Keynote Address by President Dr Lobsang Sangay, Central Tibetan Administration
8th International Conference of Tibet Support Groups
3 November 2019
Leaders of the three pillars of Democracy, Secretaries, Representatives of Offices of Tibet and dear friends from around the world.
On behalf of colleagues here, Kashag, I would like to extend my heartfelt and warm greetings to all of you and Tashi Delek!
We are Tibetans so we believe in omens. We consult gods and deities and look for signs and symbols for anything auspicious, anything good. So I asked my staff to bring me all the past resolutions of TSGs. This is the 8th TSG conference and number 8 is significant. Please remember that; I will conclude with number 8. Then I looked at the Resolution of 1990, the First TSG. 1990 represented great things in the world. We have here today a Member of Parliament from South Africa. Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990. He walked tall in his majestic, elegant way and restored democracy in South Africa. He spent 27 years in prison of which 8 years in solitary confinement—and I visited the Robben Island where he spent many years—No one believed it would happen and it did!
We have representatives from Germany here. Recently we received delegates from Germany. They were asking me to give them hope, some inspiring message. I said you are from Germany, you brought down the wall and that’s our inspiration. Now you have come to Dharamshala to seek our inspiration? We have representatives from the Czech Republic and Slovakia too. They were telling me ‘we are so pessimistic about Tibet, give us hope’. And I said ‘My goodness! Václav Havel drafted Charter 77, the Velvet Revolution. No one believed you would succeed and you did! You are our inspiration. Don’t ask for our inspiration’.
The Return of the 1990s Era of People’s Resistance Movement
So 1990s were the good old days. Even for Tibetans that was the peak stage of Tibetan movement. Why? Mass movement around the world shook the earth and brought changes—Democracy and human rights around the world. Now the question is are we in the 1990s or not? If not, then the movement of the Tibet also will be sidelined.
But I will make the argument that we are on the verge of entering or already entering the 1990 stage.
Just a few days ago, I was reading the news and I am not taking sides here. I read the news and it said ‘Because of Consistent people protest from the grassroots level, the Prime Minister of Lebanon resigned. Because of people’s protest in Iraq, the Prime Minister of Iraq is resigning. Because of people’s protest in Prague, the largest since the 1990s. People’s protest in Istanbul, in Turkey, happened. And you can see in Venezuela, everywhere! And of course our dear friends in Hong Kong; persistently and consistently they have led this people’s protest.
So the 1990s is back and the earth is shaking for more freedom, more human rights and more democracy. And People in Hong Kong is making it loud and clear that we are here not for few weeks, not for few months but for the long haul and so are our friends in East Turkestan, our friends in Taiwan. Our friends in Taiwan are also itching for January 11 election of the President of Taiwan. I am not taking sides here. But at the early stage of the election, President Tsai Ing-wen’s poll was ok but with the protest in Hong Kong she has climbed up now; she is almost 14 to 18 per cent ahead.
So you can clearly see the people’s movement is shaking a lot of things around the world. Now there is consensus in Washington DC that the Chinese government is a competition and accordingly they are formulating policies and executing policies as a testament.
The US Supports the Tibetan Stance on reincarnation
Recently CTA [Central Tibetan Administration] invited Ambassador at large for International Religious Freedom, Ambassador Brownback. He came to Dharamshala at the invitation of CTA and made the strongest speech in support of Religious Freedom and Reincarnation after, what we just concluded, a meeting of the largest body of Tibetan community leaders, the ‘Special General Meeting’ where 350 leaders from 25 countries came and we passed a unanimous resolution saying reincarnation is an issue of religious freedom. The traditional reincarnation system was invented by Tibetans—The Tulku system— one thousand years ago. We invented it so we have complete copyright over it, patent over it. China can make a lot of duplicate things but they can not make duplicates of the reincarnation system. This is originally ours!
And the Ambassador Brownback agreed and he said his speech was approved by the US State Department and the White House so the Official statement of the US Government is to support the Tibetan version or Tibetan stance on reincarnation.
Accordingly, not just the political leaders or intelligence security people, even the business communities are having second thoughts in doing business with China. German Business Association officially issued a statement saying China is a systemic competition to German business. Hence the image of China that we can make business with China, we can make profits with China is shifting.
As far as CTA is concerned, as per His Holiness’ vision, we want all the countries to engage with China, do business and have diplomatic relations with China. We are not up to boycott anything. Having said that but this is the changes in the landscape of the global arena where China is seen or looked more sceptically than a few years ago. In this changing landscape, now Tibet support groups have to tighten our belts and encourage ourselves to march forward for some more years, for some more activities and for some more events around the world, so that we can march towards Lhasa very soon. What do we need to do?
Change in Global Landscape and the Way Forward for TSGs
In the first TSG meeting of 1990, we passed interestingly eight resolutions; eight things to do.
One, work towards His Holiness being invited to overseas on state visits and address the United Nations. His Holiness has travelled to 65 countries. He has published more than 100 books and he has received more than 100 awards including the Nobel Peace Prize, Templeton prize for religious harmony and UN Prize for Environmental issues.
No. 2, to establish May 13th as Human Rights Day for China and Tibet. No. 3, to initiate International Tibet Flag days which is very popular and widely followed in European countries. In the Czech Republic, more than 500 towns and schools hoist the Tibetan national flag every year. In Germany, more than 500 towns; France too. It has mainly become a European campaign. I think we have to take it globally.
Yes, we should talk to the Members of the Parliament and the leaders in the government but I also think we should take the movement to the grassroots, to the towns, the mayors and schools. In Europe, the flag hoisting is very popular and we should take it to the towns of other continents as well. And I must mention Italy too where it is very popular.
No. 4 was to set up computer information network. So the first website was launched Tibet.net. Now those days few hundreds used to read tibet.net. Now we have an estimate of 8 million viewers a year. We have also launched TibetTV now which is in English, Chinese, Hindi and of course in Tibetan. So we have fulfilled all that. Having said that Michael [Michale Van Walt] will be speaking on this more in terms of international narratives. Yes, we are for Middle way Approach. Having said that we also make very clear on the historical status of Tibet. We have published a book of which you all will have a copy which says ‘Tibet was never a part of China, but Middle Way Approach Remains a viable solution’.
So we stand by Middle Way but the narrative has to be that Tibet was never part of China, Tibet was historically and legally an independent country based on which we are compromising with the Chinese government and we are taking a moderate stand where we are willing to take less than what we deserve so that we can reach a win-win proposition. So that China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity will not be challenged and we will have genuine autonomy for Tibetans.
No. 5 was to internationally publish the destruction of Tibet’s environment. We have an expert from the Tibet Policy Institute who will be speaking on this topic. Regarding Tibet’s environment in this campaign for global warming and climate change, even the UN experts reports on Climate Change don’t mention Tibet. They ignored Tibet for several years and afterwards some experts said if you don’t understand the Tibetan plateau, which has the third-largest reservoir of ice after Antarctica and Arctic, the study of Climate Change is incomplete. Even Chinese environmentalists said we must declare Tibet as the third pole national park because of which now they have started including Tibet in the report but described more as the Himalayan region and few Tibetan areas. So from the 1990s, we have achieved something but I think as per the campaign of climate change and global warming, Tibet’s environment has to be vital.
No. 6 was to campaign effectively with dissident Chinese students abroad. Now we have established at least three Chinese liaison officers in Washington DC, Geneva, Australia and the Taipei, Office of Tibet primarily reaches out to Chinese people as well.
No. 7 was to intensify lobbying at UN through other government and non-government bodies. This still remains relevant. We need to make more efforts. If you have seen at the recent human rights council debates, China is trying to change the definition of Human rights. They have already passed two resolutions. If their definition of human rights succeeds and becomes a statute then it will be problematic for any country, anybody and for us Tibetans to go to the UN and seek justice on Human rights. I think we need to do more of this. We have one panel who will be speaking on how to reach out to the UN as well.
Lastly, no 8 was to establish an environment desk. We have done that as well!
So from 1990, the 8 resolutions clearly suggest what do we do next? We should stick to the basics, we should continue to do what we decided to do in 1990; the eight points. I think we can add some more. We have to reach out to more universities and think tanks. We have to form coalitions with other NGOs to make our voice more effective and to magnify our voices.
Reincarnation was invented by the Tibetan Buddhists. Reincarnation is an issue of religious freedom.
Reincarnation is going to be a major issue in coming years and our friends around the world should be prepared because Reincarnation is a major issue facing Tibetans and the Chinese Government has a plan which they are already implementing. In 2007, the Chinese Government issued document no. 5 regulating reincarnation process, which says that ‘for a lama to be recognised, you must submit your application to the district level Communist Party and if you get the approval and authentication from the district level Communist Party, you are a Lama’. Now for an atheist Government—which says religion is a poison—to issue a certificate for reincarnating lama is in itself an Irony at least but that’s the system.
[As per Document no. 5] But if you think you are a higher lama, you can take the district level certificate and go to the state level and say I am higher lama please issue me a State Level Certificate. And if you think you are the highest one, then you can go to the National Level and the National Level will issue a certificate. Now, this sounds like a Joke but it is real.
Based on this document, the Chinese government recognised 300 some lamas. Now April 2016, they increased to 800 some lamas and in November 2016, all of a sudden, it jumped to 1300. Historically we never had more than 545 or 550 Lamas and now suddenly it has mushroomed or inflated to 1300 Lamas recognised by the Communist Party of China. Now they are given workshops and training. And other criteria are if you’re a true incarnate Lamas, you have certain responsibilities. No. 1, you have to be loyal to the Communist Party of China; you must work towards social harmony; you must be politically correct in what you say and, interestingly, you should not have any contact with the Dalai Lama and you should not have any contact with international organisations, then only you are a spiritual leader. My goodness, spiritual leader has to take so many political responsibilities.
And they are given workshops, it is serious. Just a few months ago they gave a workshop in Lhasa where one lama came out and said ‘today I am enlightened about my responsibilities as a reincarnation lama, Now I know what my responsibilities are’. He was quoted on Chinese news media. Now Tibetan Lamas get enlightened after the Communist party give them a workshop on their responsibilities.
Interestingly in this 1300 lamas, one name that is missing is His Holiness the Dalai Lama. But what they [CCP] are saying is we have rights and responsibility to recognise the next Dalai Lama. Now he is missing in your list, why are you so interested in recognising the next Dalai Lama. If you want to recognise the next one, put him in the list now. They say, no. His Holiness has a very good response, ‘Look, the Community Party is so interested in my reincarnation. If they really believe in reincarnation, first they must search the reincarnation of Mao Zedong, Deng Xiao Ping and Chou Enlai. They have done great things for China so find their reincarnate lamas. Then if I may add they must be trained in Tibetan monasteries and when they reach the age of 30 if they are still monks and spiritual, then yes they can be recognised and enthroned as the reincarnation of Mao Zedong, Deng Xiao Ping and Chou Enlai’.
I think that’s a good balance because they are trained in Tibetan Monasteries, they know about love, compassion and kindness and they will be good leaders for the Chinese Government. Once they have certified themselves as someone who can do these things then they can say that they have proved themselves. Then we will see if we can discuss. Without having done that they are interfering in our business.
As I said, reincarnation was invented in 4000 meters high Tibetan plateau by Tibetans. It has pure air, blessings of gods and deities of Tibet. There is no pollution in that process. We own it. Now Chinese are saying, no no, we will interfere. So they have no right whatsoever! Also when you define a nation or nationality, you always start with myth or a legend. When you define a nation it is not territories, not geography, not government nor population. One of the most important components of a nation is its myth and legend. Hence there is myth and legend of Tibetan as a nation and Tibetan race. Our father was Chenrizig, the Buddha of Compassion and our mother was Goddess Tara, Goddess of Mercy. They came to Tibet, blessed the Tibetan land that’s how Tibet originated and Tibetan people originated. By the way, the Buddha of Compassion happened to be a monkey too and our mother was an ogress. She was the manifestation of the Goddess Tara. So our father was a monkey which is consistent with the scientific evolution of humanity and mother ogress. That’s how the Tibet nation originated and Tibetan people originated. Now the Dalai Lamas are the manifestation of the Buddha of compassion. So as long as there is Buddha of Compassion, there will be Tibet; As long as there are Tibetan people, there will be Dalai Lamas. So Buddha of Compassion and Tibet are inseparable and the Dalai Lamas and Tibetan people are inseparable. No matter what the Chinese Government tries to do.
So this is our story and the Chinese government can not manufacture this in their factories or in the Chinese Communist Party headquarters. We must understand this narrative. When someone asks you what is this reincarnation, you tell them this was invented by Tibetans. Most of the other Buddhist countries don’t have reincarnation. Those who have including Bhutan, Mongol and others were influenced by Tibetan Buddhist practice. So it is authentically and originally Tibetan and it relates to Religious Freedom. So what we are saying is as per democracy we all have freedom, freedom to choose, so reincarnation is our business based on religious freedom. Tibetan lamas should choose their reincarnation; the Dalai Lama choose his own reincarnation. So that’s the argument. If you dwell into complexity and mysticism of the reincarnation process itself of how the consciousness or soul transfer from one person to another, I always have one answer ‘Look if you are believer, you believe and if you are non-believer, don’t believe. We can’t convince non-believers but this is the way Tibetans did it and this is the way Tibetans want to do it.’ We have to bear this in our mind.
Moving forward, the Chinese Government will impose on the whole world their definition and their procedure of reincarnation and if you think this is the last effort, it is not.
On July 6th, His Holiness’ birthday, I met an Indian Journalist in Delhi who was leaving for Tibet part of the nine-member media delegation for 7 days paid trip. After 7 days all the journalists came back and had exactly the same headlines which said ‘We the Chinese government will choose the next Dalai Lama and India should not interfere. If you interfere you will pay, there will be consequences’. India is the second-largest populated country in the whole world and China is already warning India over the next Dalai Lama. India is a stakeholder. India knows its issue very well. The largest number of Tibetans are in India, His Holiness the Dalai Lama is in India, the Tibetan Administration is in India and already Chinese Government is sending warnings to India. So you shouldn’t think this will not come to your country or your government, it will come to your government or it will come to your country.
At that time, we don’t want mediators. Our demand is very clear. There can only be one His Holiness the Dalai Lama that is chosen by Tibetans. Some countries propose to mediate and suggest that there can be one Dalai Lama from the Chinese side and one from the Tibetan side.
If any government want to find common ground, find common ground on the Middle Way Approach on the issue of Tibet. On reincarnation, there is no common ground! We have to be very clear. We must make our argument loud and clear. This is an issue of religious freedom and no one can interfere.
Thank you His Holiness the Dalai Lama 2020 – A year dedicated to His Holiness
Next year is declared as Thank you His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Recently we observed Gratitude year, Thank you India and Thank you world. We travelled all over the world to thank different governments and supporters and it was quite a success.
I was in Frankfurt at a small gathering of TSGs to thank them. One Tibet Support Group member said ‘I have been supporting Tibet for 20 years and I am getting old too. The more I make efforts, China keeps growing stronger. The situation in Tibet is becoming worse and worse and I am losing heart. I am almost thinking of giving up as there is no result.’ But after the event [Thank you event], he said ‘Look if what I have done is worth saying thank you from your side then I will continue for another five or ten years.’
Today I want to tell you all that your efforts, big or small, makes the difference. It is worth saying thank you. It is not just in words but deep from my heart. All of you have been with us. Not just for one or two months, not just for one or two years but more than 10, 20 and 30 years. I am sure like our German friend, many of you have gone through the same thoughts. Your effort is resulting. As His Holiness says “You all are not simply pro-Tibet but you are pro-justice.” Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. You should take pride that we were the key player in 1990s when the world changed into more democracy, more human rights. We were key players, Free Tibet movement was very popular; Free Tibet was a slogan.
Unrest in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan—an affirmation of what Tibetans have been saying in 30 years
Today you see the result. In the 1990s when Free Tibet was the most popular campaign, the International community said yes, Tibet situation is bad but you are an exception. We have been telling them we are not exception, we are part of the larger problem.
Today Tibet issue is validated by what is happening in Xinjiang. This is what we have been saying for 60 years and more loudly in the last 30 years as Free Tibet campaign is what happened to us is happening in the rest of China. We are not exception, look at Xinjiang. But some say Xinjiang is another minority.
Then what’s happening in Hong Kong? Hong Kongers are out in the streets for months and months. They are saying we are Chinese or Cantonese, we also want democracy and we also want basic freedom. Now the whole world is saying yes Hong Kong is also a problem.
And our friends in Taiwan are saying we are having threats of war, threats of cyberwar, threats of propaganda war, threats of cultural war in Taiwan. Even Taiwanese are saying yes it is a problem. So we are not an exception. What is happening in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinjiang is an affirmation of what we have been saying for 30 years. So we all are partners. And today we have Mongolian friends too. When the international community notices that their situation is as bad as in Tibet and Xinjiang. It’s just that they are not noticed.when they are noticed then they will also be prepared.
Hence today’s conference is very important. One, the 1990s is coming back and we are the veterans of 1990s. We should be prepared to share our wisdom, knowledge and expertise with activism around the world including in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Taiwan, Mongolia and with Chinese dissidents around the world. We will play the pivotal role in bringing changes in China. That day will happen.
Why? We are Tibetans. We believe in symbols and signs from above. Today is the 8th International Tibet Support Group conference. In Chinese, no. 8 is Bā [Chin: 八] which means prosperity, which is why the Chinese Olympic was held on 8 August 2008 at 8.8 pm. Today is the 8th International Conference, its Bā, prosperity for Tibet is going to happen through this conference. In 1990, 8 resolutions were passed. From this conference, we have to pass 8 different campaigns. Coincidently, 88 different groups have come to this conference. In 2011, I also took the oath on August 8th, sending a message to China that during my tenure, prosperity after prosperity will happen. And it has! Dharamshala has prospered. The Chinese government cannot criticise this conference as today is the Bā conference, the 8th conference. If they criticise Bā, they will not achieve prosperity. So today’s conference will be applauded even by the Communists, the non-believers.
Bā conference will lead to Bā for Tibet and that’s how His Holiness the Dalai Lama will return to Tibet. Basic freedom will be restored in Tibet and Tibetans in and outside Tibet will be reunited. We will have the 9th TSG conference in Tibet. 9th is also a lucky number for Chinese.
We are the Bā conference moving to the 9th. So it is all good.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)