(Bloomberg) -- A new US law on Tibet and a high-profile visit by American lawmakers to the region will put pressure on China to engage with the government in exile, a top official said.

The visit by the bipartisan group of lawmakers — led by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul and including former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — is “very special,” Norzin Dolma, a minister in Tibet’s government-in-exile, said in an interview in Dharamshala on Monday. Along with the Resolve Tibet Act, passed by the US Congress this month, the visit will help Tibet’s demand for autonomy, she said. 

The bipartisan group of lawmakers are due to arrive in Dharamshala Tuesday, where they are expected to hold talks with officials from the Central Tibetan Administration, and meet with the Dalai Lama — the spiritual head of Tibetans — on Wednesday.   

The US legislation strengthens Washington’s support for Tibet and pushes for negotiations between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama or Tibetan officials in exile. US President Joe Biden is expected to sign the bill into law.  

China annexed Tibet in the 1950s, with the Dalai Lama and other monks fleeing to India nine years later, where they live as refugees and have set up a government in exile in the northern town of Dharamshala. China continues to wield considerable control over Tibet and considers the Dalai Lama a separatist for his commitment to limited autonomy for the region. 

Talks between China and the Dalai Lama broke down in 2010 after years of dialog.

Dolma, the minister for information and international relations in the Central Tibetan Administration, said there was increasing awareness of the threat China poses in the region.

The US law means “there is hope for Tibet,” she said. There “is a gradual understanding of the insecurity that the current regime of China poses,” she added.

“The Covid pandemic and particularly after the Ukraine war there is recognition and acknowledgment of China as the long term threat and Russia as the short term threat,” Dolma said.

US-China relations are under strain on multiple fronts, from on-going trade tensions to Washington’s support for Taiwan. Tibet is now emerging as yet another flash point, with the potential to anger Beijing further. Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan with US lawmakers in 2022 triggered unprecedented Chinese military drills around the island and trade bans. 

Dolma said the visit by the American lawmakers was an “opportunity for us to thank the US for the substantive support that they have provided to the Tibetan community.”

The US legislation recognizes Beijing’s disinformation on Tibet including the region being part of China since antiquity providing relief to the government in exile. On the contrary, Tibetans claim they were independent for large parts of its history.

The Dalai Lama advocates a “middle way” solution, which doesn’t demand independence for Tibet, but seeks more autonomy for the region within the framework of China. The Central Tibetan Administration shares the same view and “is very much committed to the dialog process,” said Dolma.  

Even so, the administration doesn’t expect direct talks between Beijing and its representatives to start soon. The US legislation will likely “only provide leverage to the middle way policy that we have been pursuing so far” Dolma said.

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.