ITBET is an occupied country. Anyone who doubts that can ask the Chinese to grant them a visa. The Chinese army is omnipresent in Tibet. There is no attempt to disguise the naked, blatant military occupying power of Chinese troops. By contrast, seeing uniformed men or military vehicles in the rest of China is a fairly rare experience. The Chinese police, uniformed and plain-clothed, are equally omnipresent. They travel the roads, lights flashing, sirens blaring, forcing the old buses filled with Tibetans to the side of the road. Even in Cuba, one doesn't see such an obvious police presence.
A large police station sits in front of the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, and the roofs of all the surrounding buildings have the latest Western surveillance equipment - TV cameras, parabolic microphones, and other devices.
The ``chairman'' of the Tibetan autonomous region is a mid-ranking army man, who is an experienced propagandist installed by Beijing to give a Tibetan face to an otherwise Chinese administration.
The Chinese claim they are providing modern services to a feudal, pre-modern society. But a visit to the countryside casts serious doubt on that. Mile after mile the electric power and telephone lines follow the highway. They pass over the adobe compounds where the Tibetans live, but service the cinder block buildings built for Chinese.
Courageous Tibetans test their Chinese masters when they can, sometimes writing ``Freedom Tibet'' in English on the side of a monastery. Pictures of the Dalai Lama adorn every chapel of every monastery and temple. In forced exile since 1959, the Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his tireless efforts on behalf of his people.
An image stands out: An elderly monk is asked through a translator if he believes there should be a free Tibet. His long, undoubtedly eloquent answer becomes one word, ``No!'' out of the mouth of the Chinese translator after a worried look at her boss.
A private foreign citizen, without a history of support for the Tibetan independence movement, who pays in hard currency, buys a package tour, and sticks to the tourist sites can probably get a visa for Tibet. A public official such as a United States senator is treated with great suspicion. China's ambassador in Washington told me: ``Anywhere in China except Tibet,'' and a visa was not forthcoming until after intervention at very high levels.
Once a visa is granted to a foreign public official, the restrictions begin: A 3 1/2 day visa becomes a 2 1/2 day visa. A visit to an out-of-Lhasa religious center is denied. A visit to a Tibetan farm somehow never comes off.
It is absurd to deny the right of self-determination to Tibet. Tibetans and Chinese write and speak different languages. They are culturally distinct. No Tibetan, except the occasional quisling, would claim to be Chinese. The Tibetans even have a treaty from AD 821 with the Chinese that clearly establishes the ``frontiers'' between the two countries. Walled out of view by the Chinese, the treaty is carved into an obelisk in front of Lhasa's Jokhang Temple.
In 1987 the Congress passed, and a reluctant American president approved, a resolution recognizing that Tibet had been ``invaded and occupied'' by the Chinese army. This resolution was translated into Tibetan and passed from hand to hand, raising the hope of everyone it touched. On a point of honor, it is time for the American government to recognize that Tibet is an independent country temporarily occupied by China. The Congress has already done so.