US House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi led a delegation of congressional Democrats on a rare trip by foreign politicians to Tibet, during a visit to China that included meetings with officials in Beijing.
Pelosi has been a frequent critic of China’s human rights record, including in the remote Himalayan region of Tibet where Beijing is accused of suppressing demands for greater religious and cultural freedoms.
The former House speaker was asked about her impressions of Tibet in a meeting with the head of China’s legislature, Zhang Dejiang, at the Great Hall of the People, the seat of the largely symbolic body in the heart of Beijing.
In opening remarks before reporters were ushered from the room, Pelosi said she shared views on Tibet with one of Zhang’s deputies in an earlier meeting and hoped that “some of that conversation will be useful as we try to talk about some other subjects as well.”
Pelosi and Zhang also discussed Chinese President Xi Jinping’s September state visit to Washington, with Pelosi describing it as “successful in terms of outcomes.”
She said progress had been made on cooperation in the areas of climate change, cybersecurity, anti-terrorism and economic issues.
The visit by Pelosi and six other Democrats was intended to focus on boosting trade ties, along with talks on national and cyber security, climate change and human rights.
Pelosi has been outspoken on the issue of human rights throughout her nearly 30 years representing California in Congress. She last traveled to China in 2009.
Some of Pelosi’s strongest comments on Tibet came during a March 2008 visit with the Dalai Lama at the headquarters of his self-declared government-in-exile in the northern Indian town of Dharamsala.
She then called for an international probe into anti-government riots in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa earlier in the month. It had triggered unrest in many ethnically Tibetan regions across western China in the days that followed.
“If freedom-loving people throughout the world do not speak out against China’s oppression and China and Tibet, we have lost all moral authority to speak on behalf of human rights anywhere in the world,” Pelosi said.
Since the 2008 riots, Tibet has been largely off-limits to foreign media and diplomats, and travel there by ordinary foreign tourists requires a special permit. During sensitive political dates, such as the anniversary of the riots, visits are even more tightly restricted.
Details about the length of the delegation’s visit to Tibet and its agenda were not immediately available.
China denies accusations of human rights abuses in Tibet, saying instead that it has brought development to what it describes as a backward theocracy prior to the arrival of Communist forces in 1950. The Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959 amid an abortive uprising against Chinese rule and is shunned by Beijing as a die-hard separatist.
Pelosi’s trip to China comes amid questions about Chinese hacking attempts on American corporate intellectual property, as well as tensions over US challenges to Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Pelosi was joined by Democratic Reps. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, Betty McCollum and Tim Walz of Minnesota, Joyce Beatty of Ohio and Alan Lowenthal and Ted Lieu of California.