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A Noteworthy Visit to Tibet Is Underway

Terry Branstad is first US ambassador to make the trip since 2015
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 20, 2019 8:21 AM CDT
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In this Sept. 30, 2017, file photo, U.S. Ambassador Terry Edward Branstad, left, shakes hands with China's President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.   (Lintao Zhang/Pool Photo via AP, File)

(Newser) – The US 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 US Embassy in Beijing said Terry Branstad is visiting the Tibetan Autonomous Region and neighboring Qinghai province through Saturday in what Reuters reports marks the first visit by a US ambassador since 2015 and comes amidst an escalating trade dispute between the US and China. Qinghai is a traditionally Tibetan region also known as Amdo and the birthplace of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled Buddhist leader. The embassy called the visit "a chance for the ambassador to engage with local leaders to raise longstanding concerns," reports the AP.

China tightly restricts access to Tibet by foreigners, especially journalists and diplomats. In response to the lack of access, the US Congress in December passed the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, which denies entry to the US to any Chinese officials "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. A Chinese foreign ministry rep expressed hope that the visit "can help Ambassador Branstad make a conclusion without prejudice in the spirit of respecting the facts ... instead of being confused and disturbed by some long-standing hearsay and defamatory speeches."

(Read more Tibet stories.)

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