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One of the autonomous regions of China, often called "the roof of the world," Tibet occupies about 471,700 square miles of the plateaus and mountains of Central Asia, including Mount Everest. It is bordered by the Chinese provinces of Tsinghai to the northeast, Szechwan to the east, and Yunnan to the southeast; Myanmar, India, Bhutan, and Nepal to the south; the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir to the west; and the Uighur Autonomous Region of Sinkiang to the northwest. Lhasa is the capital city.

Virtually all of the Tibetan autonomous region, much of Qinghai and Xinjiang, and parts of Sichuan, Yunnan, and Gansu are above 13,000 feet (4,000 meters) in altitude. Some main roads in Tibet, Qinghai, and Xinjiang go above 17,000 feet (5,200 meters), where available oxygen is only half of that at sea level. Conditions in Tibet are primitive, and travel there can be particularly arduous. Medical facilities are practically nonexistent. Many otherwise healthy visitors to the high altitude areas may suffer severe headaches, nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath, or a dry cough. These symptoms usually disappear after a few days of acclimatization. However, if symptoms persist, sufferers should descend to a lower altitude, or seek medical assistance as soon as possible. Visitors with respiratory or cardiac problems should avoid such high altitudes. Consult a physician before making the trip.

Tibet has maintained throughout its history a national identity distinct from that of China. On October 1, 1949, the People's Republic of China was formally proclaimed in Beijing and the following year launched an armed invasion of Tibet. When China's People's Liberation Army invaded Tibe, Tibet was an independent state.

Under the 1951 Seventeen Point Agreement between the People's Republic of China and representatives of the Tibetan Government, which incorporated Tibet into China, China guaranteed no alteration of Tibetan political, cultural, and religious systems and institutions. The failure of the People's Republic of China to adhere to or uphold the Seventeen Point Agreement, and the imposition of so-called democratic reform, led to the March 1959 uprising in Lhasa. On March 10, 1959, the people of Lhasa assembled together and called for the Chinese to leave Tibet, thus marking the beginning of the uprising. The Chinese crackdown was harsh. An estimated 87,000 Tibetans were killed, arrested, or deported to labor camps. and flight to exile

Since the revolt against Chinese rule in Tibet that began in 1956 and through the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976, an estimated 1,200,000 Tibetans were killed and more than 6,000 religious sites were destroyed. In 1959, 1960, 1964, and 1997 the International Commission of Jurists examined Chinese policy in Tibet, violations of human rights in Tibet, and the position of Tibet in international law. The International Commission of Jurists found that the People's Republic of China had committed `acts of genocide . . . in Tibet in an attempt to destroy the Tibetans as a religious group' and that Tibet was at least `a de facto state' prior to 1951.

The United Nations General Assembly adopted resolutions in 1959, 1961, and 1965 calling on the People's Republic of China to ensure respect for fundamental human rights of the Tibetan people and for their distinctive cultural and religious life, and to cease practices which deprive the Tibetan people of their fundamental rights and freedoms, including the right to self-determination.

The United States, along with every other nation, considers Tibet to be a part of China. This policy appears to be consistent with that of the Dalai Lama, who has expressly disclaimed any intention to seek sovereignty or right of nationhood for Tibet, but rather wishes for greater autonomy within China.

Subsequent to 1980, the executive branch has consistently embraced the position that Tibet is part of China, rather than an independent foreign state. See Press Availability by President Clinton and President Jiang, 1998 WL 345136, at *11 (June 27, 1998) (expressing President Clinton's "agree[ment] that Tibet is a part of China, an autonomous region of China"); The President's News Conference with President Jiang Zemin of China, 2 Pub. Papers of William J. Clinton 1445, 1452 (1997) (expressing United States commitment that there will be "no attempt to sever Tibet from China"); Department of State, 105th Cong., Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1996, at 640 (Joint Comm. Print 1997) ("The United States recognizes the Tibet Autonomous Region . . . to be part of the People's Republic of China."); Human Rights in Tibet: Hearing Before the Subcomms. on Human Rights and International Organizations, and on Asian and Pacific Affairs of the House Comm. on Foreign Affairs, 100th Cong. 33 (1987) (statement of Ambassador J. Stapleton Roy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State) ("[T]he United States Government considers Tibet to be a part of China and does not in any way recognize the Tibetan government in exile that the Dalai Lama claims to head."); Statement on Signing the Export-Import Bank Act Amendments of 1986, 2 Pub. Papers of Ronald Reagan 1390, 1391 (1986) ("1986 Signing Statement") ("The United States recognizes Tibet as part of the People's Republic of China.").

His Holiness, the XIV Dalai Lama, met at the White House on 21 May 2001 with the President and the National Security Advisor to discuss Tibet. The President commended the Dalai Lama's commitment to nonviolence and declared his strong support for the Dalai Lama's tireless efforts to initiate a dialogue with the Chinese government. The President said he would seek ways to encourage dialogue and expressed his hope that the Chinese government would respond favorably. The President also reiterated the strong commitment of the United States to support the preservation of Tibet's unique religious, cultural, and linguistic identity and the protection of the human rights of all Tibetans. The President and the Dalai Lama agreed on the importance of strong and constructive U.S.-China relations.

The United States Congress, however, has at times expressed a different perspective. See Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1994 and 1995, Pub. L. No. 103-236, 536, 108 Stat. 382, 481 (1994) ("Because Congress has determined that Tibet is an occupied sovereign country under international law," Congress has imposed a reporting requirement on the Secretary of State regarding, inter alia, the state of relations between the United States and "those recognized by Congress as the true representatives of the Tibetan people."); see also Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1992 and 1993, Pub. L. No. 102-138, 355, 105 Stat. 647, 713 (1991) ("It is the sense of the Congress that . . . Tibet . . . is an occupied country under the established principles of international law [and] Tibet's true representatives are the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in exile as recognized by the Tibetan people . . . .").

The Chinese Government strictly controls access to and information about Tibet. Thus, it is difficult to determine accurately the scope of human rights abuses. However, according to credible reports, Chinese government authorities continued to commit serious human rights abuses in Tibet, including instances of torture, arbitrary arrest, detention without public trial, and lengthy detention of Tibetan nationalists for peacefully expressing their political or religious views. Tight controls on religion and on other fundamental freedoms continued and intensified during the year, especially during sensitive anniversaries and occasions. These included the 40th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule in March, the June visit of Gyaltsen Norbu, the boy recognized as the Panchen Lama by the Chinese Government, the Dalai Lama's birthday on July 6, the August National Minority Games, and the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Peoples' Republic of China on October 1.

Although the authorities permit many traditional religious practices and public manifestations of belief, activities viewed as vehicles for political dissent are not tolerated and are promptly and forcibly suppressed. The security clampdown throughout China is being felt in Tibet, and Tibetan Buddhism came under increasing attack. Individuals accused of political activism faced ongoing and serious persecution during the year. The Government continued its campaign to discredit the Dalai Lama and to limit the power of religious persons and secular leaders sympathetic to him.

The Government maintains tight controls on religious practices and places of worship. While it allows a number of forms of religious activity in Tibet, it does not tolerate religious manifestations that advocate Tibetan independence or any expression of separatism, which it describes as "splittism." The Government harshly criticizes the Dalai Lama's political activities and leadership of a government-in-exile. The official press continued to criticize vehemently the "Dalai clique" and, in an attempt to undermine the credibility of his religious authority, repeatedly described the Dalai Lama as a separatist who was determined to split China.

Both central government and local officials often insist that dialog with the Dalai Lama is essentially impossible and claim that his actions belie his repeated public assurances that he does not advocate independence for Tibet. Nonetheless, the Government asserts that it is willing to hold talks with the Dalai Lama as long as he ceases his activities to divide the country and recognizes that Tibet and Taiwan are inseparable parts of China's territory. During June 1998, both President Jiang Zemin and the Dalai Lama expressed readiness for dialog; however, the Government later rebuffed efforts by the Dalai Lama to begin such a dialog.

According to regulations posted at the entrances of many monasteries, monks are required to be "patriotic" and sign a declaration agreeing to reject independence for Tibet; reject the boy recognized by the Dalai Lama as the 11th reincarnation of the Panchen Lama; reject and denounce the Dalai Lama; recognize the unity of China and Tibet; and not listen to the Voice of America. According to some reports, monks who refused to sign were expelled from their monasteries; others have been detained.

The Government continued to insist that Gyaltsen Norbu, the boy it recognizes and enthroned in 1995 is the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama. The Panchen Lama is Tibetan Buddhism's second highest figure, after the Dalai Lama. Since then Gyaltsen Norbu visited Tibet in June for the first time in 3 years, holding audiences for both monks and lay persons who were ordered by their work units to attend. Security surrounding the visit was extremely tight. The boy's return to Tibet received extensive coverage in the media, where he was quoted as telling believers to "love the Communist Party of China, love our Socialist motherland, and love the religion we believe in." Norbu also appeared publicly in Beijing to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. At all other times he was held incommunicado by Chinese authorities. Meanwhile, the Government continued to detain Gendun Choekyi Nyima, the boy recognized by the Dalai Lama as the Panchen Lama.

Americans visiting Tibet, whether individually or in tour groups, must obtain permission in advance from the Tibet Travel Bureau. U.S. should be aware that all areas of the region are closed to foreign traveler except for Lhasa, Shigatze (Xigaze), Naqu, Zedong, Zhang Muxkhasa, and the main roads between these points. Special permission to visit any of the closed areas must be obtained from the regions public security bureau. Travel arrangements booked through Chinese travel agencies will include necessary advance approvals. Occasionally, visitors have been refused admission or had difficulty entering Tibet from Nepal. In addition, the Kathmandu/Lhasa Highway that connects Nepal and Tibet can be washed out in the monsoon season, from June through September. Avoid this road during the monsoon. You should also be aware that foreign travelers have been the victims of robberies on this road.

In November 2003 China conducted military exercises in Tibet, in what officials say was an anti-terrorist drill. There have been no reports of terrorist activity in Tibet in recent memory. A Chinese official said the exercises were meant to keep forces ready for a crackdown on what he called separatists allied with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. The operations took place with Chinese troops engaging in drills on rescuing hostages, and handling bombs and biochemical attacks. The Communist Party chief in Tibet, Guo Jintong, was quoted by the government newspaper China Tibet News as accusing followers of Tibet's exiled leader, the Dalai Lama, of stepping up "terrorist" activities to pursue their goal of establishing an autonomous state. The comments attributed to the regional party leader were not echoed by the central government authorities in Beijing. China had stepped up its verbal attacks on the Dalai Lama and criticized nations including the United States, France, and Japan for allowing him to visit in recent months.

China's government accuses the Dalai Lama of trying to break Tibet away from China, which has controlled it since Chinese troops invaded the mountainous region in 1951. Since then, the spiritual leader has been living in neighboring India and traveling extensively to promote non-violent opposition to Chinese domination in his homeland. His efforts to push for peaceful resistance won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.

Adopting a "middle way" approach, the Dalai Lama's new stance on Tibet is for self-rule as opposed to total independence. This compromised stance was met with suspicion in Beijing and has caused some resentment in the exiled Tibetan communities. While encouraging China to open dialogue with the Dalai Lama, western countries remain reluctant to condemn China's actions primarily because they do not wish to endanger trade and diplomatic relations with Beijing.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:30:00 ZULU