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US government’s special coordinator for Tibetan issues to meet with Dalai Lama

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A top U.S. official on Tibet will meet with the Dalai Lama on Thursday morning during a two-day official visit to Dharamsala, India, the headquarters of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

Uzra Zeya, who was appointed as the State Department’s special coordinator for Tibetan issues in December 2021, will make the stop during trips to India and Nepal on May 17–22 to “deepen cooperation on human rights and democratic governance goals, and to advance humanitarian priorities,” the department said Monday.

Zeya, who is also the undersecretary for civilian security, democracy and human rights, arrived with her delegation at the seat of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) on Wednesday and will meet the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader at his residence the following day.

The visit comes at a time when the Chinese government is stepping up repressive measures on some minority groups in the country, including Tibetans and Uyghurs in Xinjiang. The U.S. State Department’s 2022 human rights report, which covers 2021, cited significant human rights issues in Tibet perpetrated by authorities, including: arbitrary arrests; extrajudicial killings; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; and severe restrictions on religious freedom.

Zeya is working to promote a substantive dialogue without preconditions between Beijing and the Dalai Lama and his representatives, or with democratically elected Tibetan leaders. She is also working to protect Tibetans’ linguistic, cultural and religious heritage.

During the visit, Zeya plans to tour the Tibetan Children’s Villages school, the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, the Tibet Museum, the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, and a number of monasteries.

Sikyong Penpa Tsering, the elected leader of Tibet’s exile government, welcomed Zeya upon her arrival in what is the first high-level contact between the U.S. and the Tibetan leadership during the Biden administration.

“The Biden administration’s immediate appointment of the special coordinator after taking office is itself is a huge honor, and during her visit here in the Dharamsala she will be briefed on different management and the overall Tibetan administration, where she will also meet with the Dalai Lama,” said CTA spokesman Tenzin Lekshey. “So, this visit will facilitate the U.S. government to understand and further strengthen support for Tibet.”

Khenpo Sonam Tenphel, speaker of the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile, said the special coordinator’s visit to Dharamsala “sends a strong political message to China” of the need to work toward a negotiated agreement on Tibet.

Bhuchung Tsering, interim president of International Campaign for Tibet, an advocacy group that promotes democratic freedoms for Tibetans, told RFA that Zeya’s meeting with CTA leaders is significant in two respects.

“First, China has been under scrutiny lately with regard to various concerns, and Tibet is one of the most crucial, so we believe that this meeting with our Tibetan leaders is crucial for the Tibetan issue globally,” he said.

Second, while campaigning in September 2020, President Biden and his administration promised to take a strong stand against China’s human rights abuses in Tibet and to support Tibetans’ cultural and religious rights, he said.

“The special coordinator’s visit to India signifies his promise and his administration’s initiative to draw support for Tibet,” Tsering said.

During his first official visit to the U.S. after being elected CTA leader, Tsering met with Zeya in Washington in April and with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and other congressional leaders.

In January 2000, Julia Taft, the late former U.S. assistant secretary of state for population, refugees, and migration, became the first special coordinator for Tibetan issues to visit Dharamasala. Sarah Sewell, former undersecretary for civilian security, democracy and human rights, visited the city in 2014 and 2016 when she held the special coordinator position.

At the time of Zeya’s appointment to the role in December 2021, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that her designation demonstrated the Biden administration’s “commitment to advance the human rights of Tibetans, help preserve their distinct heritage, address their humanitarian needs, and meet environmental and water resource challenges of the Tibetan plateau.”

Translated by Tenzin Dickyi for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.