In a rare visit to Tibet, U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad urged Beijing to engage in substantive dialogue with exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader the Dalai Lama, a spokesperson to the U.S. Embassy said Saturday.
Branstad also "expressed concerns regarding the Chinese government's interference in Tibetan Buddhists' freedom to organize and practice their religion," an embassy statement said.
The U.S. envoy also raised long-standing worries about the lack of consistent access to the Tibetan Autonomous Region, or TAR.
China restricts access to Tibet by foreigners, especially journalists and diplomats. But, during the trip hosted by the Tibet Autonomous Region government, Branstad was given access to important religious and cultural sites, including the Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, Norbulingka and Sera Monastery in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa. He also met with senior Tibetan religious and cultural leaders, the embassy said.
In addition to the TAR, Branstad also visited neighboring Qinghai province. Qinghai is a traditionally Tibetan region also known as Amdo and the birthplace of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled Buddhist leader.
The Chinese government is accused of committing human rights violations and imposing harsh restrictions on the practice of religion and culture in the region. But Beijing insists that Tibetans enjoy extensive freedoms and economic growth.
Regarding the U.S. envoy's trip, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said China welcomed Branstad to witness the "earthshaking changes in the people's production and life since Tibet's peaceful liberation more than 60 years ago."
Branstad's trip to Tibet was the first to the region by an American envoy in four years. The rare visit to the TAR and neighboring Qinghai province began May 19 and ended Saturday.