Wed, Oct 31, 2012 - Page 1 News List

US ambassador to China urges Beijing-Tibet talks

‘VERY DEPLORABLE’:The US diplomat said he had made a visit to a Tibetan area to better understand the people and denounced China’s treatment of them

AFP, WASHINGTON

The US ambassador to China urged Beijing on Monday to re-examine policies toward Tibetans as he acknowledged that he had quietly visited monasteries during a spate of self-immolation protests.

US Ambassador to China Gary Locke, speaking from Beijing to an online forum in the US, said he stopped at monasteries last month in the flashpoint Aba Prefecture to “get an appreciation of Tibetan culture and the way of life.”

Aba, an ethnically Tibetan area of Sichuan Province, has been a hotbed of protests against Beijing’s rule. About 60 ethnic Tibetans, many of them monks and nuns, have set themselves alight since February 2009 in Sichuan and Tibet.

“We implore the Chinese to really meet with the representatives of the Tibetan people to address and re-examine some of the policies that have led to some of the restrictions and the violence and the self-immolations,” Locke said.

“We have very serious concerns about the violence, of the self-immolations, that have occurred over the last several years,” he said, calling the incidents “very deplorable.”

“Nobody wants that type of action, or of people having to resort to that type of action. Too many deaths,” he said.

Locke called for China to show respect for Tibetans’ religion, culture and language.

The US has repeatedly urged China to address Tibetan grievances, but it is very rare for foreign officials or media to visit Tibetan areas on unsupervised trips.

In previous statements, Washington has urged China’s leaders to resume dialogue with Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who fled into exile in India in 1959 and enjoys strong public support in the US.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday rejected what it called foreign interference and repeated its claim that the “Dalai group” is responsible for “instigating and masterminding” the self-immolations.

“At the same time, I want to point out that Tibetan affairs are China’s internal affairs,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊). “We oppose any country or any person interfering in China’s internal affairs in any form.”

The details of Locke’s visit emerged as US President Barack Obama’s administration looks for new ways to promote human rights in China, which regularly lashes out at US condemnation of its record.

Obama has faced election-year criticism from Republican rivals, who have urged him to be more outspoken on Beijing’s human rights record and its trade and currency practices.

However, US officials cite as a success the quiet diplomacy in May that led China to allow dissident Chen Guangcheng (陳光誠) to move to New York.

Locke, who was responding to a question as part of a “China Town Hall” with citizens in 60 cities across the US, said he visited Aba Prefecture after a trip to the major cities in Sichuan, where he promoted US businesses.

Seven self-immolation protests were reported last week among Tibetans, many of whom accuse China of suppressing their culture. Few of the Tibetans who have set themselves alight are believed to have survived.

The US Department of State’s annual human rights reports say that China has denied the political and religious rights of Tibetans. China rejects the charges and says it has brought investment and modernization to Tibet.

Locke, the first Chinese-American to serve as US ambassador in Beijing, has often fascinated the Chinese public through his humble demeanour. When he headed to Beijing, a picture went viral on the Internet that showed the former governor at Seattle’s airport paying for his own coffee at a Starbucks.

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