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Embassy Row: Unlocking Tibet

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The American Embassy in China on Tuesday released photographs of U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke on a visit to Tibet, the tightly restricted Himalayan region repressed by Chinese communist authorities.

Mr. Locke's three-day trip last week underscored U.S. concerns about human rights violations against Buddhists who live there and marked the first time in nearly three years that China allowed a U.S. ambassador into the region.

"In his official meetings, Ambassador Locke discussed the importance of opening up access to Tibet for diplomats, foreign journalists, and foreign tourists," State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said. "He also emphasized the importance of preserving the Tibetan people's cultural heritage, including its unique linguistic, religious and cultural traditions."

The photographs show Mr. Locke meeting Tibetan women and Buddhist monks, and holding talks with Chen Quanguo, the Communist Party general secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Mr. Locke's predecessor, Ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr., visited Tibet in September 2010.

China has restricted access to Tibet since deadly riots against Chinese rule in 2008, and it imposes what the State Department calls "severe repression" of Tibet's people.

More than 100 Buddhist monks have set themselves ablaze since 2009 to protest China's hegemony over the region.

China has occupied Tibet since 1950, when Chinese troops defeated the Tibetan army. A year later, Tibet signed a 17-point agreement with the Dalai Lama, the Buddhist spiritual leader, as head of an autonomous administration. However, he fled to neighboring India in 1959 and renounced the agreement.

AUSTRIA ANGERED

Now even Austria is wagging a diplomatic finger at the Obama administration over the National Security Agency surveillance scandal.

Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger summoned U.S. Ambassador William C. Eacho to the Foreign Ministry this week, after reading news reports that U.S. intelligence agencies bugged the Washington offices of the European Union and electronically spied on EU offices abroad.

"We want an urgent explanation from the American side as to whether [the reports] are true and what espionage activities took place in Austria," Mr. Spindelegger said.

Austria — with a population of 8.2 million, about the size of New York City — has joined its neighbors France and Germany in expressing outrage over the revelations from NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

Over the weekend, the German news magazine Der Spiegel reported the blockbuster news of U.S. spying on its European allies.

NOTHING TO FEAR

The U.S. ambassador to Turkey used a reception marking an early celebration of the Fourth of July to tell Turkish officials to respect their fellow citizens who have taken to the streets to express discontent with the government.

"We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant fans, foreign ideas, alien philosophies and competitive values," Ambassador Francis J. Ricciardone Jr. said at the reception Monday.

He then quoted President John F. Kennedy: "For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people."

Turkey has been gripped by weeks of street protests by citizens increasingly dissatisfied with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has denounced them as "extremists."

• Embassy Row is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. James Morrison can be reached at jmorrison@washingtontimes.com or @EmbassyRow.

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