The United States is committed to advancing the human rights of Tibetans and to helping Tibetans preserve their historical, linguistic, cultural, and religious heritage, the U.S. Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues Under Secretary Uzra Zeya said on Thursday.
In an exclusive interview with the Voice of America Tibetan Service Under Secretary Zeya called upon People’s Republic of China “to return to direct dialogue without preconditions with His Holiness the Dalai Lama or his representatives to resolve differences peacefully to help meaningful autonomy for Tibetan people.”
U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Dec 20 designated Under Secretary Uzra Zeya to serve concurrently as the U.S. Special Coordinator for Tibetan issues and is tasked with restarting long-stalled dialogue between the Dalai Lama and China.
Speaking about her appointment to this new role, Under Secretary Zeya says she received “very substantial bipartisan support” for her selection to the position as the U.S. Special Coordinator, signaling the Biden’s Administration’s new approach in prioritizing human rights and democratic values at the center of the U.S. foreign policy.
“I have been heartened by the very strong expression of the bipartisan support for my selection to this position. I received letters from Senators and members of the House of Representatives that really demonstrated the strength of this commitment. I see real alignment with the Congressional perspective and President Biden’s determination to center human rights and democratic values in our foreign policy,” she said.
Under Secretary Zeya expressed her committent to engaging the Central Tibetan Administration and the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama in her work on Tibetan issues and in supporting the Tibetan people. Zeya told VOA Tibetan that she was heartened to receive a letter of support from the Dalai Lama after her appointment into the new role.
Zeya met with the North American Representative of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) as her first public engagement on Tibet just days after taking office and said she is “heartened by the progress made by the CTA.”
She emphasized that the U.S. will address Tibetan people and Tibetan refugee’s humanitarian needs. Zeya said the U.S. administration is “resolute in meeting the humanitarian needs of refugees and working to ensure that they have opportunities protection and livelihood.”
She also highlighted increasing “efforts to protect the environment and the water resources of the Tibetan plateau that millions of people depend on.”
In addition to U.S. commitment to human rights and in preserving “the unique historical, cultural linguistics traditions” of the Tibetan people, Zeya said U.S. will be “pushing back against PRC attempts to interfere in the selection, education, and veneration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama as well as the Tibetan Buddhist leadership.”
Tibetans revere the Dalai Lama, who fled his homeland in 1959 and has since lived in the northern Indian city of Dharamsala. Chinese authorities have long banned photographs of the Dalai Lama and expression of public devotion to the spiritual leader. China accuses him of seeking to separate Tibet from China. The Dalai Lama repeatedly has said he seeks greater autonomy for Tibet, not independence from China
Zeya says her role as the U.S. Special Coordinator for Tibet includes “countering repression and calling upon the PRC to end its harassment and surveillance of Tibetan diaspora communities all over the world.”
She told VOA she wants “increased access for US officials, journalists and tourists to Tibet” and will seek reciprocal to the access that Chinese officials enjoy in the United States.
“We have sought to increase access to Tibet by applying visa restrictions on PRC authorities who are substantially involved in restricting access that our Congress has mandated us to advance. We believe that it is critical to support Tibetan efforts to shine a light on what is happening on the ground and to provide support to those facing severe repression,” she said.
She stressed that the U.S. administration is “taking a resolute and a very strategic approach with respect to China” where human rights abuses is at the forefront of their efforts in U.S. foreign policy on China.
“The decision to elevate this position to the Under Secretary position and my forthright engagement with international partners, with the U.S. Congress, and directly with the CTA reflects our deep concerns vis-a-vis Tibet and these are concerns that Secretary Blinken and our senior officials have raised with our PRC counter parts and these are issues that we seek to increase international coordination and solidarity and it’s a vital aspect of our approach to the PRC,” she said.
She spoke about the U.S. efforts in raising international awareness on the Tibetan situation and in increasing international coordination and solidarity in its approach to the People’s Republic of China.
“We are raising international awareness of human rights abuses in Tibet through our public work, our annual human rights report, widely read report produced by the U.S. Department of State, through our public statements, through our public reports, and through our international diplomacy and engagement,” she said.
Zeya expressed her interest in meeting with the Dalai Lama and leaders of the Central Tibetan Administration after the COVID pandemic.
“I am committed to continuing to engage the CTA and hopefully opportunities to engage HHDL at the earliest opportunity,” said Zeya.