U.S. House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, an outspoken critic of China's human rights record, has led a rare U.S. congressional delegation to Tibet, Chinese officials said Thursday.
Few details are known about Pelosi's trip, which was not announced beforehand. China's Foreign Ministry on Thursday described the visit as part of a "normal exchange" between the two countries.
China tightly restricts foreign access to the autonomous region where many Tibetan Buddhists have for decades complained of cultural and religious persecution by the Chinese government.
Pelosi, who met Thursday in Beijing with members of China's largely ceremonial parliament, the National People's Congress, did not mention the visit during her public remarks.
The Democratic Party leader has in the past riled Beijing by speaking out for Tibetan rights and by meeting with the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader that Beijing views as a separatist.
'Speak out against repression'
"If freedom loving people don’t speak out against repression in Tibet, then we have lost all morale authority to speak out on behalf of human rights anywhere in the world,” Pelosi said in July when the House passed a bipartisan resolution urging China to improve human rights in Tibet
More than 130 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in Tibetan areas of China since 2009 as part of a desperate protest against China's rule and repressive policies in Tibet. The protests have been less frequent in recent months following the imposition of fines and other penalties for families and others with close ties to self-immolators.
The Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile, located in India, are outspoken critics of China's policies, but have discouraged the suicide protests.
China says the suicide protests are acts of terrorism, and rejects any international criticism of its policies in Tibet as unacceptable interference in its domestic affairs.