» Op-Ed by Sikyong Dr. Lobsang Sangay.

The Wall Street Journal: Tibet Is the Test of China’s Rise

(November 14, 2012)



President Obama should put the spotlight on human rights abuses during his Asian visit.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to visit Asia, his first foreign trip after re-election, reaffirms his administration’s foreign policy pivot to Asia. The tour will attract a lot of attention throughout the region, but especially in Tibet. Mr. Obama will visit Cambodia and Thailand, two predominantly Buddhist countries, and will be the first sitting American president to visit Burma, also a majority Buddhist nation.

The Burma stop is meaningful to Tibetans because that country’s struggle for freedom so closely tracks Tibet’s efforts to secure greater autonomy from Beijing. Mr. Obama’s presence will offer a firm gesture of support to the forces of democracy and freedom as symbolized by Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese pro-democracy leader. In partnership with President Thein Sein, she is working under extremely delicate circumstance with the junta lurking in the shadows.

The Burmese people and their leader, Ms. Suu Kyi, have suffered greatly. The 8888 Uprising was brutally crushed and the military junta killed thousands of Burmese democracy activists. Ms. Suu Kyi remained under house arrest for 15 years despite winning the 1990 general elections overwhelmingly. Her father, Aung San, the father of modern-day Burma, was assassinated in 1947.

Ms. Suu Kyi’s struggle and experience has many parallels with the Dalai Lama, a fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate. In spite of being forcibly separated from his people in Tibet, the Dalai Lama established a democratic system within the Tibetan refugee community, separating church and state, and transferring his political power to a democratically elected leader, the Sikyong. This model of a functioning democracy is unique among refugee communities.

Mr. Obama should use his trip in part to make a broader point about the compatibility between Buddhism and democracy. Just as the Burmese people and the Thais, Tibetans in exile have worked to build a democracy. Indeed, as with the upsurge of the Saffron Revolution in Burma, Tibetan monks have been at the forefront of a non-violent struggle for freedom in Tibet for the last 60 years.

The Obama administration also could take up the issue of Tibet more seriously with the new Chinese leadership appointed at the 18th Party Congress. Tibetans in Tibet are crying out for justice, including the autonomy and freedom to worship they have been promised by Beijing over the years. Some 72 Tibetans have set themselves on fire, 70 of them since March 2011, and five in one day this month alone. The common cry of all self-immolators is the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet and freedom for Tibetans.

Tibetans have invested in democracy and non-violence for the last five decades. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made reassuring statements on U.S. commitment to human rights and democracy, and Ambassador Gary Locke recently visited Tibetan areas. The next four years present an opportunity for the Obama administration to build on the positive start from the visit to the three Asian Buddhist countries and make its Asia pivot even more meaningful by raising the issue of Tibet with China.

Helping resolve the issue of Tibet is not only in synch with American values, but it is also a strategic imperative. America and the rest of the world have a vital stake in China’s rise from an economic giant to a potential superpower. With regard to the development of real stability in China and peace in Asia, a litmus test will be China’s willingness to grant genuine autonomy for Tibet within the framework of the constitution of the People’s Republic of China.

Solving the Tibet problem will help improve relations between China and India. It will allow Tibetans to resume their traditional role of being responsible stewards of Tibet’s immense natural resources, including the management of Asia’s great rivers that originate in Tibet and on which hundred of millions of Asians depend for their livelihood and their very survival.

A successful American engagement with China on Tibet will also be welcomed by millions of Indians, Nepalese, Bhutanese and Mongolians who at one time looked upon Tibet as the source of their culture and home of their faith. Today there are reportedly more than 300 million Chinese Buddhists and millions of other Asians.

America’s ability to engage China on Tibetan autonomy also accords with the thinking of the best minds in China. When peaceful and sustained protests swept Tibet in 2008, many Chinese intellectuals, writers and human rights activists, including Liu Xiaobo, the imprisoned Nobel laureate, signed an open letter to the Chinese government calling on the authorities to stop its one-sided propaganda and to resolve the issue through dialogue.

This I believe is the current sentiment of many in China and the aspiration of Tibetans in Tibet. President Obama’s leadership on this shared sentiment will give a much-needed human rights dimension to America’s Asia pivot.

Mr. Sangay is the sikyong, the democratically elected leader of the Tibetan people and the political successor of the Dalai Lama.

Washington Post: For Tibetans, no other way to protest

Washington Post (13 July 2012)


Lobsang Sangay is Tibet’s Kalon Tripa, or prime minister, leader of the Tibetan government in exile

Since 2009, 43 Tibetans have set themselves on fire while shouting slogans for the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet and crying for freedom for Tibetans. These people include monks, nuns, nomads and students. Two were mothers. All but 11 have died. Yet their actions and the issue of Tibet have not generated the commensurate attention or support. Instead, the Chinese government casts blame on these Tibetans and refuses to examine the root causes of their actions.

Despite repeated appeals by the central Tibetan administration, which is based in India, to refrain from such drastic actions, Tibetans persist in self-immolations. At the same time, we in the Tibetan administration recognize our sacred duty to make the protesters’ cries heard around the globe by all who believe in justice. Tibetans everywhere have offered prayers for those who have died.

The Communist Party of China has labeled these self-immolations terrorist acts. This is ludicrous. Complexities exist in Buddhist philosophy about whether harming oneself is violent or if the motivation for the act, rather than the act itself, determines its nature. What is absolutely clear, however, is that these protesters intended to avoid harming anyone other than themselves.

To understand these acts, it is crucial to know that within China, there is no room for freedom of speech and conventional forms of protest. A participant in a simple demonstration runs a high risk of arrest, torture and even death. Consider that when the Chinese celebrated their new year in February, hundreds of Tibetans protested in the regions of Drakgo, Serta and Ngaba (traditionally known as Amdo; now Qinghai province). The Beijing government responded by shooting at the demonstrators. Six died.

Denied the right to less extreme forms of protest, Tibetans are setting fire to themselves as political action. Nearly all have been younger than 50. That means they were born and brought up under the occupation of Tibet that has lasted since 1959, when the government of the People’s Republic of China promised a “socialist paradise.” These Tibetans were intended to be the “primary beneficiaries” of the Chinese political system and its education, economy and culture. Instead, they serve as a clear indictment of the Chinese government’s failed policies for Tibet: policies founded on political oppression, social marginalization, cultural assimilation and environmental destruction. These are the root causes of the demonstrations and the deaths. Were the Chinese government to offer to resolve the issue of Tibet peacefully through dialogue, the self-immolations would end immediately.

The Chinese government has completely shut down Tibet to foreign tourists and journalists. Tibetans from outside the Tibet Autonomous Region are expelled. One Chinese scholar noted early this year that in the capital of the region, it is thought that “there are more Han Chinese than Tibetans, more soldiers than monks, and more surveillance cameras than windows.” Sadly, there are simply more guns than our traditional butter lamps for the dead.

Tibetan self-immolation is part of a historical global phenomenon. It is well known that Vietnamese monks set themselves alight in protest against the Vietnam War and that a Quaker in the United States then self-immolated in an act of support. In 1969, a man self-immolated in Czechoslovakia to protest Communist rule. In Tunisia in late 2010, an unemployed fruit seller set himself on fire and became the catalyst for the Jasmine Revolution. During the uprisings that followed, more such acts were reported in Tunisia and across the Arab countries. Even in China, self-immolations have been committed by Chinese as a protest against their government.

What is unique about the situation in Tibet is the terribly high number of tragedies. Even though so many of our people have resorted to self-immolation as their only means of protest, the international response has not at all resembled the outpouring of support for the anti-Vietnam War campaign or the powerful network of support shown during the Arab Spring.

Of course, all Tibetans welcome statements of concern from the international community, such as the recent one from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, asking the Chinese to resume dialogue with Tibetans. But concrete action is needed to help stop the tragedy in Tibet. The time has come for the world to shut out the noise of China’s influence and to hear the Tibetan cries: that repression is unbearable and unacceptable. Voices in Tibet cry out to see their leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Exiled since 1959, His Holiness is accessible to millions of people around the world, but not to his own people inside Tibet.

Because we know that the democracies of the world recognize basic human rights and freedoms to be universal values, we ask the international community to intervene before our situation deteriorates even further. In its annual human rights dialogue with China this month, the State Department should urge the Chinese to relax restrictions in Tibet immediately and request fact-finding delegations to investigate the reasons for the tragically high number of self-immolations in Tibet.

The New York Times: The Myth of Socialist Paradise

The New York Times (August 16, 2011)


Op-Ed Contributor

By Lobsang Sangay


THREE years ago, Tibetans from Lhasa to Lithang rose up against Chinese rule in Tibet. Earlier this week, a Tibetan monk set himself on fire — the second self-immolation this year, and a testament to China’s continuing repression and Tibetans’ continued resistance. We do not encourage protests, but it is our sacred duty to support our voiceless and courageous compatriots.

In 1950, when the Chinese Army first came to Tibet, they promised a socialist paradise for Tibetans. After more than 60 years of misrule, Tibet is no socialist paradise. There is not socialism but colonialism; there is no paradise, only tragedy.

Some Tibetans helped build roads to Tibet from China and were paid in silver coins by polite and respectful Chinese soldiers. However, once the roads were built in early 1950s, tanks encircled strategic urban areas, trucks headed straight to the mineral-rich mountains, and Chinese workers arrived later to exploit and mine billions of dollars worth of gold, copper and uranium. Overnight, it seemed, something had changed. The polite Chinese people changed, too, and became overbearing and aggressive. They used their guns. Battles erupted. There was death and destruction.

The continuing political repression, cultural assimilation, economic marginalization and environmental destruction in occupied Tibet are unacceptable. The new railway line from Beijing to Lhasa is bringing more heavy equipment to exploit our natural resources and more Chinese migrants, who are beginning to demographically dominate Tibet. Today, around 70 percent of private-sector firms are owned or run by Chinese, more than 50 percent of government officials are Chinese, and approximately 40 percent of Tibetans with university and high school degrees are unemployed. And this is made worse by Chinese officials who treat Tibet as their personal inheritance, and behave like latter-day feudal lords.

Earlier this year, several Chinese leaders visited Lhasa to celebrate 60 years of so-called peaceful liberation. But the reality is that the anniversary was observed under undeclared martial law. Troops carried automatic machine guns as they marched through the streets of Lhasa while sharpshooters positioned themselves on rooftops. Tourists, of course, were banned from visiting during the “celebration.”

The Tibetan political leadership is still committed to nonviolence and a peaceful resolution through dialogue. We will continue our “middle way” policy, which seeks genuine autonomy for Tibet within the People’s Republic of China, a win-win proposition for both the Tibetans and the Chinese.

China aspires to be a superpower. It has a fast-growing economy backed by growing military power, but sadly, its moral power is lagging behind. And moral power cannot be bought in the marketplace or forced with military might. It has to be earned.

As long as Tibetans are reduced to second-class citizens in their own homeland, there will be resistance to Chinese rule. Finding a lasting solution to the Tibet question, on the other hand, would improve China’s image in the eyes of the world and help protect its territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Peaceful dialogue could lead to genuine Tibetan autonomy within China. This is a solution that would satisfy both Tibetan and Chinese interests and it would be a victory not only for the Tibetan people, but for all marginalized people around the world.

Lobsang Sangay was sworn in last week as the kalon tripa, or prime minister, of the Tibetan government in exile.