The United States has announced new visa restrictions against Chinese officials suspected of involvement in the alleged “forced assimilation” of more than 1 million children in state-run boarding schools in Tibet.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken did not name the individuals involved but urged Beijing to end its “coercive” policies in the culturally-distinct far western region.
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“These coercive policies seek to eliminate Tibet’s distinct linguistic, cultural and religious traditions among younger generations of Tibetans,” Blinken said in a statement.
“We urge PRC authorities to end the coercion of Tibetan children into government-run boarding schools and to cease repressive assimilation policies, both in Tibet and throughout other parts of the PRC,” he said, using an acronym for the People’s Republic of China.
In February, a group of United Nations experts expressed concern that the residential schools system appeared to “act as a mandatory large-scale programme intended to assimilate Tibetans into majority Han culture”.
It said the system was expanding as rural schools were closed and about 1 million children had now been separated from their families to attend such institutions where they were forced to complete a “compulsory education” curriculum in the Mandarin Chinese language, with no substantive study of Tibetan language, history and culture.
“As a result, Tibetan children are losing their facility with their native language and the ability to communicate easily with their parents and grandparents in the Tibetan language, which contributes to their assimilation and erosion of their identity,” they said in a statement.
The latest visa restrictions come as Washington and Beijing attempt to repair a relationship fractured over issues from trade to the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, the treatment of the mostly Muslim Uighurs and the situation in Taiwan.
Beijing dismissed the latest US move as “smears” that “seriously undermine China-US relations”.
Liu Pengyu, a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, DC, told the AFP news agency the schools were set up to cater to the needs of the local population.
“Boarding schools have gradually developed into one of the important modes of running schools in China’s ethnic minority areas, and the centralised way of running schools effectively solves the problem of ethnic minority students’ difficulty in attending school at a distance where the local people live scattered,” he said.
The US-appointed veteran diplomat Uzra Zeya as Tibet coordinator last December with a remit to “promote substantive dialogue” between China and the Dalai Lama and push to protect the human rights and “fundamental freedoms” of the Tibetan people.
The coordinator’s office, which works within the State Department, was established by the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002.
China took control of Tibet in 1950 as part of what it described as the “peaceful liberation” of the region. The Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled into exile in India after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. He has called Beijing’s control a “cultural genocide“.
Beijing claims he is a dangerous separatist and instead recognises the current Panchen Lama as the highest religious figure in Tibet. The Panchen Lama was installed by the party.