Guwahati, Assam: The President of the Central Tibetan Administration Dr Lobsang Sangay was interviewed by Wasbir Hussain for Talk Time with Wasbir Hussain, a weekly english talk show. Executive Director of the research and policy think tank, Centre for Development and Peace Studies, Wasbir Hussain is a strategic analyst and a political commentator who has interviewed renowned figures including Former President Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi on his show.
President Dr Sangay touched upon vital matters concerning the strategic importance of Tibet, the role of India in the Tibet freedom struggle, the non-violent approach of the Tibet movement and the continuation of the His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s institution. The interaction took place in Guwahati earlier this month.
Below is the full transcript of the interview.
Wasbir Hussain: Dr. Lobsang Sangay, welcome to my show.
Well I have to ask you this first question, how easy or how difficult it has been in the last couple of years for you as the head of the Tibetan government in exile to actually convince the international community to side with the Tibetan cause or to support the Tibetan cause?
Dr. Sangay: It is a difficult job and a difficult task. We all know the rise of China and its influence around the world. But nonetheless if you go with the Buddhist mindset of impermanence and equanimity, it becomes easier because you go to various capitals you meet people and then you share about the Tibet issue and then give talks to the media, to the public and those who come I appreciate it and those who don’t come I don’t complain about it.
Wasbir Hussain: I mean is it because of China’s growing influence, growing market dominance around the world that global community is increasingly finding it difficult to side with the Tibetan issue or the government in exile?
Dr. Sangay: Globally there is a choice between moral and money. So, China is using its money influence and we think that we have the moral on our side. So hence the world has to choose, sometimes they get too tempted and get greedy, they choose money and they submit to the Chinese pressure.
Wasbir Hussain: So Dr. Sangay you are saying that it’s a tougher between money power on one side and morality on the other?
Dr. Sangay: Definitely yes. That’s is the choice.
Wasbir Hussain: But, are you optimistic because you have been extremely passionately pushing the cause and you are also confident that someday justice is going to prevail and that Tibetans are going to achieve their autonomy.
Dr. Sangay: Yes, because you know there is money power and the whole world and the humanity has always gone between greed and human consciousness, but more often than not human consciousness do prevail, sometimes good guys do prevail. And then there are lots of stories, I mean next door in Burma Aung San Suu Kyi, who would have thought five years ago that she will be on the streets, she will be released from the house arrest, she will contest in election and become a leader. Nelson Mandela, Berlin Wall, Soviet Union collapse, so there are so many stories where non-violence and the right thing, the just thing prevailed, so we are on that side.
Wasbir Hussain: So you are on non-violence, you are stuck on the principle of non-violence and there is no other way. See 150 Tibetans have already self-immolated themselves, they have led down their lives for the cause of Tibet. Now you have been saying that okay we have been appealing to our supporters and our people not to do this act, that means do you rule out an Arab Spring kind of a revolution in Tibet.
Dr. Sangay: We can’t rule out because if you look at the 2008 uprising in Tibet, it was nationwide. 100 counties had Tibetans up in arms in the sense non-violently and then in the street, specially the capital city of Tibet Lhasa was filled with protest. So there was a Arab Spring like protest in 2008 that disturbed the Chinese. And since then, since 2009 150 Tibetans have as you rightly said, committed self-immolation and burnt themselves. We discourage self-immolation, but this is the reflection of how desperate and determined Tibetans are.
Wasbir Hussain: His Holiness the Dalai Lama gave up his role in the Tibet’s political structure or he has confined himself only to his religious role, now ever since that happened, he is a global personality, he is widely respected around the world, but still Dr. Sangay it is also a fact that the world leaders are not as ready as they used to be to give an audience or to receive His Holiness.
Dr. Sangay: That’s the reality. Again it is a choice between money power and morality. So some world leaders under compulsion because they want to make business deal with China they want to buy and sell things with China and in that context yes, they sometimes hesitate. But then the president of Botswana, he was willing to invite His Holiness despite all the pressure from the Chinese government. He said, look Botswana is not a colony of China, I do what I want to do and would like to invite His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Presidents of America has always met with His Holiness the Dalai Lama so there are leaders who are willing and will meet with His Holiness the Dalai Lama but again meeting is important but the key is the situation in Tibet and the fate of six million Tibetan is more important.
Wasbir Hussain: Now where do we stand today? You are saying that your’s is a democratic just aspiration of six million people. You are saying that the Chinese government has been a systematic attack on religion, on ethnicity by sending a large number of Han Chinese migrants to upset the demographic balance and the railway line has only contributed to it. So you are fighting on the fore of different fronts and you have also said that Chinese have disrobed that is the word you used, disrobed it’s a very strong word, 99.5 percent of the Tibetan monks and nuns, so is it exaggerated what do you think?
Dr. Sangay: No, it’s not just forefront it’s multiple fronts where the Chinese communist party strategy essentially to convert Tibet into China and make Tibetans into Chinese. So there is political repression, cultural assimilation, economic discrimination, environmental destruction, social discrimination all these things are happening simultaneously. And in fact there is a cultural genocide that’s going on.
Wasbir Hussain: Cultural genocide?
Dr. Sangay: Yes, because that’s in 1960’s where 99 percent of monks and nuns were disrobed, 98 percent of monasteries and nunneries were destroyed. Chinese government, Mao Zedong and all they thought they won, and now it looks like Tibet has become China and Tibetans look like Chinese but after 60 years what has happened, Buddhism has revived in exile, in the whole of Himalayan belt, we are in the North-East of India, Arunachal, Ladakh, Himachal, Sikkim, Nepal, Bhutan and also back in Tibet.
Wasbir Hussain: So what is the moral of the story?
Dr. Sangay: The moral of the story is despite destroying 98 percent of monasteries and nunneries and disrobing 99.9 percent of monks and nuns in the 1950’s and 1960’s, it’s back. So not only Buddhism is back in Tibet, Buddhism is back in China, So now the largest Buddhist country in the world is China. So the moral of the story is that good guys do win. Now I am sure that Mao Zedong is surely disappointed because he wanted to make Tibet into a communist atheist nation rather it has not only become Buddhist, China has also become the largest Buddhist country in the world.
Wasbir Hussain: Right, but it is very interesting you know that the whole world thinks that there is this very severe confrontation between the Tibetan leadership, whether it is in exile or whether it is the Tibetan leadership within. But the fact remains as you yourself have articulated many times in the past Dr. Sangay is this that you are wanting autonomy within the ambit of the Chinese constitution. You have said that give us, take the Middle Way Approach and everything is going to be fine. So can you explain that to my viewers, I mean what do you mean by that?
Dr. Sangay: Now, Tibet was an independent country historically, but it is under occupation now. So now we have to find a solution and Chinese government says One China is uncompromisable and sovereignty and territorial integrity of China cannot be compromised. Now we have to find a middle ground and the middle ground is the middle way. So what we say is if you end the repression of the six million Tibetans and give us genuine autonomy as per Chinese laws and constitution then we will not seek separation or independence from China. So thats the middle ground, this is a win-win proposition. That way His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been very reasonable. We are non-violent, we are moderate in what we seek. So If the Chinese government implements their own laws we will take that as genuine autonomy as per the Middle Way Approach.
Wasbir Hussain: So you are essentially saying that the ball is in China’s court?
Dr. Sangay: Yes definitely and American government also agrees
Wasbir Hussain: During Barack Obama’s time
Dr. Sangay: Yes, he has said we support One China policy, but we also support Middle Way Approach.
Wasbir Hussain: The Middle Way Approach is of course extremely simple, the Chinese constitution guarantees rights to the minorities that includes the Tibetans. So what is the problem, why is China not implementing its own constitutional provisions?
Dr. Sangay: There is a racial element and in fact racism, because One Country Two System is applied in Honk Kong and Macau, and if you look at other special economic zones like Shenzhen and Shanghai and other places where a separate system is applied to Han Chinese people. But when we Tibetans say, of course its within the constitution of China, but there be a separate administrative system for Tibetan people the Chinese government is refusing.
Wasbir Hussain: Can you say categorically that the Tibetans are actually not seeking independence at all. They are only seeking their rights within the ambit of the Chinese constitution. Is that the picture?
Dr. Sangay: That’s the policy of the Tibetan administration and that’s the policy Middle Way Approach as envisioned by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. But there are Tibetan people, the youth and the students, younger generation who says otherwise and who say Independence is our right, historically Tibet was independent, so we should go for Rangzen. So we do have element of that, but as far as the Tibetan administration and the mainstream policy of the Tibetan administration is concern, it is to seek genuine autonomy within China.
Wasbir Hussain: But do you think there could be a situation, see you had talks till 2010, you had several rounds of talks with the representatives of the Peoples Republic of China, talks led nowhere, I don’t know what results were actually achieved. Are you really confident of the talk resuming? And I have a follow up question to that.
Dr. Sangay: We are hopeful. As a human being we should always remain hopeful mainly because there were talks 2002 to 2010 between the envoys of the Dalai Lama and Chinese representatives. Similarly there were talks in 1980’s as well. So we hope that during Xi Jinping’s second term there will be talks.
Wasbir Hussain: Now you have said somewhere very interesting we are putting things, you said that Tibet is a low hanging fruit, it is waiting to be plucked. And If Xi Jinping plucks it towards a solution it can be big a legacy that he is going to leave behind for him to recognise as a tall leader of the world for all times to come.
Dr. Sangay: Yes. One, we are non-violent, two what we seek is reasonable, which is within the Chinese constitution and third you have a leader like His Holiness the Dalai Lama who can deliver the agreement. When you agree an agreement in any conflict area, delivering and implementing is very difficult. And we know that 99 percent of Tibetans in Tibet will follow him. And then it’s good for Chinese government also and it’s good for China for their security, stability and harmony of China is very important. They emphasise on harmony and if you want harmony from Tibetan people, you find a solution. And third, it’s good for Xi Jinping and Chines leaders, because the whole world is looking at China as what kind of country or the leadership the Chinese leader will provide to the whole world and Tibet is the litmus test.
Wasbir Hussain: Tibet, you are saying is the litmus test. Now if the things doesn’t move forward, I am playing the devil’s advocate here, if things doesn’t move forward Dr. Sangay, do you think you will be able to keep your youths and Tibetan people under check?
Dr. Sangay: Non-violence is uncompromisable and violence is futile as far as Tibetans are concerned. So that’s the level of commitment of non-violence on our side and that will go on for long time because violence is futile.
Wasbir Hussain: Dr. Sangay we were discussing the various pros and cons as to what could happen in the days ahead. Now what is your strategy, do you have a strategy in place as the head of the Tibetan government in exile? What are your steps, what are you going to do actually now?
Dr. Sangay: Our approach has always been most importantly that we must preserve and protect our identity, which means our Tibetan Buddhist culture, our language and customs has to preserve. As long as there is Tibetan identity, inside and outside Tibet, we are good and we will be there. And then the solidarity and the unity of Tibetan people inside and outside is very important. Then next we have to reach out to the Chinese government for the dialogue, while that happens or doesn’t happen, we have to appeal to the international community and then through them we have to put some pressure and press the Chinese government to enter into dialogue. And the fourth thing is to create awareness about Tibet, even in India because India has been the biggest supporter of the Tibetan people, yet there are some segments who are not aware of what’s going on. Awareness is extremely important. People of India should know that what happened in Doklam is part of the Tibet strategy from the Chinese government point of view.
Wasbir Hussain: Do you think it boomeranged, China’s strategy has boomeranged?
Dr. Sangay: Yes, when they occupied Tibet, Mao Zedong and other Chinese leaders declared in 1950’s saying Tibet is the palm they have to occupy then they have to reach out to five fingers and one is Sikkim, Ladakh, Nepal, Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh. So these are the five fingers they are coming to and Doklam stands right between Sikkim and Bhutan. Hence, people in India should know that after the occupation of Tibet, India has not become safer or secure. In fact it has become more vulnerable because now instead of border with Tibet and Tibetan people, now you are facing Chinese military forces at the border of Tibet.
Wasbir Hussain: So what is your message to Indian government which has been really supportive of the Tibetan cause?
Dr. Sangay: Indian government should also say Tibet is a core issue for India.
Wasbir Hussain: But I am sure you are also aware of India’s limitation.
Dr. Sangay: Yes, but India has the moral standing because the largest no of tibetans are in India as far as exile is concerned and His Holiness the Dalai Lama is in India, India has been the host. So India can say even if I don’t represent Tibetan people, we can reflect their aspirations because we have been the main host in this entire world and we know what they are thinking. So they can put it on the table.
Wasbir Hussain: Right. Do you think all sort of international community has to be much more supportive to the Tibetan cause because Tibet is the Water Tower of Asia, 1.5 billion people can be impacted. Now there are reports of the Chinese government trying to divert even the Brahmaputra river, the Yarlung Tsangpo. So what are your thoughts?
Dr. Sangay: First of all, Chinese migration is taking place, they want to demographically overwhelm the Tibetan plateau, but thankfully because of the altitude of Tibet, it’s 4000 metres high in average and it’s so cold in winter. So, Tibet is Tibetan majority in winter, only in summer lots of Chinese come to Tibetan area. Now the second point is very right for whole of Northeast, Bangladesh and Assam. Brahmaputra originates in Tibet and Tibet is the Water Tower where 10 major rivers of Asai flow from Tibet and 1.4 billion people are dependent on the fresh water flowing from Tibet. If Brahmaputra is actually diverted then it will be a disaster for the Northeast, Bangladesh and Assam. Now whether the Chinese government will divert or not is to be seen, perhaps there is one indication. China has not signed the UN convention of water sharing, so since they have not signed they are not obligated to share their water.
Wasbir Hussain: Suppose China is to actually divert the river and India has to internationalise the issue, then where do we go because the issue is right to first use will be applied by the Chinese government saying that you are not doing anything on the Brahmaputra river so we diverting it. Right to first use. So what does the world community do then?
Dr. Sangay: Restore the stewardship of the Tibetan plateau to the Tibetan people, because we as Buddhists we always shared our water with the rest of the world. If you look at the prayer flags that you see everywhere now a days, the prayer flags represent five elements of nature, including water and for us sharing our water with the neighbours is part of our Buddhist practice. Hence, India and the rest of the world should say that all these rivers are flowing from Tibet and Tibetan people must have say, to have a say on their own resources and how it should be done. So Tibetan people should be partner in the discourse, hence India and all of the Asian countries where they are affected should say, ‘Hey, we want to hear what Tibetans have to say and we want to see Tibetan people continue the practice which they have been doing for centuries.’
Wasbir Hussain: Dr. Sangay diverting slightly, all good conversation or good things must come to an end, this conversation also have to come to an end before that, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, do you think the institution, because he has been saying on and off that there may or may not be institution whether it is relevant or not relevant, he gives indication. So that gives impression to the minds the people whether the Dalai Lama institution itself is going to continue or it is not going to continue. What do you think, what it should be?
Dr. Sangay: Actually good journalists like you, when you ask questions to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, whether the institution will continue, whether the next Dalai Lama will be a women, or Spanish or Arunachali, he gets into dialectic discourse, because he is a trained monk. So when you ask him will the institution survive, he will say it might or it might not, will the next Dalai Lama will be a women, he will say it might or it might not, he is getting into direct discourse. But all along he has always said since 1967, it is for the Tibetan people to decide. And Tibetan people have decided for fourteenth times for the Dalai Lama to come back, he is the fourteenth Dalai Lama. So we will decide the fifteenth Dalai Lama to come back and then as per the wishes of the Tibetan people we pray and hope that Fifteenth Dalai Lama will come back, but the present Dalai Lama is very healthy, he will live very long and in fact he will outlive many of the present Chinese leaders.
Wasbir Hussain: Do you think he will survive the Xi Jinping’s second term and then things maybe totally different?
Dr. Sangay: Our hope is during Xi Jinping’s second term that Xi Jinping will pick the low hanging fruit of Tibet and find a solution. Because normally in second term, like Barack Obama dealing with Iran and Cuba, you try to address the tough issues for legacy purpose. And Xi Jinping can leave a very good legacy if he handles the low hanging fruit of Tibet, we hope so. And His Holiness the Dalai Lama will definitely survive the next second term, in fact the first and second term of the next President of China as well.
Wasbir Hussain: Absolutely Dr. Lobsang Sangay. We hope three things now. We hope that His Holiness the Dalai Lama survives for a long long time to come, we hope President Xi Jinping will picks up the low hanging fruit, resolves the Tibetan issue to the satisfaction of the Tibetans and we also hope that under your able stewardship Dr. Lobsang Sangay, the Tibetan issue is going to resolve once and for all. On that positive not thank you very much for being on my show.
Dr. Sangay: Thank you Wasbir for your positive conclusion, lets hope it happens.
Report filed by Tenzin Lhakmon, Communications Officer, Office of Sikyong