The top U.S. official responsible for Tibetan issues met on Thursday morning with Tibet’s Dalai Lama at the exiled spiritual leader’s residence in Dharamsala, India. The meeting came on the second day of an official visit to the seat of Tibet’s government in exile, the Central Tibetan Administration, and drew a quick rebuke from China’s Foreign Ministry.
Uzra Zeya, the State Department’s special coordinator for Tibetan issues, spoke with the Dalai Lama for more than an hour in the meeting, which was also attended by exile government leader Penpa Tsering, who accompanied Zeya and her delegation, and by Namgyal Choedup, representative of the Dalai Lama at the Office of Tibet in Washington D.C.
“I am President Biden’s special coordinator for Tibetan issues, and it is my greatest honor to be received by you,” Zeya said, addressing the Dalai Lama at their meeting. “I bring greetings from our president and the American people and best wishes for your good health and gratitude for your message of peace for the world.”
The Dalai Lama in turn expressed his happiness at meeting the U.S. diplomat, who was named to her post in December 2021.
Speaking to reporters following the meeting, Sikyong Penpa Tsering — the democratically elected political leader of Tibet’s exile government — confirmed the meeting and said that Zeya and the Dalai Lama had discussed U.S. efforts “to preserve Tibet’s religion, language and culture to protect Tibet’s identity.”
Formerly an independent nation, Tibet was invaded and incorporated into China by force more than 70 years ago, and Tibetans frequently complain of discrimination and human rights abuses by Chinese authorities and policies they say are aimed at eradicating their national identity and culture.
At a May 19 press conference, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian denounced Zeya’s meeting with the Dalai Lama, calling Tibet’s exile government an illegal organization and the Dalai Lama himself “a political exile disguised as a religious figure.”
“The appointment of the so-called ‘US Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues’ constitutes an interference in China’s internal affairs. China is firmly opposed to this and has never acknowledged it,” Zhao said.
In the debate over how best to advance the rights of the 6.3 million Tibetans living in China, some Tibetans call for a restoration of the independence lost when Chinese troops marched into Tibet in 1950.
The CTA and the Dalai Lama, however, have adopted a policy approach called the Middle Way, which accepts Tibet’s status as a part of China but urges greater cultural and religious freedom, including strengthened language rights, for Tibetans living under Beijing’s rule.
Nine rounds of talks were previously held between envoys of the Dalai Lama and high-level Chinese officials beginning in 2002, but stalled in 2010 and were never resumed.
Translated by Tenzin Dickyi for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.