WASHINGTON — A rare Senate staff mission to Tibet has recommended the U.S. work with China for the economic development and cultural preservation of the region, which was wracked by anti-Beijing riots three years ago.
But the delegation also said Washington should keep urging Beijing to reconcile with Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, and other exiled Tibetans.
“There are steps that the United States can take that might not only bring direct benefits to the Tibetan people, but also begin to build a foundation of trust between Washington and Beijing on Tibetan affairs,” the report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee says.
The U.S. currently funds some American nongovernmental aid groups working in Tibetan regions, allotting $8 million for the purpose in 2009. Joint projects with China would be new, although the mission is not proposing direct U.S. funding to the Chinese government.
Washington’s relations with Beijing have often been strained by American criticism of China’s human rights record and U.S. engagement with the Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile in northern India since a failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.
The Dalai Lama recently announced he would resign from politics and make way for an elected leader, suggesting it could make easier negotiations between Tibetan exiles and Beijing that have made little headway.
Beijing accuses the Dalai Lama of seeking to separate Tibet from China, despite his claims to be working only for a high degree of autonomy under Chinese rule.
The four-member delegation of staff from the Senate committee travelled to Tibet last September and released its report Tuesday.
The committee oversees U.S. foreign policy. Its staff last visited Tibet in 2002, the report said.
Permission for the visit, accompanied by Chinese officials, reflected growing confidence among Chinese authorities that conditions in Tibet have stabilized since 2008 riots in the main city of Lhasa, it said.
China responded to that unrest with a massive military crackdown in which Tibetan rights groups say nearly 140 Tibetans were killed. Tourists from outside the country were banned entirely for more than a year.
The report says the delegation was “impressed by the scale and scope of the economic transformation” in Tibet and other parts of western China that has lifted hundreds of thousands out of poverty, driven by massive state investment in infrastructure.
But it said the boom has heralded a massive influx of China’s ethnic Han majority so in Lhasa ethnic Tibetans are now a minority. It says discrimination persists and Buddhist monasteries face strict controls, breeding resentment among Tibetans.
In some monasteries, particularly in and around Lhasa, the government has installed video surveillance equipment and built police stations next door, the report said. Heavily-armed police patrol the Tibetan quarter of the city.
The delegation suggested the U.S. could collaborate with China in projects on sustainable economic development, environmental protection and cultural preservation. It called for the establishment of a U.S. consulate in Lhasa.