The United States urged China to reconsider its policies and pursue dialogue with the Dalai Lama, voicing “deep concern” about human rights in the region 50 years after an uprising.
The US State Department issued a statement on the sensitive anniversary just one day before China’s foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, was due to hold his first talks in Washington since President Barack Obama’s inauguration.
The US statement affirmed Washington’s position that the vast Himalayan region is part of China.
“At the same time, we are deeply concerned by the human rights situation in Tibetan areas,” the statement said.
“We urge China to reconsider its policies in Tibet that have created tensions due to their harmful impact on Tibetan religion, culture, and livelihoods.”
Tibetan exiles worldwide have launched protests to mark the 50th anniversary of the uprising, during which their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama escaped on horseback to safety in India.
Tibet’s government-in-exile says that more than 87,000 people died between March and October of 1959 alone, and that hundreds more died or were unaccounted for last year in protests on the 49th anniversary.
The United States pointed out that the Dalai Lama also considers Tibet to be part of China. Beijing regularly accuses the Nobel Peace laureate of being a separatist and says he is fomenting unrest.
“We believe that substantive dialogue with the Dalai Lama’s representatives, consistent with the Dalai Lama’s commitment to disclaiming any intention to seek sovereignty or independence for Tibet, can lead to progress in bringing about solutions and can help achieve true and lasting stability in Tibet,” the statement said.
The Dalai Lama on Tuesday marked the anniversary by accusing China of having brought “hell on earth” to his homeland and demanded “legitimate and meaningful autonomy” for the region.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been under fire for not speaking out more forcefully on human rights since becoming the top US diplomat in January.
On her trip to Asia last month, she said that human rights concerns would not impede US-China cooperation on the economy and other issues — triggering howls of protests from human rights activists.
The State Department statement is similar in tone to remarks earlier Tuesday by White House spokesman Robert Gibbs when asked about Chinese criticism of the US stance on Tibet.
Separate from the administration, the US Congress is looking at a non-binding resolution that would urge China to end “repression” in Tibet.