Branstad visits Tibet, meets religious and cultural leaders

The U.S. Ambassador to China has called on Beijing to open a “substantive dialogue” with the Dalai Lama in remarks made this week during a visit to Tibet, his Embassy said on Saturday.

Terry Branstad visited northwest China’s Qinghai province as well as the Tibet Autonomous Region.

“He encouraged the Chinese government to engage in substantive dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives, without preconditions, to seek a settlement that resolves differences,” said an Embassy spokesperson.

China is accused by human rights groups of repressing Tibet’s religion and culture, and cracking down on separatism.

Beijing says it protects religious freedom and has invested heavily to modernise the region and raise living standards.

Since fleeing to India in 1959, the Dalai Lama has been trying to reach a compromise with the Chinese government over the fate of his people. Having initially called for Tibet’s independence, the Buddhist leader is now campaigning for greater autonomy. But negotiations with Beijing have stalled since 2010.

Visit to Potala Palace

Mr. Branstad, during his visit to Lhasa, visited the Potala Palace — the former residence of the Dalai Lama — as well as Tibetan Buddhism’s holiest temple, the Jokhang.

He met with senior Tibetan religious and cultural leaders.

“He also expressed concerns regarding the Chinese government’s interference in Tibetan Buddhists’ freedom to organise and practise their religion,” the Embassy spokesperson said. “The Ambassador raised our long-standing concerns about lack of consistent access to the Tibetan Autonomous Region,” she added.

In order to visit Tibet, foreigners require a special permit. For tourists it is usually relative easy to obtain, but for diplomats and in particular journalists it is more difficult.

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