U.S. official meets Tibetan delegates in Dharamshala

U.S. official meets Tibetan delegates in Dharamshala

U.S. Special Coordinator on Tibet Uzra Zeya is also expected to meet with the Dalai Lama

U.S. Special Coordinator on Tibet Uzra Zeya met with the ‘Sikyong’ or leader of the self-styled Central Tibetan Administration Penpa Tsering and other officials and representatives of the Tibetan community on a public visit to Dharamshala by an American official for the first time in three years on Wednesday. The visit is being seen as a strong message from the Modi government to China as well, which protests what it calls “meddling” in Tibet, as the visit was facilitated by New Delhi.

In the past few years, while Tibetan officials and the Dalai Lama had visited Washington, no senior U.S. official has visited the Himachal town where the “government-in-exile” is based. In 2017, a U.S. congressional delegation led by former American Speaker Nancy Pelosi had visited Dharamshala, as did U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Juster in 2018 and U.S. Ambassador on religious freedom Sam Brownback in 2019. During a visit to Delhi, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had met representatives of the CTA and the Dalai Lama in 2021. At the time, the Chinese government had issued a stern statement against the meeting, calling “any form of contact between the U.S. side and the Dalai clique” a violation of previous American commitments on a “One China” policy.

Ms. Zeya is expected to meet with the Dalai Lama on Thursday, his office said, and will travel next to Nepal, which also has a large community of Tibetan refugees.

“We believe this trip can and must translate President Joe Biden’s statements of support into the proactive initiatives needed to build on global support for Tibet, including lifting the veil that the CCP’s 70-year occupation is an ‘internal matter,’ the U.S.-based advocacy group International Campaign for Tibet said in a statement, adding that its Vice President Tencho Gyatso was present in Dharamshala during Ms. Zeya’s visit, and called for talks between China and the Dalai Lama’s representatives to be restarted.

Meets CEC

During her visit to India and Nepal, Ms. Zeya is holding meetings pertaining to her other role as U.S. Undersecretary of State for civilian security, democracy and human rights as well. In Delhi on Tuesday, she met with Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Rajiv Kumar, launching a plan for India to lead a “cohort” on electoral integrity as a part of President Biden’s “Democracy Summit” this year, where the EC will share its experience in conducting elections with poll management bodies of other nations who are part of the conference.

Ms. Zeya, who is leading a four-member delegation, met with Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra, and said in a tweet that they discussed “regional stability and opportunities to strengthen U.S.-India cooperation in the Indo-Pacific on shared humanitarian and democratic goals”. According to sources, Ms. Zeya also met with civil society representatives in Delhi and discussed human rights concerns in India, especially pertaining to restrictions on NGOs and curbs on media freedoms.

In its 2022 annual report released on April 25, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended that both India and China be designated as ‘Countries of Particular Concern’ (CPC) among about 14 designated countries for the third year in a row. The recommendation is considered by the U.S. State Department before it presents its final report on international religious freedom to the U.S. Congress, a process under way at present. Ms. Zeya’s visit follows a few weeks after the European Union’s special envoy on Human Rights Eamon Gilmore, and is likely to be followed by a visit by U.K. special envoy, also to discuss human rights and religious freedom issues ahead of a planned “International Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief” in London in July this year, of the 35-nation International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance (IRFBA) headquartered at the U.S. State department. India is not a member of the IRFBA, however.

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