Thu07272017

Last update07:04:16 AM GMT

'Tibet should be a core issue for India' says Sikyong

Tibetan Prime Minister-in-Exile Lobsang Sangay. File Photo: Sandeep Saxena
The Hindu's exclusive interview with Dr. Lobsang Sangay, Sikyong or Leader of the self-styled "Tibetan Parliament in-exile"

You are known as the Sikyong…the head of the so-called Tibetan government in exile. But are you actually recognised by any government?

No we don’t have recognition. When we travel, people meet us because they want to. Even when I travel to the US for example, it’s not like we are welcomed to the State department, or met formally. We follow the norm that we meet with those who would like to meet us, and don’t complain about those who don’t. Because given a choice we would like to believe that they too would like to meet us. There’s no formal recognition, but the US has passed a Tibet act, under which Tibet is recognised as an issue and the executive is expected to promote dialogue between the Chinese government and the envoy of the Dalai Lama. And several resolutions have been passed in the US congress, the European parliament, French, Italian. At the people’s level, there is recognition, if not at the formal level, but we are received even though there is no formal recognition.

In fact you were one of the chosen invitees at Prime Minister Modi’s swearing-in ceremony, which caused a controversy, and China sent a demarche on that. How did that happen?

Well I believe the Taiwanese representative was also there..

The Taiwanese trade representative, yes

Well I just happened to be one of the 5,000 invitees, and it was a privilege. And I also thought as someone who has been born and brought up in India, this was one of the first public ceremonies for me, and I thought it would be auspicious if I go there. When I showed my invitation I was shown to my seat in the front, and then Tibetans who saw me on TV started circulating the picture, that became an issue, and the Chinese government issued a demarche.

Did the government contact you about that demarche?

No!

Even so, what it seems to indicate, along with the presence of senior BJP leaders at your conferences, that there is a special closeness between your administration and the BJP…

Whichever party has come to power in Delhi, whether it is Congress, BJP, Third front, there is a history of looking at Tibet from a traditional closeness, and from a geo-strategic angle. For the BJP, given that it is a Hindu party, there is also the significance of the Mount Kailash base and Mansarovar, so the cultural affinity to Tibetans is there.

Given that, what are the hopes of the Tibetan administration from this new government?

China says Tibet is a core issue, and for India and South Asia as a whole, Tibet should be a core issue, and the recognition of that is important. Our hope has always been that any Indian government should press on the Chinese government to resolve the issue peacefully through dialogue. Our stand has been the Middle Away approach, to seek autonomy within the framework of the Chinese constitution and within China.

PM Modi has made it clear that relations with China hold a very high place for him. Within six weeks of taking over there have been four high level meetings- over the President-PM, Vice-Presidents, Foreign Ministers, Army Chiefs. Does that convey that they perhaps will not offend China in any way by speaking about Tibet?

As far as Tibetans are concerned, we welcome any positive contact between India and China, and for India to have good relations with all countries, so in that sense, we don’t want to be an obstacle in those relations. What Tibetans propose is a ‘win-win’ solution for China and India. The Middle Way is that, and it should in no way offend the Chinese government. We are not challenging the sovereignty or integrity of China, which they say is of paramount importance. We have implemented their concerns, and all we ask is that they implement their own laws. This is as moderate as we can get. We want to end the repression of Tibetans and give them autonomy, and we will not seek separation from China. Chinese propaganda says the Dalai Lama is demanding one fourth of China, but all we are saying is that Tibetan prefectures already demarcated by the Chinese.

And how do you respond to criticism from those in the community who say that you have compromised on Tibetan principles by accepting Chinese sovereignty?

In any kind of conflict, short of war, everything has to be a compromise. Nelson Mandela spent so many years, but compromised- while he got voting rights for all, he didn’t change landholding, or get more representation for his people. Mahatma Gandhi fought for freedom and also accepted partition, the Good Friday agreement, and Aceh autonomy, were all examples of compromise.

India has made it clear on other issues, like Jammu and Kashmir, that there will be no re-drawing of borders….

We are not asking for a re-drawing of borders, but an administrative mechanism for the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Also under Chinese law it says Tibetan language should be encouraged, both as an official language and as a medium of instruction. But even Tibet University, schools are all in Chinese. If you look at the administration, of the 15 members of the party politburo, 9 are Chinese, 2 more are half-Chinese. Party secretary has never been a Tibetan. As per 2002 survey in China, in the communist party of the TAR, 49% were Chinese. Since then that number has increased. 70% of restaurants, shops, taxi licenses are given to Chinese in Lhasa, 50% of the party membership, 40% of high school graduates are unemployed. This isn’t autonomy.

Given that situation, how hopeful are you of a resumption of talks of which nine rounds were held before they broke in 2010?

One should always be hopeful. Hope based on our own commitment, and I am sure the younger generation of Tibetans, who are protesting silently, peacefully will carry that commitment. Also the new generation of Chinese leaders…President Xi Jinping especially may decide to take another look at Tibet, since their policies don’t seem to have resolved the issue. President Xi’s father Xi Zhongxun in particular had a relationship and understanding of the Tibet issue. He has met with the Dalai Lama, and was very close to the Panchen Lama, and he wrote his biography. Hope that had some influence on his son. Xi Zhongxun was one of the most liberal leaders, and we have hopes from the son, Xi Jinping. It is still to seen if the son will have learned from the father. Hopefully he will review. He has shown boldness on corruption, in politics, hope he shows boldness on Tibet too.

The Dalai Lama is now approaching 80 years…isn’t it a cause for worry, just given his age, health concerns, that there is no succession plan in place?

Well the reason we are not worried is because of how robust and healthy he is, we would like to believe he will live to at least 113, the longest any lama has lived! Having said that he put out a document in 2011 on the selection of the next Dalai Lama, and said he will deal with that question at the age of 90. Also we now have a democratic system, and he has bestowed all political powers on the Sikyong (Dr. Sangay himself). So in a sense, he has already begun that process.

What about the future of the Tibetan movement in India…will it stick to non-violence, given the increase in immolations and protests?

Non-violence is an uncompromising part of our way. This will always be our official policy. At the local level, some amount of anger and tension may be expected. But Tibetans in India have always been law-abiding and peaceful. Because India has done the most for Tibetans, so we are eternally grateful. We must remember we are guests, and behave as honourable guests. In China, Tibetans are less than half a percent of the Chinese population….so non-violence isn’t just wise, it is the most logical policy to have. Even when you speak of the self-immolations, not a single Chinese person or property has been harmed. These Tibetans are dying violent deaths, but it is not a violent act, as no one else is hurt.

 

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