The leader of Tibet’s government in exile has visited the White House, the first head of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) to do so in six decades.
The CTA announced in a Friday press release that the visit by President Lobsang Sangay followed an invite from the State Department last month to meet the newly appointed U.S. special coordinator for Tibetan issues, Robert Destro.
“Today’s visit amounts to an acknowledgement of both the democratic system of the CTA and its political head,” the press release said. “This unprecedented meeting perhaps will set an optimistic tone for CTA participation with U.S. officials and be more formalized in the coming years.”
The visit could exacerbate existing tensions between the U.S. and China over Tibet, which Beijing has asserted control over since 1950, following what the Chinese government called “a peaceful liberation” that helped Tibet throw off its “feudalist past,” according to Reuters.
However, exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and other critics have said that China’s control is “cultural genocide.”
Video: Beijing hits back as Western allies say China broke HK deal (AFP)
In July, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused China of violating Tibetan human rights and said the U.S. supported “meaningful autonomy” for the region.
That same month, Pompeo announced visa bans targeting Chinese officials involved in restricting foreign access to Tibet.
Beijing officials have since accused the United States of using Tibet to try to promote “splittism” in China.
Following Pompeo’s October appointment of Destro to oversee relations with Tibet, China accused the U.S. of attempting to destabilize the region.
“Xizang’s affairs are China’s internal affairs that allow no foreign interference,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at the time, using the Chinese term for Tibet.
“The U.S. appointment of so-called ‘special coordinator for Tibetan issues’ is a political manipulation to interfere in China’s domestic affairs and undermine Xizang’s development and stability,” he added. “China firmly opposes it and has never acknowledged it.”
Zhao warned of possible diplomatic retaliation, saying, “China will take all necessary measures to safeguard our interests.”