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    Greater China
     Aug 6, 2011

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Test begins for new Tibetan PM in exile
By Saransh Sehgal

DHARAMSALA, India - Newly-elected prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile, Lobsang Sangay, is preparing to officially assume the role on August 8 amid high expectations in the Tibetan exile community - Sangay will be the first premier to take charge since the Dalai Lama's retirement from politics in March.

Sangay, 43, will be sworn in as kalon tripa or prime minister in Dharamsala, India, the seat of the government in exile. The former Harvard law scholar won a massive victory in elections held in March.

Sangay's return to India comes after 16 years spent living in the United States. He was born in a small Tibetan settlement in
Darjeeling, in India's northeast, and later studied in the capital, New Delhi.

Before moving to the US, Sangay was an active member of the radical Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), a group China designates as a terrorist organization, participating in many protests against Chinese rule in Tibet.

While Beijing has made a series of allegations against him, ruling out any talks with him as a new representative of Tibetan exiles, Sangay insists he will follow the Dalai Lama's "middle way" of peacefully seeking limited autonomy. The expert on Tibet and human-rights law calls himself an "activist scholar". He is rapidly becoming an international icon for Tibetans.

In the lead-up to his official swearing in, Sangay met with Asia Times Online to discuss his objectives, politics and vision for Tibet's future.

Saransh Sehgal: How does is feel to be the new prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile ?

Lobsang Sangay: I feel excited but at the same time it is a sobering responsibility. All my life I have been discussing Tibet and now I have an opportunity to put Tibetans at the front and the center. I will take this responsibility with all humility. I take blessings from god and the deities of Tibet so Tibet can move forward.

SS: Your position as the first kalon tripa to be elected since the Dalai Lama retired from politics has generated a good deal of attention. However, many are still keen to know what you've been doing in the United States for the last 16 years.

LS: While growing up in India, I earned a Fulbright scholarship and went to do my master's at Harvard Law School in the United States, finishing my doctorate in 2004. I was then appointed as a fellow in Harvard University and then promoted to a senior fellow - mostly leading an academic life.

Despite this, I was still undertaking other responsibilities, initially organizing a lot of protests including during visits of Chinese president [Hu Jintao] and prime minister [Wen Jiabao] to Harvard and nearby universities. I then engaged in Track II diplomacy, organizing conferences between Chinese and Tibetan students and then Chinese and Tibetan scholars including two visits by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Lately I have been traveling quite a bit around the world giving talks and lectures on Tibet. I have been like an activist scholar.

SS: You will be heading an office not recognized by any government in the world. How difficult will this be? How will you gather support and cooperation across the world?

LS: There are lots of challenges. We welcome any formal recognition from any government around the world but that is not the main purpose of this administration - it is to seek freedom for Tibetans and the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet. It is a challenging and a difficult task but one has to do it and as a Tibetan I have no option but to do it. I am committed to doing the best I can.

SS: How does it feel to have so much hope placed in you by the thousands of Tibetans in exile and those inside Tibet seeking independence?

LS: In spiritual terms, this is my Karmic destiny, whether it turns out good or bad is yet to be seen but I have to make my best effort for Tibet and the Tibetan people. Personally, I feel that now I am in this position I should not over-analyze it. People have expectations for sure, but I'm taking a pragmatic approach.

I will have to do the best I can, be really committed and work hard to live up to those expectations. If the expectations are realized or not partly depends on circumstances, geopolitics and partly on my karma and hard work. And as far as hard working is concerned, I will give it 100%.

SS: How did this all start - your interaction as an expatriate in the US with the Tibetan government in exile with a vision to lead the exile community?

LS: I participated in the election as a serious candidate because the conventional wisdom in Dharamsala and Tibetan community in general was that I was a long shot. More than a year ago I didn't even know what would happen but I always used to say that as a candidate for an elected position of the member of the parliament, one should travel to the people and interact with the people directly. I went to the people and the people responded because they wanted change.

As I traveled around the world recently, wherever I went I always tried to stay an extra day or two interacting with local exiled Tibetans in Australia, Asia, Europe and North America, they got to know me personally then perhaps more than other candidates. When I traveled to Tibetans in India, my relationship with the public became more personal and intimate, that reflected in the transparency and accessibility I was given. This gave me a vision of the change Tibetans were seeking, and here I am.

SS: What major policy principles will you have in running the government in exile?

LS: During the election I stood for three principles.

Firstly, unity is the most important. Without unity it is almost impossible for any exile movement to have the strength to take the movement forward to success. Other non-violent movements often succeeded at the time when they were most united. Unity is paramount. In our society there are differences that can affect unity and lead to potential dangers, so instead of going backwards we should keep moving forward together.

The second principle is innovation. We are in there 21st century, there is technology and many ways we can review policies, approach, and programs and use innovative mechanics to make these issues and policies much more effective. Facebook, e-mail and media are all so effective.

Thirdly, Tibetans have been 50 years in exile now, it is high time we stood on our own feet and led the movement our self. Now we can't say we do not know the Western system, the international system or the Indian system. Based on what we know we should move forward and provide the best to the Tibetan movement.

SS: Will you have to consult the Dalai Lama on major issues?

LS: Of course, even though he has devolved his political power to elected leaders and particularly to my position as kalon tripa. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the one of the few leaders who has so much experience and wisdom. I have to consult him on major and foreign issues.

SS: Will you continue to adhere to the "middle way" approach?

LS: Yes, I stood on the platform of the "middle way" and I won the election on the middle way and for the next five years I will stick to the policy.

SS: How do you think you can bridge the divide between Chinese and Tibetans?

LS: I have 16 years of experience in reaching out to the Chinese students and scholars at Harvard University and I have studied the principles of dialogue. Though I didn't need to I talked to many Chinese scholars, some were quite open but some were ignorant, and with experience of tolerating this I will continue to use and encourage dialogue between Chinese and Tibetans around the world. There are times some Chinese don't even want to talk but then you meet those who will and promote dialogue. Many initially do not understand our cause but by keeping the interaction going we can make some try to understand.

SS: Will your administration continue the previous administration's policies, or attempt the change mentioned in your election campaign?

LS: There will be definitely be a few changes, [former premier] Professor Samdhong Rinpoche is a totally different personality, we have two different backgrounds. He is a monk, a lama and I am not, there will be changes in practical terms on how to approach things. Maybe I will be traveling and speaking more, in that way I can make changes for sure. But it all depends on issues and time. On my inauguration day speech I might lay out some policies.

SS: How will you deal with Beijing, since Beijing does not recognize you and has even associated you with a group it labels a terrorist organization?

LS: Whether Beijing recognizes me or not is of secondary importance as the Tibetan people have recognized me. I am only a Tibetan leader who won through dynamic and competitive elections. No Chinese leader or no Tibetan leader in Tibet has won votes directly in a democratic fashion; I have been recognized by the Tibetans and this is the most important thing.

They use these labels against me which I think is really sad because for the last 16 years I have interacted with Chinese students, scholars and friends. I even invited scholars from Beijing, all came to Harvard and I even went myself to Beijing in 2005. They didn't use those labels then but suddenly now I am a changed man. Overnight since the election they changed their view of me drastically; I hope they will explain why.

SS: Tell me how you see conditions inside Tibet now? Do you support demonstration and protests inside Tibet?

LS: Conditions are a tragic. Chinese leaders recently went to Lhasa to celebrate the 60th anniversary of what they refer to as liberation but what we call the occupation. They could do so because Tibet is currently in a state of undeclared martial law.

This was the 60th anniversary of Tibetans in Tibet being born and brought up under the Chinese system, the Chinese way of education and propaganda. That this so-called anniversary was celebrated in a state of undeclared martial law shows that Chinese rule is not working. The need to bring troops to Lhasa to observe an anniversary illustrates very clearly the impact of political repression, cultural humiliation and environmental destruction. 

Continued 1 2  

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