Feb 01 2013
The Chinese Communist Party’s repression of its Tibetan minority now extends, apparently, to travel: Radio Free Asia reported last week that few Tibetans have been issued passports since last spring. Beijing has yet to comment officially about this issue, but its approach to Tibet has stiffened since cracking down on anti-government protests in the territory in 2008.
In order to get a clearer sense of why Beijing now restricts passport issuance, The Atlantic spoke with Professor Robert Barnett, the director of the Tibet Studies Institute at Columbia University and one of the world’s preeminent experts on the region, via e-mail.
Why has the Chinese government stopped issuing passports to Tibetan people? Why now?
The Chinese have given no public explanation so far, but we know from leaked internal documents that it started as a response to a relatively small event last year, one that they have treated as if they were a major threat: a few thousand Tibetans were given permission to travel legally on passports in December 2011 to Nepal, and they then went on to India to attend religious teachings by the Dalai Lama. When they returned, although they hadn’t broken any Chinese laws, they were put in detention for some two months and given political re-education and their passports were all withdrawn. Officially the authorities claimed that these passport cancellations would be done only to government employees and Chinese Communist Party members — but in fact they did it to all the Tibetans whom they suspected of having gone to these Buddhist teachings.
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