US politicians visit Tibet

Nancy Pelosi with Dalai Lama and Tibetan exile government leader Lobsang Sangay
Nancy Pelosi with Dalai Lama and Tibetan exile government leader Lobsang Sangay
13th November 2015

Staunch Tibet defender Nancy Pelosi on tightly controlled trip

UPDATE 16th November 2015: In a statement released on 14 November, Nancy Pelosi confirmed that she and her fellow delegates raised concerns with authorities in Beijing and Tibet about human rights.

According to the statement,  the delegates had meetings in Tibet about “the importance of respecting Tibet’s autonomy, its ecology, and the human rights and religious freedom of its diverse people” and at meetings in Beijing “reiterated the imperative of respect for religious freedom and expression in Tibet”.


A delegation of senior US politicians has just returned from a trip to Tibet as guests of the Chinese government. The delegation included members of Congress Nancy Pelosi and Jim McGovern, both longstanding friends of Tibet.

Opening up Tibet?

The Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) is the Chinese administrative region covering the western half of Tibet, and includes the capital Lhasa. Following the 2008 Uprising, the TAR has been closed to the media, human rights organisations and diplomats, and travel by foreign tourists is tightly controlled.

Since 2013, there has been a slow opening up of the region, with carefully stage-managed visits by selected ambassadors, journalists and politicians. The TAR is very tightly controlled by China, with intense surveillance and zero-tolerance of any sign of opposition to China’s rule. The visits appear to be a sign that China is confident that it can hide signs of Tibetan resistance, so long as the visits are very carefully managed.  

Supporters of Tibet

Representatives Pelosi and McGovern formed part of a small group of Democrat politicians currently visiting China and their trip to Tibet was not announced in advance. Unlike previous visiting Western politicians who have been taken in by Chinese propaganda, both have long records of activism and advocacy on behalf of Tibet and human rights.

In 2008, Nancy Pelosi said:

"If freedom-loving people throughout the world do not speak out against China's oppression and China and Tibet, we have lost all moral authority to speak on behalf of human rights anywhere in the world"

Chinese state media has reported that Rep Pelosi praised China's work in Tibet on her visit but her spokesperson has said that she made no comment. Official media in China frequently misquote or misrepresent the views of high profile foreign visitors.

Merkel meets dissidents

German Chancella Angela Merkel also visited China at the end of October. In stark contrast to the UK government's unwillingness to address human rights during the state visit of Xi Jinping to Britain (see our director's blog on the visit here), Ms Merkel hosted Chinese dissidents and human rights defenders in the German embassy in Beijing on the last day of her trip.