U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke has ended a three-day visit to Tibet, where he met with local officials and some of the leading monks from Buddhist monasteries in the regional capital, Lhasa.
Patrick Ventrell, a spokesman for the State Department, told reporters in Washington Friday that the U.S. ambassador urged the political leaders there to preserve Tibet's language, culture and religion, and conveyed U.S. concerns about self-immolations. More than 100 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in recent years to protest what they see as China's repression of their rights.
The U.S. embassy in Beijing says this is the first time a U.S. ambassador has traveled to Tibet since 2010.
Ventrell said the United States will continue its efforts to establish a consulate in Lhasa.
Meanwhile, the London-based rights group Free Tibet has confirmed that the Chinese government is allowing some Tibetan monasteries to display pictures of their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. The government has accused the Dalai Lama of inciting rebellion in the autonomous province.
Free Tibet spokesman Alistair Currie confirmed to VOA Friday that at least one monastery is now displaying the Dalai Lama's picture. But he said that contrary to recent reports, there is no other indication that the Chinese government has relaxed its policies against the Dalai Lama.
"Free Tibet has received very reliable reports that monks within the Gendun monasteries can now put up and display pictures of the Dalai Lama, we are very well aware that there is much discussion of a possible relaxation of the rules on display of his holiness throughout Tibet, however we haven't been able to confirm any of these other reports that have been made and have been reported elsewhere. However we are absolutely confident that within the Gendun monasteries this is now the policy," said Currie.
Currie described Ambassador Locke's visit to Tibet as significant, but said more progress is needed.
Human Rights Watch reported Thursday that the Chinese government has rehoused more than 2 million Tibetans since 2006, disrupting their traditional culture and rural lifestyle.
The Chinese government says its efforts have helped improve the standard of living for many Tibetans. The official Xinhua news agency reported Friday that the Tibetan antelope population has grown to more than 35000, thanks to Beijing's increased efforts to protect the indigenous animals and their environment.