American envoy to China visiting Tibet

BEIJING (AA): The U.S. ambassador to China is making a rare visit to the autonomous Tibet region.

Former governor of Iowa state and now the U.S. envoy Terry Branstad will reach Lhasa — the capital of Tibet — after completing a tour of the neighboring Qinghai province in the northwest of China. He arrived Qinghai on Sunday.

Quoting a statement issued by the U.S. embassy, various media outlets in Beijing said the trip would include official meetings as well as visits to religious and cultural heritage sites.

“This visit is a chance for the ambassador to engage with local leaders to raise long-standing concerns about restrictions on religious freedom and the preservation of Tibetan culture and language,” the U.S. embassy spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said, it was first visit to the region by a U.S. ambassador since 2015. The visit comes as tensions have been running high between the two countries over trade.

Last December the U.S. approved a law to deny visas to Chinese officials, in retaliation to Beijing’s repeated rejection of U.S. pleas to allow its diplomas to visit Tibet. The law would come into force by the end of this year. China had fiercely opposed the legislation, terming its provisions amounting to transgressing into its internal affairs.

It even warned that the legislation has potential to harm bilateral relations. China has urged Branstad to make an “unbiased judgement” about the conditions in Tibet during his visit to the Himalayan region, especially on religion and the Tibetan culture.

“We welcome Ambassador Branstad’s visit so that he can see the major changes which took place in Tibet for past 60 years after the peaceful liberation,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told media in Beijing Monday.

Lu said China hoped the envoy could make his own judgements instead of being “misguided by rumors”.

“We welcome all those who have an objective view of China’s economic and social development, including Tibet to this region,” he said.