BEIJING — The U.S. ambassador to China is making a rare visit to Tibet to meet local officials and raise concerns about restrictions on Buddhist practices and the preservation of the Himalayan region’s unique culture and language.
The U.S. embassy in Beijing said Terry Branstad would visit the Tibetan Autonomous Region and neighbouring Qinghai province from Sunday through Saturday. Qinghai is a traditionally Tibetan region also known as Amdo and the birthplace of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled Buddhist leader.
Branstad’s visit would include official meetings along with visits to religious and cultural heritage sites, schools, and “other places of interest,” the embassy’s statement said.
The embassy called the visit “a chance for the Ambassador to engage with local leaders to raise longstanding concerns.” It said Branstad would also “learn first-hand about the region’s unique cultural, religious, and ecological significance.”
China tightly restricts access to Tibet by foreigners, especially journalists and diplomats. In response to that lack of access, the U.S. Congress last year passed the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, which would deny entry to the United States for anyone “substantially involved in the formulation or execution of policies related to access for foreigners to Tibetan areas.”
China says Tibet has been part of its territory for centuries, but many Tibetans say they were effectively an independent nation for most of that time. Beijing’s control was most recently asserted when the Communist Party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army, invaded the region in 1950.
Recent years have seen a significant tightening of control over Tibetan Buddhism, use of the Tibetan language and traditional culture. Following anti-government protests in 2008, Beijing imposed a policy of “grid policing” that significantly reduces travel and social life, methods subsequently imposed in the traditionally Muslim neighbouring region of Xinjiang, where hundreds of thousands of residents have been confined to detention centres.