Tibetans' political leader sees growing U.S. support after meeting new envoy


FILE PHOTO: Lobsang Sangay, Prime Minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile, poses for a picture after an interview with Reuters in New Delhi, India, December 16, 2016. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/File Photo

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The head of the Tibetan government in exile said he met the new U.S. special coordinator on Tibet, whose appointment last week angered China, at the State Department, the first political head of the Tibetans in exile to be hosted there in 60 years.

U.S. Secretary of State of Mike Pompeo last week appointed senior human rights official Robert Destro as special envoy for Tibetan issues. Beijing responded sharply, saying this was an attempt to destabilise Tibet and that it would not allow any interference there.

While U.S. officials including most U.S. presidents have met the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, at the White House, they have been careful about formally hosting the head of the government-in-exile as this would be seen as a major provocation by Beijing.

Lobsang Sangay, the president of the Tibetan Central Administration (CTA), said this was the first time the head of the CTA was received at the State Department.

"So this is historic, they are thereby acknowledging the Tibetans' democratically elected leader and the CTA. It was a sound political gesture on the part of the U.S government," he told Reuters over telephone from the United States.

U.S. President Donald Trump has not yet met the Dalai Lama but has taken a tough posture towards China. Relations between Washington and Beijing are at their lowest point in decades over a range of issues, including trade, Taiwan, human rights, the South China Sea and the coronavirus.

China seized control over Tibet in 1950 in what it describes as a "peaceful liberation" that helped the remote Himalayan region throw off its "feudalist" past. But critics say Beijing's rule amounts to "cultural genocide."

Sangay said he and Destro agreed on the early passage of the new Tibet Policy and Support Act through the U.S. Senate in the next few months.

The legislation, which was approved by the House of Representatives this year, lay out a stronger U.S. stand on Tibet since the original act in 2002, Sangay said.

It calls for the establishment of a U.S. consulate in Lhasa, the absolute right of the Tibetans to choose a successor to the Dalai Lama and preserving Tibet's environment.

"This is big, it is a major revision of the 2002 Tibet policy act," Sangay said. "Everything we wanted, is there in the act."

(Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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