Beijing, Jan 10 (PTI) Amid a bitter row with the US over a new law banning Chinese officials who deny American citizens, government officials and journalists access to Tibet, China has approved a plan to cut the time for issuing travel permits for foreigners visiting the remote Himalayan region from this year.

President Donald Trump had signed the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act of 2018 into law which was passed by US Congress and the Senate.

Last month, China warned of “forceful measures” and “consequences” after Trump went ahead and signed the new bipartisan law banning US visas for Chinese officials who deny American citizens, government officials and journalists access to Tibet, the homeland of exiled spiritual leader Dalai Lama.

Currently foreign tourists need a special travel permit to visit Tibet in addition to a Chinese visa.

It normally takes at least 15 days for them to receive the permits after submitting all the documents. This extra requirement is based on Tibet’s unique ethnic traditions, cultural heritage, reception capacity and ecological protection needs, the China Daily report said.

American officials say US citizens, including government officials, reporters and tourists who seek to enter Tibetan areas are routinely rejected, and the few who do get in are forced to stay on strictly controlled official tours, where the true situation of the Tibetan people is hidden from them.

While the Chinese foreign ministry warned of consequences after the US law was passed, China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) had expressed strong indignation and firm opposition to the new law.

However, in the latest move, China has approved the Tibet provincial government’s plan to approve faster approvals for foreigners.

The Tibet region will improve the service for, and management of overseas tourists as part of the measures to develop regional tourism, Qi Zhala, chairman of the regional government, said on Thursday without directly referring to the new American law.

He announced the plan while delivering a government work report to the annual session of the regional people’s congress, state-run China Daily reported.

He also said Tibet will enhance interconnectivity in terms of infrastructure to build “a big route way of openness” towards South Asia.

China which is building a railway link with Nepal through Tibet plans to connect to India and other countries in the region.

Also he said Tibet plans to attract 40 million visits from tourists this year, up from last year’s 33.69 million, and increase the number of overseas pilgrims visiting the region by 50 per cent, he said.

The announcement followed as China is grappling with the trade war with the US.

Trump is piling pressure on China various fronts. Last year he initiated the trade war slapping additional tariffs on USD 250 billion worth of Chinese exports. The two countries agreed for a March 1 deadline to avert further tariffs and to find a solution.

Officials on both sides concluded three-day talks here on Wednesday and decision was expected to be announced after another round of talks between top officials.

Meanwhile, the number of tourists to Tibet crossed 30 million last year which is the highest so far. Most of them were Chinese visitors.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.