The first directly-elected senior official of the Tibetan government-in-exile is in the United States. During a stop in Washington, he discussed prospects for dialogue with the Chinese government and the visit to China by the Dalai Lama's brother.
Samdhong Rinpoche was elected last July to be the cabinet chairman of Tibet's government-in-exile in Dharamsala, India. He says the purpose of his visit to the United States and Canada has been to meet with pro-Tibet supporters and ethnic Tibetans.
During his stop in Washington, he is meeting with U.S. lawmakers and Paula Dobriansky, the State Department's Special Coordinator for Tibet. "Basically, there is a special coordinator for Tibet issues, Tibet affairs, and she's the main person through whom we deal with the U.S. administration. So, I meet her," he said.
A State Department official acknowledged that Ms. Dobriansky was meeting with the Rinpoche, a Buddhist religious title. But the State Department says the meeting was only in the Rinpoche's capacity as a respected religious figure and leader of the Tibetan community in India.
Any meeting between Tibetan government in exile figures and U.S. officials would be sensitive because of Beijing's insistence that Tibet is a part of China.
The Tibetan Rinpoche said the exiled Tibetan community does not dispute that that point. "What China says is Tibet must remain as a part of China, and for that, we agree, said Samdhong Rinpoche. "Yes, we would like to remain as a part of China, within the Chinese constitution framework. What we [are] asking is internal autonomy - like Hong Kong, like Macau. And the details of autonomy maybe differ, but in [principal], one country, two system."
When asked about the current visit of the Dalai Lama's elder brother to China, Samdhong Rinpoche stressed that the trip is strictly private. "Being a brother of his Holiness does not make his visit as official or representing the people - that's very clear," he said.
But he indicated that Gyalo Thundup's visit may have a positive effect on formal talks with the Chinese government. "Mr. Thundup has been working for the Tibet government-in-exile for his Holiness for a long time, till he retired from the official capacity," he said. "So, he has many experience and he has many contacts, so that would help in clarifying some misunderstandings or that would also perhaps convey a lot of messages."
The Tibetan leader leaves Washington Friday, and heads to the midwestern U.S. state of Minnesota - where he will attend a two-day conference of North American Tibetan Associations. The meeting will bring together several thousand Tibetans who are currently residing in North America.