and its internalization by local Tibetans on a visit to the Dalai Lama’s birthplace in Taktser, Qinghai, the Tibetan area of Amdo, in 2018. Tim Robertson wrote in The Diplomat: “In lieu of people, the house is watched over by a lone security camera, aimed at the entrance. […] As we make our way toward the only sign of life we’ve seen or heard since arriving, a Chinese-speaking Tibetan man emerges from a dwelling attached the former home of the Dalai Lama. Looking at me, he asks: ‘Where are you from?’ But before I can answer he turns to my driver and, more alarmed, asks, ‘Are you Tibetan?’ When the driver answers in the affirmative, the villager – with an obvious sense of urgency – tells us to leave quickly because the place is heavily surveilled. His voice is foreboding and his jerky, hurried gestures make it clear that this isn’t a place to loiter.

“My now visibly anxious driver and I hurry back to the car, hoping that the makeshift police checkpoint is still unoccupied. Although few words are spoken in our brief encounter with the local villager, much is conveyed: Tibetans understand the reach, power, and unjustness of the CCP. They’ve spent their whole lives being persecuted because they’re Tibetans.”[39]

In one notable incident in 2018, New York Times reporter Steven Lee Myers and photographer Gilles Sabrie were reporting from Dzongsar monastery in Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi), eastern Tibet in early February (2018). As they watched monks rehearsing a traditional monastic dance, a uniformed police officer appeared in the temple and took them away for questioning, beginning a 17-hour period in custody. Myers had expected to write about how the resumption of Losar ceremonies suggested “a growing government acceptance” of Tibetan Buddhist rituals. Instead, shortly after their arrival Myers and Sabrié were escorted to a police station where, in his words, “it soon became clear that our mere presence was the problem.” First driven to the county seat of Derge (Chinese: Dege) for questioning, and then to the prefectural capital of Dartsedo (Chinese: Kangding), they were finally driven back to the provincial capital of Chengdu. Myers wrote: “For the Chinese, though, it was a self-inflicted embarrassment. We had traveled high into the mountains of the Tibetan plateau last week to write about holiday traditions in that part of China. By detaining us, and ultimately expelling us from the region, the authorities succeeded in preventing that. So I am writing this instead.”[40]

In a further incident in Tibet, Le Monde bureau chief Brice Pendroletti was followed by State Security officials during a trip to Ngaba (Chinese: Aba) in Sichuan, the Tibetan area of Amdo.

These three incidents took place in areas outside the TAR; in the TAR, restrictions are even greater. The FCCC concludes that the TAR remains “unreachable” for foreign correspondents, whose presence is banned outside of government-organized reporting trips. These restrictions are implemented through the J-1 and J-2 visas that journalists are required to acquire before reporting in China, combined the requirement to submit your visa and passport when applying for a Tibet Travel Permit. Holding a journalist visa essentially makes the bearer ineligible to enter TAR without government permission, as Chinese airlines and buses will refuse to sell tickets without a TTP, and hotels will report the arrival of any J visa to the police upon check-in. One of the very few foreign journalists to independently report inside the TAR since the mass expulsion of journalists in 2008, Cyril Payen, did so only by obtaining a non-journalist visa and then reporting from Lhasa in secret.[41] Obtaining the visa took eight months, and the story Mr. Payen filed resulted in Chinese embassy personnel in multiple countries harassing and threatening him in the weeks that followed.[42]

In contrast to the extensive restrictions placed upon foreign journalists in China who attempt to report from Tibet, Chinese authorities will occasionally reach out to journalists in other countries and invite them to visit Tibet, particularly for instance reporters from Nepal and India who they wish to cultivate for favorable coverage. Few, if any, of the reporters brought in from abroad speak Chinese or Tibetan, and they are almost certainly less familiar with the Tibet issue than reporters who have lived in China and studied Chinese politics for years. This lack of fluency with the issues can be considered a plus for the Chinese government, which may hope that their guests will be more easily misinformed than resident journalists.

State-organized trips to the TAR tend to follow similar itineraries, visiting places that Chinese authorities use to make their strongest case for their rule in Tibet. But there has been a downward trend in these organized visits in recent years. Reporting from one of these organized visits in September 2018 yielded coverage that both gave a platform to China’s propaganda messages and referred to the tensions and despair beneath the surface. Following these visits, even independent journalists can adopt China’s political language, such as referring to Tibetans as “separatists”, or the protests in March 2008, that were overwhelmingly peaceful, as one single “riot”.

A Bloomberg reporter on an organized visit in August (2018) acknowledged the political agenda of the Chinese authorities in Tibet: “While we saw no signs of unrest during our trip, the concern about separatism was clear. Travelers flying into Lhasa have their identifications checked before they can exit the airport. Roads entering the capital are manned by police checkpoints. Foreign tourists need permission to visit, one official said, to prevent ‘bad guys’ from sneaking in.”[43]

American broadcasters NBC were on the same organized trip, and made the agenda of the Chinese authorities clear in their reporting, stating: “China is pouring billions of dollars into Tibet as Beijing seeks to cement its control before the succession struggle that is likely to follow the death of the Dalai Lama. During a rare Chinese government-organized visit to the region, local officials described a development program that they contend will bring prosperity to the 3.3 million Tibetans who inhabit a vast area roughly double the size of Texas.”[44]

In some cases, Chinese authorities have invited resident China journalists on guided trips through Tibet; these trips rarely result in positive coverage. Unable to report freely, the restrictions themselves become the subject of the stories.

Reporters are keenly aware of the reprisals that often face Tibetans who speak to journalists. Potential interviewees are “locked in Tibet” after reporters leave, vulnerable to draconian punishments for speaking out. Tashi Wangchuk, a shopkeeper and language advocate who had called for greater Tibetan-language education, was detained just days after the New York Times published a video story profiling his efforts. After two years in detention he was tried for ‘inciting separatism,’ and sentenced to five years in prison in May 2018.[45] In the first known instance of an international news story being used in a criminal prosecution against a Tibetan, the NYT video was used as evidence – despite Tashi Wangchuk’s clear disavowals of separatism, and his stated intention to use the Chinese law to protect the Tibetan language. Jonah Kessel, the NYT correspondent who made the video clip, said later: “The use of my film as evidence against Mr. Tashi gets at the heart of one of the thorniest issues that can plague foreign journalists: How do we justify instances when our work — aimed at giving voice to the voiceless and holding the powerful to account — ends up putting its subjects at risk or in danger?”[46]

In 2015, Ursula Gauthier, Beijing correspondent of the magazine L’Obs, endured a campaign of insults in the official media and death threats posted on her Facebook page before being expelled from the PRC by the Chinese authorities. Gauthier, one of the few journalists based in Beijing to travel regularly to Tibet and Xinjiang, was accused by Beijing of “encouraging terrorism” after she wrote that Beijing’s policy of forced assimilation of 10 million Uighurs, especially in the fields of culture, religion and language, is partially responsible for the bloody attacks, some of them terrorist, that have targeted the Han ethnic majority and Chinese officials in recent years.[47]

The restrictions on foreign journalists in Tibet represent an attempt to prevent certain stories from being told – stories that China’s state-run press agencies will not tell. The Chinese government thus uses access as a tool that can be given or taken away in the service of preventing negative coverage or attempting to cultivate positive coverage. Chinese propaganda organs can still use a trip that produces negative coverage in foreign newspapers to support the case that Tibet is open, as in a 2016 trip described by former LA Times correspondent Jonathan Kaiman, which involved a meeting with a Tibetan monk: “A group of foreign reporters, who just concluded a weeklong tour of a Tibetan-inhabited area in southwest China, have said they were amazed by the experience,” reported the official New China News Agency. Other reports quoted foreign journalists praising the area’s development and natural beauty. The reports included no acknowledgment of restrictions, no skepticism about the authenticity of the villagers presented for interviews, and nothing at all about the ‘living Buddha’ — no quotes, no name, no description. Even mentioning our discussion about religion, it appeared, was off-limits. It was as if the monk did not exist.”[48]

Hanna Sahlberg, president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, observed that China’s growing repression of foreign media comes at the same time that Chinese state media are expanding overseas and spreading Beijing’s propaganda around the globe.

That double standard is one of the reasons for RATA. Bhuchung K Tsering, Vice President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: “By documenting China’s Orwellian efforts to restrict international media in Tibet, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China has demonstrated why RATA is so vital. We look forward to working with the State Department to fully implement this law and to continuing to fight for reporters’ access to Tibet.”

In contrast, the State Department said that 587 Journalist Visas (I) were issued to Chinese journalists in 2018.

Locked in, locked out

RATA specifically mentions Tibetan-Americans who are unable to return home because of visa denials.

Tibetans in Tibet are increasingly locked in, with restrictions on moving from one place to another, in obtaining a Chinese passport, or even for leaving the country while in possession of a passport. At the same time, Tibetans in exile are increasingly under monitoring, living in constant awareness of the possibility of their families in Tibet being targeted if they step out of line even in international capitals, and often it is impossible for them to return home at all. These restrictions, aimed at a specific ethnicity, treat all Tibetans with the same suspicion Chinese authorities may level at individual Chinese dissidents.

From 2012, following the imposition of tough new measures restricting travel in Tibetan areas since the 2008 protests, Tibetans began to face tightening restrictions on the issuance of passports, limiting their travel outside Tibet – for instance to teachings of the Dalai Lama, or to study abroad. This is in contrast to the increasing number of Chinese citizens being granted a passport, and the dramatic increase in domestic and foreign tourism to Tibet.

The Chinese authorities used the opportunity of a PRC-wide transition to electronic passports in 2012, when Chinese nationals were required to submit outdated passports for replacement, to single out both Tibetans and Uighurs for more severe restrictions and punitive measures. Regulations issued in 2012 in the Tibet Autonomous Region required all Tibetans in the Tibetan region to surrender their old passports, even when their validity had not expired, ostensibly to be replaced by the electronic version. But in numerous cases, the passports were not replaced.[49]

As a result of the tighter security in the border areas as well as the crackdown in Tibet since 2008, there has been a dramatic decline in Tibetans escaping from Tibet into Nepal in the past decade. Figures cited by Nepalese immigration officials demonstrated a drop from 1,248 Tibetans in 2010 to 85 applications for an exit permit to India (showing transit via Nepal) in 2015. Department of Immigration (DoI) Director General Kedar Neupane acknowledged the stricter controls on both sides of the border, but also revealed how Nepalese officials often use the language of Chinese propaganda when he was cited as saying that: “Tibetans are opting to stay in their homeland because of declining fervor over the Dalai Lama.”[50]

Within the PRC, limitations on travel for Tibetans largely center on the TAR. Following the self-immolation protests of Dorje Tseten and Dargye in May 2012, wide-ranging restrictions on access to the TAR were implemented for Tibetans from the regions administered by Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu, and Yunnan provinces. These restrictions were accompanied by the mass expulsion of Tibetans from Lhasa; at the time, Human Rights Watch estimated that as many as several hundreds were sent out of the Tibet Autonomous Region, including many who had valid business permits to live and work in Lhasa.[51]

No similar restrictions were placed on Chinese tourists, who did not have to seek permission before visiting Tibet. “They are stopping the Tibetans at the gates, while the Chinese are free to go anywhere and enter from everywhere in Lhasa,” a Tibetan told RFA.[52] In another example, Tibetans from Qinghai province were barred from entering the TAR for 10 days in October 2017 during the period of the 19th Party Congress.[53]

Specific areas such as Mount Kailash in western Tibet, and the border counties in southern Tibet, have been the focus of additional barriers. Pilgrimage to Mount Kailash is of profound importance to Tibetan Buddhists, particularly during the holiest month of Saga Dawa, but Chinese authorities have repeatedly banned Tibetans from going there on pilgrimage, even while allowing Chinese tourists to visit.[54]

For Tibetans outside China, visiting their homeland can be highly difficult or even impossible. While other American citizens can obtain a Chinese visa in a few days, American citizens of Tibetan origin reported a racially discriminatory process that took anywhere from one to six months. Of a small sample size by ICT, 62.5% were unable to obtain a visa in the end, with some being told by Embassy staff that they would not be issued a visa, while others grew tired of waiting and asked for their passports to be returned without one. Almost all of the respondents applied more than once, and not one was told why their visa request had been denied.[55]

Every respondent told ICT they had to fill out extra forms beyond the ones required of other American citizens, and that they were required to provide additional information – including a detailed personal history. Of them, 43.7% told ICT that their family members inside Tibet were contacted for questioning by Chinese authorities. Personal interviews were conducted in almost all cases, either over the phone or in person.

In 2018, after the United States Congress began to actively consider moving the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act forward, there has been a slight change in the Chinese Government’s attitude to Tibetan Americans who have applied for visas. The Chinese Government seem to be paying heed to what Congress is doing and providing some visas in order to be seen as providing access. A Tibetan American got a visa even though he had tried to get one a couple of times in the past 20 years and had not been successful. But the overall development in 2018 was that restrictions and discriminatory practices continued to be applied regularly.

In contrast to the onerous restrictions Tibetans face on their freedom of movement normally, the Chinese government will occasionally organize stage-managed trips for returning Tibetans, as they did in 2018. Here, again, access that is normally denied is instead granted in order to fulfill specific political goals – in this case, enticing overseas Tibetans to return to the PRC.

A 2017 state media report on one such trip reveals that the objective of the trip is to promote China’s narratives on “the development of cultural inheritance and protection, urban construction, [and] environmental protection” in Tibet under Chinese rule.

International Campaign for Tibet Recommendations


  • Governments should pass their own versions of the US’ Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act and adopt a common approach toward this issue.
  • UN officials, diplomats and representatives of multilateral organizations should seek access to Tibet as provided under China’s international commitments and obligations and based on the principle of reciprocity.
  • Governments should raise the issue of reciprocal access to Tibet in appropriate international fora, including UN bodies.
  • Governments should urge Chinese leadership to re-evaluate the ‘stability maintenance’ approach applied in Tibet and the dominance of the security apparatus.
  • Officials should consider how delegations from China conveying a propaganda message about Tibet are part of a strategy by China to control and dominate the global discourse. The hosting of such delegations should be contingent on the host countries receiving meaningful access to Tibet.
  • During visits by Chinese delegations to the West for, for instance, human rights dialogues, host countries should provide opportunities for representatives from civil society and Tibetan citizens living in exile to engage with the official representatives.
  • As Nepal is on the ‘frontline’ of China’s influence operations and is the gateway into exile for many Tibetans, urgent attention should be paid to the matter of lack of documentation among the Tibetan community in Nepal, and further efforts made to ensure their security.
  • The international press corps in China play an essential role and must be protected wherever possible. In the case of threats against them, their governments must stand up for them on the basis of reciprocity, linking the matter to the presence of Chinese state media in Western countries.


  • Now that the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act has been signed into law, the State Department must fully implement it. Congress should organize a Congressional/staff delegation to Tibet to assess the situation there.
  • Congress should organize a Congressional/staff delegation to Dharamsala, India to assess the situation of the Tibetan community in exile.
  • Explore possibilities for penalizing Chinese officials involved in human rights abuses in Tibet using the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which authorizes the US president to block or revoke visas for certain “foreign persons” (both individuals and entities) responsible for or acting as an agent for someone responsible for “extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”


  • The administration should vigorously pursue the US’ long-stated goal of establishing a consulate in Lhasa.
  • The administration should elevate the issue of Tibet to an important factor in bilateral relations with China.
  • The administration should use economic and political leverage to pressure China to respect Tibet’s distinct religion and culture and to resume negotiations with envoys of the Dalai Lama to solve the Tibet problem.
  • A Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues in the State Department must be promptly appointed, as mandated by law.


  • The European Union and its member states should formulate a multilateral approach to the Tibet issue, particularly on the issue of access. As noted by the European Parliament (EP) in its 2018 report on EU-China relations, EU institutions should take the issue of access to Tibet into serious consideration in the discussions on the EU-China visa facilitation agreement. The EU has been calling for reciprocity with China in the area of trade and, in its 2016 Strategy on China, mentioned the objective to “promote reciprocity, a level playing field and fair competition across all areas of co-operation.” This notion of reciprocity should therefore be extended to respect for fundamental rights, including freedom of movement and freedom of information for European citizens in China and Tibet.
  • It is only by fully involving Tibetans in any decision-making process and in the implementation of policies aimed at encouraging tourism to Tibet that the objectives of generating economic benefits, improving local living standards and protecting the environment of the plateau can be achieved. Tibetans should be the primary beneficiaries of revenues from tourism, the main employees of tourism enterprises and, above all, the guides and storytellers who explain Tibet’s culture and values to visitors. Tourism can also play a critical role in promoting cross-cultural dialogue and understanding between Tibetans and Chinese. European investors in tourism in Tibet—such as hotel chains—should therefore be urged and encouraged to do their part in ensuring the active participation of Tibetans in the tourism industry and protecting authentic Tibetan culture.


Chinese authorities should:

  • Allow foreign travel for Tibetans; issue passports to Tibetan applicants in accordance with Article 6 of the Passport Law. In particular, when denying the issuance of a passport, explain the relevant decision in accordance with Article 6 of the Passport Law and allow for unhindered judicial review of relevant decisions. Issue passports within the time periods as prescribed in the Passport Law, i.e. 15 or 30 days.
  • Refrain from confiscating valid passports of Tibetans who return from foreign travel or as a means of punishing religious, political or cultural expression that is opposed by the Chinese state.
  • Allow for unhindered domestic travel for Tibetans and refrain from restricting the expression of religious, political and cultural beliefs and activities.
  • Abolish all discriminatory practices against Tibetans that are perceived to be the root causes of Tibetan discontent and grievances, such as the unlawful denial of passports.

PDF Letter


International Campaign for Tibet

[1] China’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission stated on March 4 (2019) that former diplomat Michael Kovrig was accused of spying by the Chinese government, including gathering and stealing “sensitive information and other intelligence” since 2017. Businessman Michael Spavor is accused of providing intelligence to Kovrig, and is described as an “important contact” for the former diplomat. (

[2] See International Campaign for Tibet report, ‘The origin of the ‘Xinjiang model’ in Tibet under Chen Quanguo: Securitizing ethnicity and accelerating assimilation’, December 10, 2018,

[3] International Campaign for Tibet report, ‘Tibet Reciprocal Access bill becomes law, marking new era in US-China relationship and US support for Tibetans’, December 19, 2019,

[4] China says ‘resolutely opposes’ new US law on Tibet, Reuters, December 20, 2018

[5] Global Times, December 20, 2018,

[6] Translation into English from Chinese by the International Campaign for Tibet.

[7] Response to written questions sent to Senator Cory Gardner by the State Department. Gardner’s office provided ICT with a copy. Full copy included at the end of this report.

[8] NPR’s Interview With China’s Ambassador To The US, October 3, 2018

[9] Response to written questions sent to Senator Cory Gardner by the State Department. Gardner’s office provided ICT with a copy. Full copy included at the end of this report.

[10] This should include (1) a comparison with the level of access granted to other areas of China; (2) a comparison between the levels of access granted to Tibetan and non-Tibetan areas in relevant provinces; (3) a comparison of the level of access in the reporting year and the previous reporting year; and (4) a description of the required permits and other measures that impede the freedom to travel in Tibetan areas. Section 4a, at:

[11] For instance see: as well as

[12] A statement in the Chinese state media in 2018 reflected the new ideological position, saying that “propaganda thought and culture work are at a new historical starting point”. ‘Delineations and focuses for Tibet propaganda work in 2018’ by Gu Huajia for China Tibet Network, February 12, 2018; Translated from Chinese into English by ICT.

[13] Ibid.

[14] ‘External propaganda work on Tibet: tell a good story about Tibet, spread the good voice’ on Tibet’ by Wang Fei, February 4, 2016, China Tibet News, Translated from Chinese into English by ICT.

[15] The International Forum for Democratic Studies and the National Endowment for Democracy From the report, ‘Sharp Power: Rising Authoritarian Influence’, Published December 2017,

[16] ‘NPC delegations from Tibet go abroad to clear biases and rumors’, Global Times, June 5, 2018.

[17] Ibid.

[18] China Tibet Online, ‘Tibet continues to open up to outside world’, January 29, 2019,

[19] The Statesman (India) news service, December 6, 2018, The German Human Rights Commissioner chaired a round of Germany’s bilateral human rights dialogue with China in Lhasa.

[20] Tibet University, TAR government website, August 30, 2018:


[22] The delegation told Australian Parliamentarians: “There is no such thing as the “Tibet issue” advocated by the Dalai clique and its supporters. At present, Tibet’s economy continues to develop healthily, the overall situation of the society is harmonious and stable, the people of all ethnic groups are united and help each other, the religion is harmonious, Buddhist affairs are harmonious, the ecological environment is good, and people’s lives are constantly improving. These achievements have benefited from the wise leadership of the Communist Party of China and benefited from the strong support of the people of all nationalities in the country and the united struggle of the people of the Tibet Autonomous Region.” People’s Daily, September 28, 2018, (in Chinese).

[23] EU Policy Director for the International Campaign for Tibet, Vincent Metten, took the opportunity to raise critical questions directly with Pema Thrinley during one of the Tibetan official’s European tours in 2015. Vincent Metten also challenged the thinktank that hosted the propaganda delegation, saying that a proposal for an independent Tibet expert to speak about Tibet’s environment had been rebuffed prior to the official delegation going ahead. International Campaign for Tibet weblog by Vincent Metten, ‘The ambivalent attitude of the Brussels based European Institute for Asian Studies on Tibet’, December 8, 2015,

[24] Delegation of China Society for Human Rights Studies visits Italy, June 12, 2018

[25] Tibet Daily, May 19, 2018,

[26] Section 2, 6(a). The full text of the Act can be viewed at:

[27] High Commissioner’s Global Update on Human Rights Concerns, 38th Session of the Human Rights Council, 18 June 2018. Available online:

[28] China News Network,‘Tibet will shorten the time for overseas tourists to enter Tibet to approve the development of tourism’, January 10, 2019.

[29] According to the regional tourism development committee in Xinhua, ‘Tourism booming in Tibet during holiday week’, February 20, 2018.

[30] A further article stated: “Tibet will improve the management measures for overseas tourists to enter Tibet, and strive to shorten the time for approval of Tibetan letters [sic, permits] by 50%, and increase the number of overseas customers by 50%”.‘Tibet will shorten the time for overseas tourists to enter Tibet to approve the development of tourism’, China News Network, January 10, 2019.

[31] @SenRubioPress


[33] No head for heights: China defends Tibet travel restrictions


[35] Radio Free Asia, September 22, 2017, “Tibet Closes to Travelers For 10 Days in October”,

[36] International Campaign for Tibet report, ‘Has Life here always been like this? Chinese microbloggers reveal systematic militarization in Tibet’,

[37] ‘Under Watch: Reporting in China’s Surveillance State: FCCC 2018 report on media freedoms in China’, January 29, 2019,

[38] FCCC report, ibid.


[40] The New York Times, February 18, 2018, “A Dance for Tibetan New Year, Then 17 Hours in Custody”,

[41] Human Rights Watch, 2008, “The closure of Tibet,”

[42] Reporters Without Borders, June 11, 2013, “Chinese diplomats threaten French journalist after Tibet report”,

[43] ‘Rare Tibet Trip Shows China Only Wants a Dalai Lama It Can Control’, Bloomberg News, September 21, 2018

[44] The full story, citing ICT President Matteo Mecacci, is at:

[45] International Campaign for Tibet, ‘Tibetan language rights advocate Tashi Wangchuk sentenced to five years in prison’, May 22, 2019,

[46] ‘How China Used a Times Documentary as Evidence Against Its Subject’, by Jonah M Kessel, January 10, 2018,

[47] The French newspaper Le Monde commented afterwards on the weak reaction – indeed, a lack of reciprocity, given the Chinese state media who are free to stay, come and go in France – from the French government: “The absolute priority placed by the French government on ‘economic diplomacy’ most likely facilitated matters for the Chinese authorities. The corollary of this ‘doormat diplomacy’ – silence about the condemnations of political prisoners and silence on violations of freedom of speech – guaranteed in a way that Paris would allow Ms. Gauthier to be expelled without making too much of a fuss. Indeed, the reaction of the French Foreign Ministry consisted of just two sentences: ‘We regret that the visa of Ms. Ursula Gauthier was not renewed. France recalls the importance of journalists being able to exercise their profession in the world.’ Period ‘The expulsion from China of our colleague Ursula Gauthier is unjustifiable’, Le Monde, December 30, 2016, En savoir plus sur,

[48] LA Times, January 9, 2017, “Eat, pray, love the Communist Party: a road trip through Tibetan lands, guided by China”,

[49] International Campaign for Tibet, ‘A policy alienating Tibetans: The denial of passports to Tibetans as China tightens control’;

[50] Nepali Times, June 14, 2016, The Nepalese Department of Immigration gives the following figures in the article of the number of Tibetan refugees in Nepal seeking exit permits to India: 2010: 1,248; 2011: 521; 2012: 320; 2013: 185; 2014: 92; 2015: 85; 2016 (until mid-June): 53. Neupane was cited as saying: “We are implementing a stringent inspection policy at all border points. As a result, the number of Tibetan refugees entering Nepal has dropped, which accounts for the decreasing number of applicants for exit permits for India.” Also see International Campaign for Tibet report, ‘High-level Chinese visit to Nepal highlights difficulties for Tibetan community’, August 28, 2017,

[51] Human Rights Watch, June 19, 2012, “Arbitrary Expulsions of Tibetans from Lhasa Escalate”,

[52] Radio Free Asia, September 5, 2012, “A Thorn in Their Eyes”,

[53] Radio Free Asia, September 22, 2017, “Tibet Closes to Travelers For 10 Days in October”,

[54] International Campaign for Tibet, August 6, 2002, “China restricts pilgrimage to Mt. Kailash by officials”,

[55] International Campaign for Tibet research, 2016, based on interviews and questionnaires submitted by 16 Tibetans. It should be noted that a number of Tibetans consulted by ICT refused to answer these questions, given the sensitivity of the issue and fears about impacts on future visa requests, even given the confidential nature of the survey.


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