US envoy makes rare visit to Tibet

BEIJING • The US Ambassador to China is making the first trip to Tibet by an American envoy in four years after obtaining rare access to the restricted region, his embassy said yesterday.

The visit by Mr Terry Branstad comes two months after the US State Department said Beijing had "systematically" impeded access to Tibetan areas for American diplomats, journalists and tourists.

Mr Branstad will visit Qinghai province and the neighbouring Tibet Autonomous Region during the trip, which began on Sunday and ends on Saturday, an embassy spokesman said in an e-mail to Agence France-Presse.

"This visit is a chance for the ambassador to engage with local leaders to raise longstanding concerns about restrictions on religious freedom and the preservation of Tibetan culture and language," the spokesman said.

Mr Branstad's visit comes amid rising trade tensions between Beijing and Washington.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of a failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule that forced the region's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, into permanent exile in India.

According to the US State Department's March report, five out of nine US requests to visit Tibet were rejected last year, including one by Mr Branstad. China has rejected the US report as "full of prejudice".

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said yesterday he was not aware of a previous request by Mr Branstad being rejected.

Mr Lu said Beijing welcomes Mr Branstad's visit to the area so he can witness "the earth-shaking changes" in the economy, society and people's life over the past 60 years after its peaceful liberation.

"I hope Ambassador Branstad's visit to Tibet this time can be carried out without any prejudice and can be based on an objective attitude, and based on the spirit of respecting the facts to make his own conclusions," Mr Lu told a regular press briefing.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 21, 2019, with the headline 'US envoy makes rare visit to Tibet'. Print Edition | Subscribe