US names senior diplomat as Tibet coordinator, tasked with opening Sino-Tibetan talks

The U.S. on Monday appointed Uzra Zeya, a high-ranking diplomat, to serve as Washington’s Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, charged with trying to open long-stalled dialogue between Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and China.

Zeya, will hold the Tibet coordinator post concurrently with her present role as Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

“Specifically, she will promote substantive dialogue, without preconditions, between the Government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Dalai Lama, his representatives, or democratically elected Tibetan leaders in support of a negotiated agreement on Tibet,” he said in a statement.

“She will promote respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Tibetans, including their freedom of religion or belief, and will support efforts to preserve their distinct historical, linguistic, cultural, and religious heritage,” added Blinken.

 “I look forward to helping preserve the rich culture and traditions of Tibetans worldwide,” Zeya tweeted Monday.

Informal direct talks between the 86-year-old Dalai Lama’s representatives and Chinese government officials were last held in 2009.

Zeya, born in North Carolina to parents who emigrated from India, is a 27-year Foreign Service veteran who has served in India, France, Syria, Egypt, Oman, and Jamaica.

“This is very good news and we hope that Biden administration will engage with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and encourage strategies that will push Sino-Tibetan dialogue forward,” said Namgyal Choedup, the Tibetan exile government’s representative in North America.

“I look forward to working with @UnderSecStateJ to bring tangible progress in human rights situation in Tibet & resolve Sino-Tibet conflict through #MiddleWayApproach,” tweeted Penpa, the Sikyong, the elected leader, of the, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) exile government in Dharamsala, India.

In the debate over how best to advance the rights of the 6.3 million Tibetans living in China, some Tibetans call for a restoration of the independence lost when Chinese troops marched into Tibet in 1950.

The CTA and the Dalai Lama, however, have adopted a policy approach called the Middle Way, which accepts Tibet’s status as a part of China but urges greater cultural and religious freedom, including strengthened language rights, for Tibetans living under Beijing’s rule.

The International Campaign for Tibet advocacy group expects that “Zeya will work proactively at promoting dialogue between the Dalai Lama’s envoys and the Chinese leadership, as well as at advocating for U.S. interests in Tibet, and advancing the cause of Tibetan Americans and Tibetans around the globe,” said interim president Buchung Tsering.

“We urge Special Coordinator Zeya to proactively take the lead in gathering support from like-minded countries to formulate a common approach on the Tibetan issue,” he added.

The Tibet position, which was established by U.S.’s Tibetan Policy Act in 2002, had been vacant for much of the Trump administration, until State Department official Robert Destro served several months.

Zeya takes the post as the Biden administration has been called on to step up implementation of the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act of 2018, which aims to press China to allow more outside access to the region, and the Tibetan Policy Support Act of 2020, which affirms the absolute right of Tibetans to choose their next Dalai Lama in the face of China’s insistence on choosing a successor.

Authorities in Tibetan areas of China “continue to severely restrict religious freedom, speech, movement, and assembly,” New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in its annual report for 2021.

Hundreds of thousands of Tibetans have been uprooted from their traditional farming and grazing land, suffering forced land grabs at the hands of local officials, and under pressure from economic migration into Tibet from other parts of China, HRW said.

“Intensified surveillance and intimidation in neighborhoods, workplaces, and homes has prevented public protest,” the rights group said.

A formerly independent nation, Tibet was invaded and incorporated into China by force more than 70 years ago, and the Dalai Lama and thousands of his followers fled into exile in India and other countries around the world following a failed 1959 national uprising against Chinese rule.

 Reported by RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Tenzin Dickyi. Written in English by Paul Eckert.

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