Dharamshala — The spiritual leader of Tibet, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, enjoys strong support in the United States, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi told Chinese officials during an official visit this week to the remote Himalayan region of Tibet, while expressing concern about human rights of Tibetan people.
"“We engaged in candid talks with the Secretary of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), Chen Quanguo; Vice Party Secretary of TAR, Baima Chilin; and Party Secretary of Lhasa, Qi Zhala regarding the importance of respecting Tibet’s autonomy, its ecology, and the human rights and religious freedom of its diverse people," US House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.
Pelosi, a long time friend of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and supporter of Tibetan issues in the US Congress, was leading a senior US Congressional delegation on a rare visit to Tibet, which China has ruled with an iron fist since 1949, when it was occupied by the Communist China— killing of 1.2 million of 6 million Tibetans and destroying more than six thousand temples and monasteries.
“Our delegation was grateful for the opportunity to travel to Lhasa, Tibet to observe, learn and listen about life on the Tibetan plateau," Pelosi explained by saying that her "delegation also met and observed monks at the Sera Monastery."
Jim McGovern, chairman of a Congress Human Rights Commission, also accompanied Pelosi in the delegation. "We expressed concerns regarding freedom of religion and expression for the Tibetan people; the preservation of Tibet’s unique cultural, religious and linguistic heritage; and diplomatic and public access to Tibet," she further said.
“We also conveyed to the Chinese government officials the strong, bipartisan support the Dalai Lama enjoys in the Congress of the United States and among the American people."
“Ours was the first Congressional delegation to enter Tibet since the 2008 unrest marked by protests, demonstrations and violence, the statement said, adding that "The delegation recognized China’s commitment to building infrastructure across China, including in Tibet, and addressing climate change."
“The delegation was pleased to visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites including the Potala Palace, which served as the living quarters and burial sites for former Dalai Lamas; and the Jokhang Temple, a sacred destination for religious pilgrims," the statement concluded.
The delegation, the first Congressional delegation Chinese authorities have allowed to enter Tibet since widespread unrest in 2008, also expressed concern over the recent arrests and detentions of human rights lawyers and activists in China.
China's tightly controlled state media gave some positive coverage, presenting only one side of the Tibet visit. The Tibet Daily had claimed Pelosi praised the huge changes that had taken place in Tibet and the hard work of the Chinese government in protecting religious freedom and cultural practices.
Meeting Pelosi in Beijing, Zhang Dejiang, the third-ranked Communist Party leader said he was pleased to see her looking well.
"Madame Pelosi, you have been to Tibet. I was concerned about your health. I can see there is nothing wrong with your health. This shows your health is very good. I want to first hear your impressions of your visit to Tibet," said Zhang.
Pelosi responded that she had shared some views on Tibet at an earlier meeting, and hoped "some of that conversation will be useful as we try to talk about some other subjects as well".
Rights groups and Tibetans say China tramples on the cultural and religious rights of the people of Tibet. China denies this, saying it has brought much needed development to what was a backward region.
Pelosi has regularly spoken out about human rights issues in Tibet and has met His Holiness the Dalai Lama, whom Chinese government reviles as a separatist— seeking Tibetan independence.
However the Nobel peace laureate openly and repeatedly declared he seeks only a "genuine autonomy" for all Tibetans living in the three traditional provinces of Tibet within the constitutional framework of the People's Republic of China.
More than 140 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since 2009 in protest against Chinese rule over Tibetan regions. Most of them have died from the injuries sustained in their act of protest. The self-immolators have called for the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and freedom for the Tibetan people.