By Tal Axelrod | The Hill
ON THE WEB, 14 October 2020
The US State Department announced Wednesday it is appointing a special coordinator to oversee relations with Tibet, filling the role for the first time in the Trump administration, which has had an increasingly tense relationship with China.
Robert Destro, who serves as assistant secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, will concurrently work as the US special coordinator for Tibetan issues, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
Pompeo said Destro will “lead US efforts to promote dialogue between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) 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. He also will support US efforts to address the humanitarian needs of Tibetan refugees and to promote sustainable economic development and environmental conservation in Tibetan communities on the plateau.”
China still claims Tibet, the once-restive autonomous region to its west, as its own sovereign territory, and while Washington has historically made calls for respecting individual rights and safeguarding Tibetan identity, ties with the territory have been kept at arm’s length and the US still formally recognizes the territory as falling under Beijing’s control.
The US foreign policy toward Tibet has largely been guided by a 2002 law urging the White House to encourage direct dialogue between the Chinese government and representatives of the Dalai Lama. That legislation also calls for the appointment of a special coordinator for Tibetan issues at the State Department.
But China’s sovereignty over the territory has faded in importance for past administrations in light of its establishment of concentration camps for Uyghur Muslims and conflicts over trade, intellectual property theft and more.
Wednesday’s appointment comes as the relationship between Beijing and Washington quickly soured in recent months, with the two sides finding themselves increasingly at odds.
Pompeo said the US “remains concerned with the [People’s Republic of China’s] repression of the Tibetan community, including the lack of meaningful autonomy, the deteriorating human rights situation in Tibetan areas, and severe restrictions on Tibetans’ religious freedom and cultural traditions within China.”
President Trump has repeatedly blamed China for the coronavirus pandemic after the first cases appeared in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, and Pompeo said over the summer Beijing will “absolutely pay” a price for the virus’s spread.
Bipartisan lawmakers in Washington have also pushed for Trump to expand relations with Taiwan, another autonomous territory over which China claims sovereignty, address human rights violations in Hong Kong and against Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups and blunt election meddling from Beijing in November.
China and the US have also had a notoriously acrimonious trade relationship since Trump slapped tariffs on some goods from Beijing, sparking an ongoing trade war.