The United States has appointed a senior human rights official as special coordinator for Tibetan issues, amid increasingly tense relations between Washington and Beijing.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Wednesday that Robert Destro, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, would assume the additional post, which has been vacant since the start of President Donald Trump’s term in 2017.
Destro “will lead US efforts to promote dialogue between the People’s Republic of China and the Dalai Lama or his representatives; protect the unique religious, cultural, and linguistic identity of Tibetans; and press for their human rights to be respected,” Pompeo said in a statement.
Proud to name @DRL_AS Robert Destro as U.S. Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues. In this role he will address the dire human rights situation the people of Tibet face and will serve as the @realDonaldTump Administration’s conduit to the Tibetan diaspora on priority issues.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) October 14, 2020
Beijing has consistently refused to deal with the US coordinator, seeing the role as an interference in its internal affairs.
The appointment comes at a time when US-China relations have sunk to the lowest point in decades over a range of issues, including trade, Hong Kong, Taiwan, human rights, the South China Sea and the coronavirus.
China seized control over Tibet in 1950 in what it describes as a “peaceful liberation” that helped the remote Himalayan region throw off its “feudalist” past.
But critics, led by exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, say Beijing’s rule amounts to “cultural genocide.”
“The United States remains concerned with the PRC’s repression of the Tibetan community,” Pompeo said.
In July, Pompeo said the US would restrict visas for some Chinese officials involved in blocking diplomatic access to Tibet and engaging in “human rights abuses”, adding that Washington supported “meaningful autonomy” for Tibet.
Successive US administrations have sought to press China to ease restrictions on foreigners’ travel to Tibet, where human rights activists say Beijing has engaged in a decades-long campaign to suppress local culture, the Buddhist religion and minorities.
Permission to travel to the region is rarely granted, and visitors are subject to strict regulations when it is.