U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met a representative of Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, in New Delhi on Wednesday, in what appears to be a clear signal to China.
Blinken met briefly with Ngodup Dongchung, who serves as a representative of Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), also known as the Tibetan government in exile, a Reuters report cited a US State Department spokesperson as saying.
The meeting of the US Secretary of State with Dongchung is seen by analysts as the most important contact with the Tibetan leadership since the Dalai Lama’s meeting in Washington with then-president Barack Obama in 2016.
Beijing says Tibet is a part of China and has termed the Dalai Lama a dangerous separatist.
Chinese troops had captured Tibet in 1950 after which the Dalai Lama had fled to India and is living in exile.
The Tibetan groups have received increased international support in recent months, led by the US as China has got increasingly isolated in the world because of its human rights abuse and coercive foreign policy.
The U.S. Congress has recently passed the Tibet Policy and Support Act, which calls for the right of Tibetans to choose the successor to the Dalai Lama, and the establishment of a U.S. consulate in the Tibetan capital Lhasa.
In his first visit to India since joining U.S. President Joe Biden's administration, Blinken also met his Indian counterpart, Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar, and other officials on Wednesday before heading to see Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Apart from China, Blinken is also expected to discuss the security situation in Afghanistan and supplies of COVID-19 vaccines which also form part of the Indo-Pacific Quad agreement. The US sees a bigger role for India in the global supply of vaccines ahead amid the acute shortage of doses worldwide.
Blinken also said on Wednesday that the relationship between the United States and India "is one of the most important in the world."
Blinken, who arrived in New Delhi on Tuesday night, kicked off his India visit with an address to a group of civil society leaders including religious heads such as Geshe Dorji Damdul of New Delhi's Tibet House, a cultural centre of the Dalai Lama.
"The Indian people and the American people believe in human dignity and equality of opportunity, the rule of law, fundamental freedoms including freedom of religion are the fundamental tenets of democracies like ours," Blinken said at the function.
Blinken, who is on his first visit to India after joining U.S. President Joe Biden's administration, will leave for Kuwait later on Wednesday.