Chengdu Consulate Closure Likely to Slow US Information Gathering on Tibet
China’s closing on Monday of the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, a move taken in retaliation for Washington’s shutdown last week of a Chinese consulate in Houston, will now hamper U.S. efforts to gather data on human rights violations in Tibet and other Tibetan-populated areas of western China, sources said.
Beijing’s consulate in Houston was ordered closed following allegations that the facility was being used as a base for Chinese spying—a claim that China’s foreign ministry has denied, while making similar claims about the activities of U.S. personnel based in Chengdu.
Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan province, whose mountainous western portion was part of the historic Tibetan region of Kham. Diplomats in the U.S. consulate in the city of 16 million had monitored Tibetan issues in Sichuan and in the vast Tibet Autonomous Region to the west.
The loss of the Chengdu consulate will now slow U.S. ability to collect information on the human rights situation in Tibet and in northwestern China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Sophie Richardson—China director at the New York-based group Human Rights Watch—told RFA’s Tibetan Service.
“From the perspective of gathering good information about what’s going on in relation to Tibetan areas and Uyghur areas, this is a real problem,” Richardson said.
“That consulate has really been an important post for years in collecting first-hand information, and it’s not clear whether or when the State Department will be able to resume that operation in particular,” she said.
Focus for US criticism
China targeted the Chengdu consulate for closure because Tibet and Xinjiang are the main focus for U.S. criticism of China’s human rights record in ethnic minority areas, said Tenzin Lhadon, a researcher at the Dharamsala, India-based Tibet Policy Institute.
“China regards the Chengdu consulate as a conduit for U.S. intelligence gathering on the real situation in Xinjiang and Tibet,” Lhadon said, adding, “Therefore, China has switched off this light that shone on [these places] in a tit-for-tat measure of retaliation.”
The United States this month imposed sanctions on top Chinese Communist Party officials in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) deemed responsible for a vast network of internment camps, where authorities are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities since April 2017.
‘Free rein in Tibet’
“There is already hardly any space to discuss the human rights situation in Tibet,” Tsering Tsomo, executive director of the Dharamsala-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, said, also speaking to RFA.
“And now, with the forced closing of the Chengdu consulate, even the little hope there was for human rights protections and China’s accountability in Tibet is gone. Now, China will have free rein in Tibet, and will make things go from bad to worse,” she said.
Even before the consulate in Chengdu was closed, “American diplomats had very little access to Tibetan areas,” said Matteo Mecacci, president of the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet advocacy group.
“This was made clear by the report of the State Department on the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act,” Mecacci said, adding that the earlier U.S. Tibetan Policy Act of 2002 requires the U.S. administration to continue to monitor the situation in Tibet.
“And so whether the Chengdu consulate is there or not, we are confident that the State Department will continue to work to fulfill this requirement.”
(Reported by RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney.)