Dalai Lama Affirms Commitment To Autonomy, US Engagement Amid China’s Criticism

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New Delhi, 10th July 2023: US Under Secretary Uzra Zeya, serving as the Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues in the Biden administration, met with the 14th Dalai Lama in Delhi on Sunday. Accompanied by a high-level US delegation, the meeting is anticipated to provoke a strong reaction from the Chinese government. Senior officials from the Tibetan government in exile were also present at the gathering.

China strongly criticized the meeting, considering it an interference in its domestic affairs. The Chinese Embassy spokesperson in Delhi, Wang Xiaojian, expressed in a series of tweets that Tibetan affairs are solely China’s internal matters, and no external forces should have the right to interfere. Xiaojian questioned the concept of the US Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, calling it a blatant offence and a politically manipulative move to interfere in China’s internal affairs. The spokesperson emphasized that China vehemently opposes such actions and has never recognized them.
The Chinese spokesperson further stated that the “Tibetan government-in-exile” is a completely illegal organization and a separatist political group that flagrantly violates China’s Constitution and laws.

Previously, the US special envoy had also met with the Dalai Lama in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, during her visit to India in May 2022. At that time, the Chinese foreign ministry criticized the meeting, labelling it an interference in China’s internal affairs. Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry, urged the US to abide by its commitment that Tibet is a part of China and refrain from supporting separatist activities by the so-called “anti-China Dalai clique.”
However, the Dalai Lama, a widely respected Nobel laureate across religions, maintains that he seeks autonomy for Tibet rather than independence from China.

During a press interaction in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh, the Dalai Lama stated on Saturday that Tibet is not seeking independence and has decided for many years to remain part of the People’s Republic of China. He also indicated that the Chinese side is willing to engage with him and acknowledged that China is changing and now recognizes the strength of the Tibetan people. The Dalai Lama expressed his readiness for contact with China.

The United States has shown support for the Tibetan people’s aspirations for religious freedom, cultural preservation, and autonomy. However, China considers Tibet an integral part of its territory and criticizes foreign nations’ involvement in Tibetan affairs. This meeting aligns with previous engagements between senior US officials and representatives of the Tibetan government in exile.

Similar criticism was received when Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with a representative of the Dalai Lama during his visit to Delhi in July 2021. In 2016, the Dalai Lama also met with former US President Barack Obama in Washington, drawing ire from Beijing.
In an interview with Tibet TV following her meeting with the Dalai Lama in 2022, Zeya expressed her commitment to working with the international community and engaging with Chinese officials to advance the human rights of the Tibetan people and preserve their unique historical, religious, cultural, and linguistic heritage.
The talks held between the US delegation and the Dalai Lama are anticipated to have encompassed a range of subjects. These include the present conditions in Tibet, initiatives aimed at fostering communication with China, and strategies to strengthen international backing for the Tibetan cause.

Despite efforts to improve US-China relations, this meeting between US officials and the Dalai Lama adds complexity to US diplomacy.
Within a short span of 20 days, the US sent two senior officials, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, to China. These visits are seen as an outreach by the US to rebuild diminishing trust and maintain communication with the Chinese government. Their earlier February trip was cancelled after a “Chinese Spy balloon” was spotted over the US, leading to a tense situation and the shooting down of the balloon by a US F-22 fighter jet. China protested, claiming that the balloon was a civilian research airship blown off course by strong winds.
After almost three months of intense negotiations, Blinken finally travelled to China on June 19-20. He held significant meetings in Beijing with President Xi Jinping, China’s top diplomat Wang Yi, foreign minister Qin Gang, and other high-ranking officials.
While the Tibetan people continue to uphold their demand for a homeland, India, home to a sizable Tibetan refugee community, has historically provided sanctuary to the Dalai Lama and played a significant role in preserving Tibetan culture and supporting the Tibetan cause.