DHARMSALA, INDIA - As President Donald Trump appears to be warming to China, a bipartisan group from the U.S. House of Representatives took aim Wednesday at one of Beijing's sore spots: Tibet.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi accused China of using economic leverage to crush Tibetan calls for autonomy. During a meeting with Tibetans and the Dalai Lama at his main temple in the Indian hill town of Dharmsala, she urged the community not to give up.
``You will not be silenced,'' said Pelosi, a California Democrat. ``The brutal tactics of the Chinese government to erase race, culture and language of Tibetan people challenges the conscience of the world. We will meet that challenge.''
The visit by Pelosi and seven other U.S. representatives is likely to irritate Beijing, which considers the Dalai Lama to be a dangerous separatist. China says the Himalayan region has been part of the country for more than seven centuries. Many Tibetans insist they were essentially independent for most of that time and have protested what they regard as China's heavy-handed rule.
In many cases, China has offered aid packages to foreign governments on the condition they support China's position on issues such as Tibet and Taiwan, the self-governing island that Beijing has pledged to take control of, by force if necessary. Mongolia said in December that it would no longer allow visits by the Dalai Lama after a recent trip by the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader led China to suspend talks on a major loan.
``China uses its economic leverage to silence the voices of friends of Tibet,'' Pelosi said. ``But if we don't speak out against repression in Tibet and the rest of China because of China's economic power, we lose all moral authority to talk about human rights anywhere else in the world.''
The Dalai Lama said, meanwhile, that Tibetans do not need weapons in their struggle for autonomy, and again prescribed a path of nonviolence and compassion. While the Dalai Lama has devolved political power to an elected government, he is still widely revered by Tibetans as their most influential leader.
The timing of the U.S. congressional visit may also irk Trump, who just weeks ago boasted of enjoying cozy conversations and chocolate cake with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump's Florida resort. During Xi's official visit last month, Beijing also approved a raft of patent applications for Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter.
President Trump's rhetoric on China has warmed considerably since the U.S. presidential campaign, when he repeatedly called the Asian giant a currency manipulator and an economic adversary of the United States.
On Tuesday, Pelosi and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Wisconsin, posed for photos holding up a Tibetan soccer jersey. And earlier in the week, the group visited Nepal, where the government has been criticized for not allowing Tibetans to protest in front of the Chinese Embassy.
Pelosi said the delegation, in talks with Nepalese officials, had raised the issue of ``the wellbeing of the thousands of Tibetans who have been living in Nepal for decades as well as the rights of other minorities,'' according to a statement.