BEIJING (Reuters) - A top Chinese leader on Thursday said China allowed a visit to Tibet by a senior U.S. Congressional delegation, including Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, a long time critic of China’s human rights record in the region.
China has ruled Tibet with an iron fist since 1950, when it was “peacefully liberated” by troops of the People’s Liberation Army, and trips there by Western reporters and political figures are rare.
Meeting Pelosi in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, Zhang Dejiang, the head of China’s largely rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress, said he was pleased to see her looking well.
“Madame Pelosi, you have been to Tibet,” said Zhang, the third-ranked Communist Party leader.
“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.”
Pelosi responded that she had shared some views on Tibet at an earlier meeting, and hoped “some of that conversation will be useful as we try to talk about some other subjects as well”.
In front of reporters, she made no other comments about the visit, which had not been officially announced ahead of time.
The official Tibet Daily said Pelosi praised the huge changes that had taken place in Tibet and the hard work of the Chinese government in protecting religious freedom and cultural traditions.
Asked about the newspaper report, Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said: “The only thing we have been confirming is that they were in Lhasa from Monday through Wednesday. We have not offered any characterization of the trip whatsoever”.
The report also cited Chen Quanguo, Tibet’s Communist Party boss, as saying he hoped the United States would not support any separatist activities or allow the Dalai Lama to visit.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei described the visit as “a normal exchange between the U.S. and Chinese legislatures”.
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, whom Beijing reviles as a violent separatist. The Dalai Lama says he simply wants real autonomy for Tibet.
Jim McGovern, chairman of a Congress Human Rights Commission, accompanied Pelosi in the delegation.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Nick Macfie and Clarence Fernandez