Beijing lashed out Thursday at Washington’s appointment of an envoy to oversee human rights issues in Tibet, saying the US wanted to destroy the region’s stability.

“The US side should stop using the Tibet issue to interfere in China’s internal affairs and destroy Tibet’s development and stability,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a routine briefing.

tibet flag
A Tibetan flag seen in Hong Kong. Photo: Cloud.

The US State Department on Wednesday named top human rights official Robert Destro as Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues.

Bilateral ties between the US and China have sharply deteriorated over Washington’s frequent criticisms of Beijing’s human rights record on issues including Xinjiang and Tibet, where ethnic minorities allege harsh government repression.

Zhao insisted that ethnic minorities in Tibet enjoy “full freedom of religious belief”, and accused the US of “political manipulation”. 

The remote, mountainous region bordering India, Nepal and Bhutan is one of the poorest in China, but awash with security, and access heavily restricted for foreigners including journalists.

CCTV camera Lhasa Tibet
A CCTV camera in a street in Lhasa, Tibet. Photo: Woeser.

At a Thursday press briefing in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, regional chairman Che Dalha said China had “never restricted foreigners’ entry into Tibet”.

This year, China celebrates the 70th anniversary of what it calls the peaceful liberation of Tibet, when People’s Liberation Army troops invaded and occupied the region, subjugating the mostly ethnic Tibetan residents in a campaign that claimed tens of thousands of lives. 

Rights groups and Tibetan diaspora activists say Tibetans have suffered harsh restrictions on their religion and culture under Chinese rule — including the demolition of monasteries — which culminated in several self-immolation protests by Tibetans in recent years. 

Xinjiang re-education camp Uighur
A Xinjiang camp. File photo: Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s International Cyber Policy Centre.

A September report by the US-based Jamestown Foundation claimed that hundreds of thousands of Tibetans were forced to participate in labour transfer schemes, echoing Xinjiang’s large-scale forced labour programmes. 

In response, Beijing claims that it has brought economic development to the area and improved people’s quality of living. 

Destro’s brief will include lobbying for Tibetan human rights and engaging with Tibetan leaders including the Dalai Lama. 

The exiled spiritual leader remains shunned by Beijing, and China has threatened retaliation against any foreign country whose leaders meet with him.

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