MCLEOD GANJ (DHARAMSALA): In the first high-level contact between the United States and leaders of the Tibetan government-in-exile since President Joe Biden took over in January last year, US government undersecretary and special coordinator for Tibetan affairs Uzra Zeya reached Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh, raising hopes for Tibetans that China will be stopped from having any control over the autonomous region.
The New Indian reached the ground to report on Zeya’s interactions with Tibetans, who are fighting a battle against China after invasion since 1951 and the unsuccessful uprising to overthrow the Chinese government that led to the fleeing of the 14th Dalai Lama to here in McLeodganj.
As Zeya, an Indian-origin US official, who is on a five-day visit to India and Nepal, moved along between Dharamsala’s Hyatt Hotel, where she’s camping with American Embassy representative, Patricia A Lasina. Both were accorded a grand welcome by the exiled Tibetan citizens and the government here amidst Z-plus security.
There were emotional scenes as Tibetans in McLeodganj joyfully milled around Zeya, along with their cultural troupes in traditional attires as they carried Tibetan, Indian and American flags while they ushered Zeya into Central Tibetan Administration (CAT) office.
“The requirement for us is to meet the coordinator who is there to help us. She is here to see the community that US is helping for a longer period of time,” said Tenzin Yangzin, who works at Norbulingka Institue in Sidhpur, near Dharmasala.
There were those who pressed for US visit to Tibet autonomous region (TAR) to ascertain the deteriorating conditions of living under China aggression.
“We are here to welcome our esteemed guest. Madam is very important to us. Of course, she should go to Tibet to see the conditions there. She should also visit China and see the place,” Thundup Gyalpo, headmaster, TCB school said.
At the time of filing of report, Zeya was at Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA). Her packed schedule, accessed by The New Indian , has said that she will be visiting monasteries like Nornulingka Institute, Chomor, Gyntod monastery and Tibetan children village school.
China experts and analysts, however, insisted that it’s too early to size up the purpose of this trip even as India remains tightlipped on this intervention by Biden administration.
“This is not the first time that an under secretary is visiting Dharmashala. It’s the sixth such visit since 2000. There will be some noise from China as in the past though India has stood firm on visit of any dignitary and call on HE Dalai Lama. Tibetans are happy and excited about the visit. Coming close on the heels of Tibetan government-in-exile’s President, Penpa Tsering to Canada, it is seen as a positive development by the offficials of government in exile,” Commodre Vasan, Chennai Centre for China Studies, Chennai, said.
On Thursday, Zeya is expected to meet Tibet’s spiritual leader Dalai Lama and other leaders of government-in-exile.
According to US communique, Zeya is learnt to have been sent to Himachal Pradesh by the Biden administration to “deepen cooperation on human rights and democratic governance goals, and to advance humanitarian priorities”.
Speaking to The New Indian, acclaimed China expert and former assistant director of Delhi-based Institute of Chinese Studies, Dr Jabin T Jacob said that Zeya also met the officials of the Election Commission of India (ECI) and Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra, indicating that the visit has something more than meet the eyes.
The visit, which was largely kept under the wraps, comes at a time when satellite images show that China is constructing a second bridge in an area held by it around the strategic Pangong Tso lake in eastern Ladakh.
“Since she met with Tibetan Sikyong Penpa Tsering in Washington, DC in April, the visit to Dharamshala should be seen as a logical follow-up. Of course, there is a signal to China. She has also met the Election Commission of India (officials) in addition to the foreign secretary. I think the message should be clear that democracy and human rights are as much at the heart of the visit to Dharamshala as geopolitics is,” Dr Jacob said.
He opined that India and the US can’t fully deal with the challenge posed by China by only military and economic approaches.
“These need to be leavened by democratic governance and accountability, and respect for minorities and cultural diversity,” he added.
Tibetans in the city believe that her visit to schools and cultural upliftment centres run by the government-in-exile would expose her to the upgraded facilities and lifestyle they have seen during their exile.
“We also feel that whatever message Uzra and Patricia will give from Dharamshala would definitely have a direct effect on the return of the exiled Tibetans to their home country one day or the other,” said a Dalai Lama official.
Tsering had recently met US house speaker Nancy Pelosi, deputy assistant to US President Joe Biden and coordinator for Indo-Pacific affairs on national security Kurt Campbell along with other members of the Congress and officials from the state department.
This is the sixth visit of the special coordinators to Dharamshala. In January 2000, Assistant Secretary Julia Taft became the first special coordinator to visit Dharamshala. In November 2006, Undersecretary Paula J Dobriansky visited while in 2009, Undersecretary Maria Otero, then designated to serve as special coordinator, accompanied Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to President Barack Obama, on a trip to Dharamshala. Undersecretary Sarah Sewall visited Dharamshala in 2014 and 2016.