WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration on Wednesday appointed a senior U.S. human rights official as special coordinator for Tibetan issues, a move likely to anger China amid increasingly tense relations between Washington and Beijing.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that Robert Destro, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, would assume the additional post, which has been vacant since the start of President Donald Trump's term in 2017.
Destro "will lead U.S. efforts to promote dialogue between the People’s Republic of China and the Dalai Lama or his representatives; protect the unique religious, cultural, and linguistic identity of Tibetans; and press for their human rights to be respected," Pompeo said in a statement.
China has consistently refused to deal with the U.S. coordinator, seeing it as interference in its internal affairs.
The appointment comes at a time when U.S.-China relations have sunk to the lowest point in decades over a range of issues, including trade, Taiwan, human rights, the South China Sea and the coronavirus.
China seized control over Tibet in 1950 in what it describes as a "peaceful liberation" that helped the remote Himalayan region throw off its "feudalist" past. But critics, led by exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, say Beijing's rule amounts to "cultural genocide."
"The United States remains concerned with the PRC’s repression of the Tibetan community," Pompeo said.
In July, Pompeo said the United States would restrict visas for some Chinese officials involved in blocking diplomatic access to Tibet and engaging in "human rights abuses," adding that Washington supported "meaningful autonomy" for Tibet.
Despite that, Trump - unlike his White House predecessor, Barack Obama - has never met the Dalai Lama during his presidency.
(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Tom Brown)