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Test begins for new
Tibetan PM in exile
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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%.
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
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.
What major policy principles will you have
in running the government in exile?
LS: During the election I
stood for three principles.
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.
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.
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
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.
Will you continue to adhere to the "middle
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
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
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.
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
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