By Idrees Ali
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, said on Tuesday an opportunity exists to find "common ground" with Chinese authorities on Tibet, which it has ruled since 1950.
Pelosi, a long-time critic of China's human rights record, took a group of House Democrats to China this month, on a trip that included a rare visit to Tibet.
Pelosi said that while Chinese President Xi Jinping had rejected independence for Tibet, the United States and Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, only wanted autonomy.
"So if they (Chinese authorities) think it is about independence, he (Dalai Lama) says it's about autonomy, we only support autonomy ... then I think there is an opportunity to find common ground," she told a news conference.
The congressional delegation was the first allowed to enter Tibet since widespread unrest in 2008.
U.S. Representative Jim McGovern, chairman of a congressional human rights commission, cited "some very heated exchanges with" Chinese officials during the trip, which ended last week.
"I can't tell you with certainty that the Chinese government will agree to do x, y and z, but I don't think any of us came away feeling that the door was entirely closed on anything," McGovern said.
China has ruled Tibet since 1950, when communist forces "peacefully liberated" it. China blames the Dalai Lama for unrest in some parts of the country, including a wave of self-immolations.
Rights groups and exiles say China tramples on the cultural and religious rights of Tibet's Buddhist people. China asserts that it has brought much needed development to what was a backward region.
Pelosi has regularly spoken out about human rights issues in Tibet and has met the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing reviles as a violent separatist.
(Editing by Patricia Zengerle and Richard Chang)