The leader of Tibet’s exiled government, Lobsang Sangay, spoke with DW about his new campaign aimed at resuming long-stalled talks with Beijing and softening China’s handling of his homeland.
The prime minister of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) has reaffirmed his commitment to the “Middle Way” approach of engaging the Chinese government through dialogue to achieve what his government calls “genuine autonomy” for Tibetans within the country.
Sangay’s announcement comes as the CTA launches a global publicity campaign to persuade world governments to put pressure on China to restart dialogue with exiled Tibetans. Formal talks between the Chinese government and the CTA reached a stalemate in 2010 following leadership changes in Beijing and a crackdown in Tibet. China has ruled Tibet since 1950, and many Tibetans feel their intensely Buddhist culture is at risk of annihilation by Beijing’s political and economic domination.
In a DW interview, Sangay says he hopes the Xi Jinping-led Chinese government will review its hard-line approach and accept dialogue as the only way to peacefully resolve the Tibet issue.
DW: Given that the mother of Chinese President Xi Jinping was a Buddhist and his father was on friendly terms with the Dalai Lama, have you seen any changes in the attitude of China’s leaders toward national minorities in general and the Tibetans in particular?
Lobsang Sangay: We have heard reports that discussions on minorities have been going on for some time. Recently, scholars have contributed with their views on minorities and Tibetans in general. But we have yet to see any changes in the attitude of the Chinese leaders and the ground reality of repressive policies in Tibet.
China’s growing clout in the international arena is very much felt by the Tibetans in exile. For instance, fewer and fewer governments are willing to meet with the Dalai Lama. Is time playing in China’s favor?
The Chinese government is putting pressure on different governments not to meet with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, misinforming about the Central Tibetan Administration and its “Middle Way” approach.
Yet on the people’s level, interest in Tibet remains and it is important on our part to create more awareness and strengthen support from the international community. Time is not playing in support of China because even after 60 years of occupation, the third generation of Tibetans is in the streets protesting against the hard-line policies of the Chinese government, even though they are the beneficiaries of whatever Beijing claims to provide to Tibetans.
Resentment and protests persist. The sense of unity and solidarity among Tibetans inside and outside has never been stronger in recent years. Given this foundation, the Tibetan struggle is here to stay.
On Sunday (08.06.2014), China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi will meet with India’s new prime minister, Narendra Modi. Could a thaw in Indo-Chinese ties potentially threaten the status of the Central Tibetan Administration, based in the Indian city of Dharamsala?
No. India’s policies over Tibet and its treatment of Tibetans have remained the same, regardless of who is in power. We believe and hope the government of the recently elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi will continue the same policies. I hope China’s foreign minister will appreciate India’s unity in diversity and democracy as the foundation that keeps multilingual, multiethnic India united as one country. We regard similar policies by the Chinese government towards Tibetan people as a win-win proposition.
What exactly do you expect from the Chinese government?
We hope the Xi Jinping-led government will review its hard-line approach and introduce liberal policies towards Tibetans. I hope that President Xi Jinping will accept dialogue as the only way to resolve the Tibet issue peacefully.
To what extent are you willing to compromise with Beijing?
That is exactly what the “Middle Way” approach is all about. We would like to see an end to the present repression in Tibet. If granted genuine autonomy within the framework of the Chinese constitution, we will not seek separation from China.
How has Chinese rule affected Tibet over the past decades?
Over the past decades there has been ongoing political repression, social discrimination, economic marginalization, environmental destruction and cultural assimilation, particularly due to Chinese migration to Tibet which is fuelling intense resentment among the Tibetan people.
How hopeful are you that China will begin a review of its Tibet policy?
Sooner or later, China should realize that the hard-line policies are not working. Some 130 self-immolations by Tibetans – which we discourage – should send a clear message to the Chinese government that it is time to enter into a dialogue between the envoys of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the representatives of the Chinese government.
Are Chinese authorities following a similar hard line in Tibet as in Xinjiang?
Yes. From occupation until the present day, the treatment of the Tibetan and Uighur people has been very similar. Sixty years of repression have not been working. It is time to give the “Middle Way” approach a chance, for the dignity of the Tibetan people, harmony within China and peace.
Lobsang Sangay is the elected prime minister of the India-based Central Tibetan Administration, also referred to as the Tibetan government-in-exile.