“It is a win- win proposition for everyone involved,” Dr Sangay says in an exclusive e-mail interview to RAMESH RAMACHANDRAN. Dr Sangay, who came to head the Dharamsala-based Central Tibetan Administration in 2011, also says that the Tibetan people’s movement has remained non-violent but “the international media and community [are] prioritising on more violent movements”. “Our commitment to non-violence is widely recognised and applauded by the international community. Even the 138 Tibetans who have self-immolated so far have never harmed even a single Chinese person or Chinese property,” he asserts. Dr Sangay points out that the numbers of Tibetans setting themselves ablaze are increasing at an alarming rate and the reason for it lies in China’s massive policy failure driven by political repression, cultural assimilation, social discrimination, economic marginalisation and environmental destruction.
Edited excerpts from an interview:
As Mr Narendra Modi makes his maiden visit to China as Prime Minister of India, what are some of your expectations from India, China and the international community at large?
Like the Chinese leaders, I hope Prime Minister Modi-led Indian government will also make Tibet a core issue in its dealings with China. We hope the Prime Minister will highlight the geopolitical and environmental significance of Tibet for harmony in Asia and urge the Chinese government to resolve the issue of Tibet peacefully through dialogue.
In hindsight, do you think the Indian Government led by former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was foolhardy in according de facto recognition of China’s claim to Tibet?
In 2003, China and India made a joint declaration that they will not see each other as a threat. India appeared to have acknowledged China’s claim on the “Tibet Autonomous Region” but later Prime Minister Vajpayee explained otherwise in the Indian Parliament. There are many ways to decipher this issue raised.
There is a view in some strategic circles in India that New Delhi should retaliate to the Chinese belligerence by issuing stapled visas for people currently living in Tibet? Your comments.
This is an issue that the people and government of India should decide on.
An article in the State-run Global Times said: “Modi should no longer visit the disputed border region (Arunachal Pradesh) in pursuit of his own political interests”. How would you interpret this remark and what do you think it says about the present Chinese leadership?
It indicates China’s stand on the McMahon line as a border, hence the issue of Tibet cannot be overlooked by both sides as it is inherently tied to it. Tibet should be brought into the conversation by both sides rather than shelving it to the corner for a border settlement.
China’s white paper on Tibet, titled “Tibet’s Path of Development Is Driven by an Irresistible Historical Tide”, which was released in April, denounces the “middle way” advocated by the Dalai Lama. Your comments.
The middle way policy was envisioned by His Holiness the Dalai Lama but democratically adopted by the Central Tibetan Administration. The latest white paper is a belated reaction on the part of Beijing to the renewed, ongoing awareness campaign on the Middle Way Policy launched last year by the Central Tibetan Administration to create greater awareness of this policy within the international community. The Chinese government is deliberately misleading the international community by portraying the Middle Way Policy in a negative light. The genuine autonomy that we are seeking is within the framework of the constitution of the People’s Republic of China. It is a win- win proposition for everyone involved. The world has acknowledged its credibility.
According to a Xinhua report, “[T]he “middle way” advocates a “Greater Tibet” with “a high degree of autonomy” within China. However, this idea of a Greater Tibet – which includes Tibet, Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu, Qinghai and other areas inhabited by Tibetans – has never existed and the autonomy put forward by the Dalai Lama denies the leadership of the central government, and Tibet’s present social and political system.”
The term “Greater Tibet” is not used by the Central Tibetan Administration. The three traditional provinces of U-Tsang, Kham and Amdo cover the entire Tibetan plateau and have always been essential parts of Tibet. They share not just the same geography and topography but also culture, language and religion. The division of Tibet into several provinces of China is a clear violation of Chinese laws and of Article 4 of the Constitution which recognises the right of minority nationalities to practise regional autonomy “in the areas of where they live in concentrated communities” and to “set up organ of self government for the exercise of power of autonomy.” It is a fact that 99 per cent Uyghurs live in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and 95 per cent of Zhuangs live in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. While Tibetans living in one concentrated community are divided into different provinces with less than 50 per cent in the TAR while the majority is incorporated into neighbouring Chinese provinces as Tibetan autonomous prefectures and counties. Tibet constituting one-fourth of China is not a recent political creation but a natural outcome of Tibetans inhabiting the Tibetan plateau for thousands of years. The fact that Tibet constitutes one-fourth of China should not be a concern for the Chinese government because one-fifth of China is already established as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and one-eighth as Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Moreover, Genuine Autonomy for all Tibetans is not geographically specific, but administratively specific, aiming for actual implementation of Chinese laws in the areas to empower Tibetans to become masters of their own affairs. Having all Tibetans with the same tradition, economy and even geography in a single administrative unit will be an efficient and effective form of governance rather than dividing them into TAR and four Chinese provinces with Chinese majority i.e. Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan.
The white paper accuses the Dalai Lama and his representatives of being opportunistic in talks with the Chinese government.
The Chinese government has attempted to whitewash the tragic reality in Tibet through the white paper. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has sincerely sought to resolve the issue through genuine dialogue conducted with a spirit of openness and reconciliation. For decades, our principle stand on non-violence and dialogue has been consistent and clear.
In 2011, the Dalai Lama announced his “political retirement” and his private representatives who had liaised with the central government also “resigned”. Since then, the Dalai group has declared that it would only talk with the central government in the name of the “government-in-exile”, thereby, destroying any basis for contact and negotiation, says the white paper.
There is no change on our side. The current structure of the talks between the envoys of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government has been set up from the 1970s when the talks first began and still remains the same. We still hope that the dialogue between envoys of the Dalai Lama and Chinese counterpart will continue. We believe that substance is primary and process is secondary.
What is going to be the way forward for the Tibetan Government-in-exile and the Tibetan people: Independence? Autonomy? Genuine autonomy? Referendum? Self-determination? Or status quo?
We will continue to seek Genuine Autonomy within China through the Middle Way Policy. The Middle Way Policy was conceptualised since the 1970s and our proposal for genuine autonomy is a win-win proposition to both China and Tibet. This is a farsighted and a realistic way forward.
The white paper concludes that “there is no prospect of [a “high degree of autonomy” for Tibet] ever coming to pass. Your comments.
The Middle-Way Approach neither seeks separation from the People’s Republic of China nor “high degree of autonomy” but Genuine Autonomy for all Tibetan people under a single administration. This is consistent with both the National Regional Autonomy Law and the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China. The Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) remains committed to the Middle-Way Approach and reiterates that dialogue is the most realistic approach and the way to find a mutually beneficial solution to the Tibet issue.
The Xinhua report cites the white paper as saying that the Dalai Lama and his supporters continued to employ violence to promote Tibetan independence; that since 2011 they have incited Tibetan Lamas and lay followers inside China to engage in acts of self-immolation. “For the Dalai party, ‘peace’ and ‘non-violence’ are no more than fig leaves,” the report quoted the white paper as saying.
Our commitment to non-violence is widely recognised and applauded by the international community. Even the 138 Tibetans who have self-immolated so far have never harmed even a single Chinese person or Chinese property. The Central Tibetan Administration has made many appeals to the Tibetans in Tibet to desist from self-immolation, unfortunately the numbers of Tibetans setting themselves ablaze are adding up at an alarming rate and frequency. All Tibetans who have set themselves ablaze have called for the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to his homeland and freedom for Tibet. This clearly reflect the deepening anguish and resentment of the Tibetan people at the conditions in their homeland. The reason lies in China’s massive policy failure driven by political repression, cultural assimilation, social discrimination, economic marginalisation and environmental destruction. Therefore the solution also lies with Beijing.
How do you see the institution of the Dalai Lama going forward? Will it continue in its present form?
I would, as most Tibetans would, also like His Holiness the Dalai Lama to reincarnate and continue the institution of the Dalai Lama lineage. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said that the ultimate decision lies with the six million Tibetan people.
The Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday is coming up in July. How do the Tibetan Government-in-exile and the Tibetan people in India and abroad plan to celebrate the occasion?
His Holiness as a devout Buddhist does not celebrate his birthday. But Tibetans and friends will have events around the world throughout 2015 and 2016.
The article in the State-run Global Times cited above also said: “The Indian government should completely stop supporting the Dalai Lama, and stop making the Tibetan issue a stumbling block to the Sino-Indian relationship”. Your comments.
The Tibetan issue is not something to be easily swept under the carpet. The Tibet issue will remain a core issue in Sino-Indian relationship and there is no way around this issue if India and China want an amiable relationship. Tibetans are eternally grateful to the government and people of India for such enduring support during the tragic phase of our history.
BJP President Amit Shah was scheduled to meet the Dalai Lama on 2 May in Dharamsala but the meeting was cancelled after the Prime Minister’s Office called it “highly inappropriate” ahead of Mr Modi’s China visit. How do you view the cancellation?
It is not an issue for us because many prominent Indian leaders have met with His Holiness before and will continue to do so in the future.
A word about the future of the Tibetan refugees in India.
We are very grateful to the Indian people and their government for being gracious hosts to the Tibetan refugees since 1959. We are indebted to your kindness. I deeply appreciate the recent Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy which has improved the overall situation of the Tibetan refugees in India by providing a uniform guideline across Indian states in improving the conditions of the Tibetan refugee community.
Do you think the Tibetan people living in exile in India, particularly the youth, are becoming restive and might be tempted to take up (or provoked into taking up) an armed struggle?
Our movement is non-violent. Since justice and truth is on our side, we will keep moving in that direction. There are many marginalised groups who might want to follow non-violent movement like ours but since the international media and community [are] prioritising on more violent movements, radicalism, and terrorism, there is a danger of these groups following in these footsteps.