China Again Bans Foreign Travel to Tibet

“No witnesses.”

This is one of the governing philosophies of the Chinese government when it comes to areas that they occupy during times of unrest. Witnesses can bring photographs, videos, and first-hand accounts of what happens in China and Tibet during unrest. They can account for who initiated violence if it occurs. They can document government brutality during crackdowns. And they can take this evidence back outside the world’s largest prison and make sure the global community knows what atrocities the Chinese government has perpetrated against the Tibetan people. In fact, it was precisely this scenario that started the modern Tibetan independence solidarity movement. Westerners traveling in Tibet in 1989 documented the uprising that followed when Chinese forces fired on unarmed demonstrators and the crackdown that accompanied the ensuing uprising. Organizations like International Campaign for Tibet and Free Tibet Campaign owe their roots to witnesses of Chinese brutality against Tibetans in the late 1980s.

But China’s government has learned their lesson and now regularly expels foreigners from Tibet and bars their entrance for prolonged period of time. We saw extensive travel, journalistic, and foreign travel bans into Tibet in spring and summer 2008, as well as winter and spring of 2009. We’ve also seen an extensive travel ban in East Turkestan during Uighur protests.

Now, again, the Chinese government has prohibited all foreigners from traveling to Tibet between now and early October around fears that Tibetans will protest a parade by occupying Chinese forces mandating the celebration of 60 years of Communist Party rule. Rather than cancel this offensive celebration of a brutal military occupation out of respect for Tibetans and concern for any violence that may be precipitated, the Chinese government is simply prohibiting any foreigners from coming into Tibet for the next three weeks or more. This way, there will be no witnesses to whatever happens and they can use state media to spin whatever propaganda they choose in the event that something does happen.

This action, just weeks ahead of President Obama’s planned visit to China to meet with CCP leader Hu Jintao, is a slap against those who have pushed for liberalization of China’s policies towards Tibet. Obama is also scheduled to briefly meet with Hu at the UN opening ceremony and the G-20 meeting. President Obama must raise Tibet with Hu when they meet and he cannot pull punches. This reprehensible behavior cannot be glossed over or ignored by the Obama administration.

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