On Dec. 20, 2021, U.S. Undersecretary of State Uzra Zeya was designated by Secretary of State Antony Blinken to serve as U.S. special coordinator for Tibetan issues. She will serve in this role concurrently with her position as undersecretary for civilian security, democracy and human rights. On Jan. 13, RFA Tibetan Service reporter Tashi Wangchuk spoke with Uzra Zeya about her new role and the challenges lying ahead. The interview was edited for length.
RFA: This is your first media interview since becoming the U.S. special coordinator for Tibetan issues. Thank you so much for speaking with us. You have stressed the importance of promoting dialogue without preconditions between the People’s Republic of China and His Holiness the Dalai Lama or his representatives. Can you elaborate on this? Have you started to reach out to the PRC or the Dalai Lama on this matter?
Uzra Zeya: Well, first of all, I’m so honored to be able to take on this role and that Secretary Blinken has designated me to serve as the special coordinator for Tibetan Issues and has elevated this role again to the under secretary level. Since being named I have engaged intensively first with the Central Tibetan Administration, and I was very pleased to meet with their North American representative in my first meeting since taking on this role. I am already engaging with other like-minded partners who we hope will work alongside us in seeking to advance the human rights of the Tibetan people and help preserve their unique cultural, religious, historical and linguistic traditions.
So with respect to direct dialogue: yes, we call upon the PRC to engage in direct dialogue with His Holiness the Dalai Lama or his representatives without preconditions in the hope that this can help achieve a negotiated agreement on Tibet that provides the best hope for the long-term stability of the region and its people.
RFA: China is trying to make Mandarin Chinese the common language in all minority areas including Tibet by 2035, and the PRC is rapidly implementing its policy of Sinicizing Tibetan Buddhism by forcing monks and scholars to learn Chinese and translate Tibetan Buddhist texts into Chinese. Many are very concerned that this will eradicate the Tibetan language and religion. What can the Biden administration and the international community do to stop this from happening?
Uzra Zeya: The United States is deeply concerned by the human rights abuses perpetrated by the PRC against the Tibetan people, and this includes the Sinicization efforts that you mentioned. We’re also seeing abusive practices including arbitrary arrest and detention, censorship, restrictions on freedom of movement, restrictions on peaceful assembly, and interference in the veneration by Tibetan Buddhists of their religious leaders, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama. So our view is very clear-cut. We believe this interference and repression needs to stop. I think it’s vitally important to shine a light on what’s happening, and our public reporting and annual reports on human rights or annual reports on international religious freedom are vitally important ways to show what’s happening and to build international support for calling for these practice to end.
RFA: When are you planning to meet with His Holiness the Dalai Lama? Has a date been set? Would you go to Dharamsala?
Uzra Zeya: Let me say first of all that I was so honored to receive a letter of congratulations from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and I took to heart his support for my mission. So I certainly hope to have the opportunity to engage His Holiness the Dalai Lama directly. As you know, the challenges of the global pandemic have made it a little bit more difficult in terms of our international travel and engagement, so we’re taking full advantage of the ability to engage virtually. But I certainly hope to have the opportunity to engage His Holiness the Dalai Lama directly, and once we have a confirmation we’ll be happy to share it publicly.
RFA: What message would you like to give to Tibetans inside Tibet and throughout Asia?
Uzra Zeya: I think the message I would like to give to your Tibetan audience is one of U.S. appreciation and solidarity to underscore our commitment to advance the human rights of the Tibetan people and our appreciation for your culture and for your unique religious and linguistic traditions, and to tell you that the U.S. is absolutely resolute in offering continued humanitarian support. And I’m working to build an international partnership to help bring an end to this severe repression being experienced by Tibetans inside China.