Inaugural Speech of Kalon Tripa Dr. Lobsang Sangay

My fellow Tibetans:

Today on this auspicious day when Guru Rinpoche, the great Indian yogi who spread Buddhism in Tibet, was born, and in the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, our most revered leader, I accept, with deep humility, the post of the Kalon Tripa.

We invoke the spirit and call on the Gods and Goddesses of Tibet to watch over and guide us. My profound gratitude goes out to the overwhelming support of brave men and women in exile, and the enduring solidarity and support of our brave brothers and sisters in occupied Tibet. We are motivated by their support and sustained by their prayers.

Blessed spiritually by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and authorized politically to continue the extended historical legitimacy of the great institution of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, I am here not as a result of my personal achievement but as a result of the hard work and sacrifices made by elder generations in Tibet and in exile. Today, I pledge to carry on and build upon this great legacy of our elders. I pledge to you, my fellow Tibetans, to strengthen and sustain our movement until freedom is restored in Tibet, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama returns to our homeland.

Over one century ago, in 1910, His Holiness the 13th Dalai Lama, took one last glance at the Potala Palace before leaving his homeland and promised to his people: “I shall return.” Our ancestors at the time did not have modern education and sophistication, but with dedication and unity they work tirelessly to make the return of His Holiness the 13th Dalai Lama possible. His Holiness returned to Lhasa in early 1913 and reaffirmed Tibet’s independence from China.

Almost half a century later, the same pledge to return was poignantly repeated by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama as he departed Lhasa on the fateful night of March, 17, 1959.

Today, the responsibility to help ensure the return of His Holiness is with our generation of Tibetans who have modern education and sophistication. But do we have dedication, unity and commitment to make tireless effort like our ancestors? If we do, we will prevail. If we don’t, we fail.

No doubt, our task is of Himalayan proportion. But we take inspiration from thousands of other brave Tibetans who, throughout our history, have given up their lives and devoted their hearts to Tibet. We have been tragically separated by force, not by choice, and, we will reach the mountaintop of freedom to reunite Tibetans on both sides of Himalayas.

I promise to work to fulfill the vision of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama to create a truly secular democratic society. This year’s dynamic Tibetan election demonstrated to the world our commitment to genuine democracy and the universal principle of human freedom. Our democratic election reveals that Tibetan unity is built upon and sustained by universal democratic principles that transcend region, sect, gender, and generations.

Outgoing Kalon Tripa Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche (R) handing over the Official Seal of the Kashag to new Kalon Tripa Dr Lobsang Sangay (L), at the swearing-in ceremony at Tsuglagkhang, the main temple, in Dharamsala, on 8 August 2011

The results of this election should send a clear message to the hardliners in the Chinese government that Tibetan leadership is far from fizzling out – we are democracy that will only grow stronger in years ahead. And we are here to stay.

Let me be very clear: our struggle is not against the Chinese people, nor is it against China as a country. Our struggle is against hard-line policies of the Chinese regime in Tibet. Our struggle is against those who would deny freedom, justice, dignity, and the very identity of Tibetan People. Chinese authorities and our Chinese friends alike must realize that grievances of Tibetan people are many and genuine.

Today, my fellow Tibetans, I reaffirm in the oath and aspiration forged by our forefathers – a treaty signed more then a millennia ago by Tibet and China that pledged a great epoch when “Tibetans shall be happy in the land of Tibet and Chinese in the land of China”.

In 1950, when the Chinese Army first came to Tibet, they promised “Socialist Paradise” for Tibetans. Some Tibetans helped build roads to Tibet from China and were paid in Silver coins for their labor. During that time, the Chinese soldiers were very polite and treated our ancestors kindly.

However, once the roads were built, tanks encircled strategic urban areas, lorries headed straight to the mineral-rich mountains and pristine forests: and Chinese workers arrived to exploit and mine billions of dollars of gold, copper, and uranium. Overnight, it seemed, something had changed. The polite Chinese soldiers changed and became overbearing, aggressive, and violent. They used their guns. Battles erupted. Death and destruction ensued.

The great epoch of happiness was put into peril. And since that time, I fear, Tibetans have become second class citizens in their own homeland.

The ongoing political repression, cultural assimilation, economic marginalization and environmental destruction in occupied Tibet is unacceptable. The construction of new Railway Line brings each day more heavy equipment to exploit mineral resources and more Chinese migrants to demographically dominate Tibet and dilute our rich culture and identity. Today’s empirical facts are startling: around seventy percent of the private sector is owned or run by Chinese, and more than fifty percent of public sector jobs of the local Communist Party cadre are also held by the Chinese. Meanwhile, nearly forty percent of our Tibetan brothers and sisters who have worked hard and earned university and high school degrees are unemployed. These statistics are made worse, as we all know, by Chinese officials who treat Tibet as their personal inheritance, and act as feudal lords.

But three years ago, in 2008, Tibetans men and women, young and old, nomads and farmers, monks and nuns, all rose up against the Chinese rule in Tibet – from Dromo to Dhartsedo, Ngari to Ngaba, from Lhasa to Lithang, from Kongpo to Kumbum. They spoke out against Chinese oppression and mistreatment and the universal slogan was: we want His Holiness the Dalai Lama return to Tibet. Let me be clear: the Tibetan Administration does not encourage protest in part because we cannot forget the harsh response Chinese authorities hand down in the face of free and peaceful expression. However, it is our sacred duty to support and to be the voice for our voiceless and courageous compatriots.

After sixty years of misrule, Tibet is no Socialist Paradise that Chinese officials promised. There is no “Socialism” in Tibet, but rather Colonialism. Tibet is not the “Paradise” that it could be: today, it is a tragedy because of the Chinese occupation. Chinese government ought to know it. Recently, many Chinese leaders have visited Lhasa to observe sixty years of “peaceful liberation”. The reality is that the anniversary was observed under undeclared martial law with troops holding automatic machine guns, marching in the streets of Lhasa, sharp shooters positioned on rooftops, tourists banned from visiting Tibet entirely. Bejing’s rule in Tibet is clearly unjust and untenable.

Despite the tragedy in Tibet, we want the world to know, especially Chinese friends, that we remain firmly committed to non-violence. We do not view China as a nation and Chinese as a people with malice but with respect. Guided by the wisdom of our forefathers and foremothers, we will continue the Middle-Way policy, which seeks genuine autonomy for Tibet within the People’s Republic of China. This, my fellow Tibetans, is a win-win proposition for both the Tibetans and the Chinese. We believe in a peaceful resolution for Tibet, which means a peaceful process and peaceful dialogue. We are also willing to negotiate with the Chinese government anytime, anywhere.

Let’s not forget: China aspires to be a superpower. It is the fastest growing major economy in the world and is backed by the largest army in the world. Sadly, however, China’s moral power is lacking behind. Moral power cannot be bought in the market or forced with military might. It has to be earned. As long as Tibetans are repressed, there will be resistance, and waning respect for China. Finding a lasting solution to the Tibet question will go a long way toward restoring China’s positive image in the minds and hearts of people around the world, as well as towards protecting its territorial integrity and sovereignty. The Chinese people in China and the Greater Chinese diasporic community have a key role to play in helping China overcome this moral deficiency.

I have sixteen years record of reaching out to hundreds of Chinese students and have organized conferences on Tibet between Chinese and Tibetan scholars at Harvard University. We will continue to reach out to the Chinese people to build mutual understanding and trust. I would like to extent our heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to the United States, Europe, international community and Tibet Support Groups for their enduring support. We appeal to them to continue to stand with us for justice, freedom, dignity, and equality, and to persuade Beijing to resolve the issue of Tibet peacefully. A lasting solution to the situation in Tibet will be one of the most defining stories of the 21st century for it will reaffirm faith in humanity’s capacity to build peace, non-violence and universal freedom. This would be a victory not only for the Tibetan people, but for all the marginalized people around the world.

A just and speedy resolution of the issue of Tibet is in the interest of all Asia. For thousands of years, the Tibetan people served as responsible guardian of the environment of the world’s highest and largest plateau that is the source of ten major rivers that contribute to the livelihood of more than 2 billion human beings. China’s damming of rivers that originate from Tibet will undermine the livelihood of millions of people downstream in Asia. It is for this reason, millions of people in Asia have a vested interest in seeing that the Tibetan people are restored to their traditional role of being the responsible guardian of the environment of the Tibetan Plateau. This transcends politics. It touches upon the wellbeing and welfare of Asia.

We remain eternally grateful to the people and the government of India for offering the Tibetan people refuge and for allowing us to remain as guests for the past five decades. For those of us who live here, India is our second home. The Tibetan Administration will uphold and continue to honor the special relationship between the Tibetan and the Indian people. Our debt to the Indian government and its people is already enormous. But our work together continues. We humbly appeal for your continued support and kind consideration to treat Tibet as one of the core issues between India and China.

For the next five years, with unity, innovation and self-reliance as our guiding principles, the Tibetan Administration will strengthen the freedom movement, and sustain it for another fifty years, if need be. I urge Tibetans inside and outside to support the Lhakar Movement to be proud of and assert Tibetanness – to show solidarity, to embrace unity, and to keep alive the Tibetan spirit – for together, I know we will foster a dynamic environment and strengthen Tibetan institutions and communities around the world.

Education will be our number one priority. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama has taught us, sharing knowledge is “a way to achieve immortality”. It is the beacon that will light the future of Tibet. We will strive to reach 10,000 professionals among 150,000 in exile and appeal to Tibetans inside Tibet to reach 100,000 in the next two decades.

We will also continue to professionalize the Tibetan Administration and ensure greater access and transparency through the integration of technology and social networking tools. To this end, in the months ahead we will establish a Tibet Policy Institute that will serve as an intellectual platform to envision, develop, and execute policies that will strengthen Tibet. We will also establish Sister Shichaks (settlements) to strengthen solidarity between Tibetans in India and the West and introduce Tibet Corps, a movement that will invite skills and know-how of Tibetans within and abroad to serve Tibet, and create employment for youth and build sustainable shichaks (settlements).

Along with all other Tibetans, I am profoundly grateful to Professor Samdhong Rinpoche for his leadership over the past decade. And I thank him and the able members of his cabinet for their heartwarming hospitality and productive support during this smooth transition of administrations. Going forward, I will abide by the Charter and Supreme Justice Commission, and extend my full co-operation and partnership to the honorable speakers and gentlemen and women of the fifteenth parliament, and lead our very capable and dedicated civil servants in the fulfillment of this pledge.

In conclusion, it is important to remember that the devolution of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s political power is not at all solely to me as the Kalon Tripa, but to all Tibetans. His Holiness’ trust and belief in the people and our 50 years of consolidation of democratic institutions now will be challenged to survive and thrive independently, without his political involvement. So this is a test for each of us. It is a test, for the leadership in the judiciary, for the parliament and for the executive branch to live up to His Holiness’ expectations and to work as an effective and united entity. This is our challenge and our opportunity.

I speak with particular urgency to the younger generations of Tibetans. We need your support, your energy, and your talent to stand tall and march forward to freedom. Let us never forget: during our lifetime, our freedom struggle will meet the fate of justice or defeat. Tibet will either appear or disappear from the map of the world. Tibetans, as a people, will be alive or become a museum piece. Tibetan perseverance and pride, wit and will, courage and commitment, will be truly tested.

This is no time for simply criticism and cynicism. This is a time for courage, and a time for conviction. Above all, it is time for confidence in the belief that we are Tibetans and we can do it. The time has come for the younger generation to take a greater leadership role in both internal and international forums. Remember: if we do not, no one will.

Of this, we can be certain too, my fellow Tibetans: like the successful return of His Holiness the 13th Dalai Lama to Tibet, the opportunity will arise and our day will come. Like our dedicated and united ancestors, if we are not united and prepared to accept the challenges together, we will fail. Unity is paramount and it simply cannot be compromised; it is the bedrock of our movement. Any failure to attain unity will solely be our fault. We should do our utmost not to disappoint the majority of compatriots in Tibet who have put their faith in us, and who will be closely watching every step we take from today onward. However, thankfully we take comfort in the knowledge that His Holiness the Dalai Lama, our most revered leader, is very much in our midst to offer his wisdom.

During my first audience as the Kalon Tripa elect earlier this year, I was reminded by His Holiness the Dalai Lama that I was sitting on the same spot when I first met him nearly two decade ago, in 1992. His Holiness told me that my term as the Kalon Tripa will be good and I am committed to making his words come true. However, my two hands alone are not nearly enough. I request you to lend me your 12 million hands in realizing the words of the present Dalai Lama on the fateful night of March 17, 1959 that “he shall return” to Tibet.

For my brothers and sisters in Tibet, I say to you with confidence today: we will meet soon. Though I have never been allowed to set foot in Tibet, Tibet is in my heart each and every day. I am proud to be born a Tibetan and I will be proud to die as one. While I live, I am determined to fight for our freedom. My late father, like many of our parents, could not return to Tibet. But this, my fellow Tibetans, will not be the story of all Tibetans. Together, we will ensure the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet, reunite our people, and restore freedom in Tibet.

Today, we are in the holy land of India, where the Lord Shakyamuni attained Buddhahood. Next we will meet in the holy land of Tibet, where Buddhism is the heart and soul of six million Tibetans. We are always ready to embark on this epic journey from Dharamsala, the abode of Dharma, to Lhasa, the abode of Gods. From the town where His Holiness the Dalai Lama lives, to the city where he belongs.

This is our aspiration. This is our struggle. This is our dream. And with unity, innovation, and self-reliance as the guiding principles of six million Tibetans, victory will be ours. Long Live His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Bod Gyalo.