BEIJING (Reuters) - China allowed a senior U.S. Congressional delegation to visit Tibet, including Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, a long time critic of China's human rights record there, a top Chinese leader said on Thursday.
China has ruled Tibet with an iron fist since it was "peacefully liberated" by People's Liberation Army troops in 1950, and trips by Western reporters and political figures are rare.
Meeting in Beijing's Great Hall of the People, Zhang Dejiang, the head of China's largely rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress, and third-ranked Communist Party leader, said he was pleased to see Pelosi looking well after her trip.
"Madame Pelosi you have been to Tibet. I was concerned about your health. I can see there is nothing wrong with your health. This shows your health is very good. I want to first hear your impressions of your visit to Tibet," Zhang said.
Pelosi responded that she had shared some views on Tibet at an earlier meeting, and hoped "that some of that conversation will be useful as we try to talk about some other subjects as well".
She made no other comments about the visit, which had not been officially announced ahead of time, in front of reporters.
The U.S. Embassy in Beijing said it had no further details of the Tibet trip.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei described the visit as "a normal exchange between the U.S. and Chinese legislatures". He also gave no other details.
Rights groups and exiles say China tramples on the cultural and religious rights of Tibet's Buddhist people. China strongly denies the charges and says it has brought much needed development to what was a backward region.
Pelosi has regularly spoken out about human rights issues in Tibet and has met the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, a man reviled by Beijing as a violent separatist. He says he simply wants real autonomy for Tibet.
Jim McGovern, chair of a Congress Human Rights Commission, is traveling with Pelosi as part of the delegation.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Nick Macfie