Dharamshala: 3rd September marks the completion of 100 days for Sikyong Penpa Tsering since assuming the responsibility of the executive head (Sikyong) of Central Tibetan Administration on 27 May.
To commemorate the completion of his 100 days in office, Sikyong Penpa Tsering sat for an exclusive interview with Tibet TV host Tenzin Chemey. In this 30-minute long interview, Sikyong spoke about the main tasks performed by his administration in the last 100 days, his administrative policy for the overall welfare of the exile Tibetans, and his political strategies to resolve the Sino-Tibetan conflict among other things.
Below is the English transcript of the interview. Watch the interview here.
Tenzin Chemey: As you have completed 100 days in the office as Sikyong, may we begin by asking you how has your experience been so far compared to when you first assumed the office?
Sikyong: As far as my aspirations and vision leading the administration for the last 100 days are concerned, I can positively affirm that the present Kashag is functioning smoothly without any negligence as per promises outlined in my campaign manifesto.
Tenzin Chemey: You have mentioned on numerous occasions that your primary effort will be toward resolving the long-standing Tibet issue. What strategic plans and policies have you planned out to achieve that?
Sikyong: It is difficult to list each one of them in detail but I have stated many times on numerous occasions that I and the present Kashag will direct all our energies and efforts in resolving the Sino-Tibetan conflict based on non-violence and the Middle Way Approach espoused by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, endorsed by the Tibetan Parliament in exile, and well received by the Tibetans all over.
With respect to resuming the Sino-Tibetan dialogue, the first step I took was dissolving the existing Task Force on Sino-Tibetan Negotiation and replacing it with a restructured committee. All the members of the previous committee have done a commendable job and my appreciation goes to each one of them. But I believe the changes I have made were necessary. As such, the new committee consists of four members each from a specific department of CTA that are pertinent to the task. The Department of Security besides its primary functions is assigned sourcing relevant information inside Tibet. Similarly, the Department of Information and International Relations to sourcing news around the world, and the Tibet Policy Institute (TPI) of CTA to conduct analytical research on the information gathered by the Dept. of Security and DIIR. Likewise, a political secretary has also been appointed who will lead the committee with the rest of the members.
The members will consolidate their respective expertise on assigned tasks such as how to utilise the gathered information appropriately. Until the Sino-Tibetan conflict is resolved, the task force will be committed to highlighting the true situation inside Tibet and unmasking China’s distorted narrative of Tibet into the global community.
Similarly, a large number of Tibetans have integrated into the western communities these days. They have gained a good amount of exposure to various cultures, know different languages, and have accustomed themselves to the system of their host nations. These are the capacities that must be effectively and rationally utilised.
Recognising the importance of youth leadership for a nation’s development, the current administration is committed to devising many programs and initiatives that would engage maximum youth participation in the Tibetan freedom movement.
From next year, the Offices of Tibet will amplify their efforts to reach out to the host country’s government, Parliament, think tanks, media houses, and Tibet support groups. With regard to coordinating with the Tibetan communities and Tibetan associations, I am thinking of appointing an ombudsman. For instance, to organise an effective international advocacy campaign led by Tibetan youth, we need funding. And for that, I am thinking of asking for concerted support from the Tibetan associations, Tibet support groups, Parliamentary Tibet support groups, and the Offices of Tibet. I will make an announcement regarding this in the next one or two months.
Tenzin Chemey: In your recent announcement, you have dissolved the task force on Sino-Tibetan negotiations and replaced it with a new Permanent Strategy Committee. With the change in the name of the committee, is there any change in the main activities and objectives of the committee? Moreover, the Sino-Tibetan dialogue has been stalled for over 11 years since 2010. What hope do we have from the Chinese side in resuming the dialogue process? If the dialogue resumes, who will go as the Tibetan envoy to negotiate with the Chinese?
Sikyong: We should continue to hope for the best. Without hope, our struggle is lost. That’s why I am hoping for the best and I am still quite hopeful about the outcome. First of all, the Chinese government should treat the Tibet issue as a conflict along with other issues like the Uyghur, Mongol, and Hong Kong. If they have the political will, they can easily resolve it.
We are actually receiving positive signals from the Chinese side on the issue of dialogue. However, I am being cautious as we need to verify whether these signals are genuine and trustworthy. It is obvious that without resuming dialogue with the Chinese government, we cannot resolve the Sino-Tibetan conflict at all. At the same time, until the Sino-Tibetan conflict is resolved, we will continue our efforts as representatives of the Tibetan people inside Tibet to highlight and monitor the situation inside Tibet. Rest assured we will exert our full strength in pressuring the Chinese government, and we are ready for that.
Regarding the appointment of the envoy, we should realize that the envoy of the Sino-Tibetan dialogue must work first of all to fulfill the vision and aspiration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. When and how to appoint the envoy will be based on the responses from the Chinese government regarding the resumption of the dialogue process.
Tenzin Chemey: In the past few years, due to the Chinese government’s aggressive diplomacy and also because of the Covid 19 pandemic, there has been a change in outlook towards China in many countries. In our host country India for instance, Prime Minister Modi has publicly greeted His Holiness the Dalai Lama on his birthday. There is also a dramatic increase in public and media discussions on the Tibet issue. How best can we utilize this opportunity to advance the Tibetan cause?
Sikyong: For the Tibetan cause, two of the strongest supporters are the Indian and US government. Without delving into details, I can safely say that our relations with the Indian and the US government continue to be strong and productive. If the US government can appoint the special coordinator for Tibetan issues soon, I have a lot of plans lined up that I want to discuss and initiate with the concerned officer.
Not only in India and the US, even in Europe, the attitude towards China is also changing rapidly. So, it is imperative that we focus our attention on the European regions as well. For that reason, I am planning to visit Europe in October. Similarly, if the US is able to appoint the Special Co-Ordinator for Tibetan Issues, I will visit the US too.
If we are not able to grab this opportunity provided by shifts in the geopolitical situation, it will be a historical loss for the Tibetan movement. As you stated earlier, in India for example, there is an unprecedented amount of interest and attention being paid to the Tibet situation. This is not a result of my efforts. This is a result of the geopolitical trend that has emerged due to which I got the opportunity to speak to a variety of Indian media houses. The geopolitical situation with regard to China in the world offers a unique and convenient opportunity for us Tibetans to seek support for the Tibet cause. We shouldn’t lose this chance.
There is a lot of change taking place in general. Tibetans are now residing in many countries across the world. So, it is important to utilize this fact. Therefore, we are going to make an announcement soon in a few months to urge Tibetans across the world led by the younger generation to participate in the Tibetan freedom movement. If we are able to do this, our advocacy and lobby campaigns would be amplified much beyond our past achievements.
Similarly, the Offices of Tibet (OOT) and its activities also need to be amended slightly. Maybe not this year but from next year, the main role of the Offices of Tibet would be to reach out to the host country’s government, parliament, NGOs and think tanks, media houses, and Tibet support groups based in the country. These five would be the main responsibilities of the OOTs. For reaching out and coordinating with the Tibetan community and Tibetan associations, we will think of something else.
The inability of the Tibetan parliament to hold its session is also a minor hindrance to us. So, we hope the issue is resolved swiftly. The Kashag would also extend its assistance and co-operation in whatever ways it can to resolve the impasse. However, the Kashag won’t interfere without the approval of the stakeholders as it is overstepping the constitutional authority. Nevertheless, it is our hope that the parliament holds a session first and resolves the impasse and then we can discuss both our internal issues as well as our common issues. If this is resolved, we can go back to the normal functioning of the Central Tibetan Administration. I have already stated before assuming the role of Sikyong that I would visit the Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission as well as the Tibetan Parliament to inform them of our policies and objectives and how we could amplify each other’s efforts and activities. In the case of the Tibetan parliament, I have already drafted a plan on how the Kashag would extend its support to the Tibetan parliament and how we could harmonize our efforts. I was planning to submit it to the Tibetan Parliament in late May or early June this year. However, due to the current impasse and the inability of the parliament to convene its session, I couldn’t do it. I have already reached out to the heads of all three autonomous bodies. Except for a few, I have also met with the representatives of all the Tibetan NGOs and Tibetan media as well. These are all done with the aim of informing Kashag’s objectives to them and how we could move forward together in the future. Everyone also seemed to be pleased with our efforts and objectives. Even on the issues that we disagree on such as Independence and Middle Way Approach, I told the heads of the Tibetan Youth Congress that they should, first of all, think about His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s vision, the CTA’s policy, and how the MWA is mutually beneficial. After that, they can talk about their own organization’s objective and why the organization follows that particular objective. If they do that, it won’t send mixed messages (conflicting messages) to our supporters and would help bring clarity to the issue. We also don’t need to argue amongst ourselves. That’s what I told them and they also seem to agree. If we can all think like that, then we don’t need to squabble about Rangzen and Uma (Independence and MWA) anymore. However, the thing is, in our small Tibetan community, we are preoccupied with regionalism and sectarianism which gets bigger and smaller depending on the times. At the moment, it seems to be getting larger.
I agree that in a democracy, there are bound to be disagreements. However, at the same time, we should realize that our common foe is the Chinese government, not each other. Instead of arguing amongst ourselves in the exile community, we should study the developments taking place inside Tibet such as the large-scale migration of Chinese into Tibetan areas, the sustenance of Tibetan identity through preservation of Tibetan culture, language, environment, etc. If we think about these matters, we will realize that we are going through a critical time where we urgently need to pressure China about its policies in Tibet. The time to pressure China has already reached a boiling point actually and we need to reinvigorate our efforts. By splitting our already limited capacities with internal squabbles, we are not only hindering the Tibetan movement but also betraying the responsibility and faith entrusted upon us by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. This will be a black mark on us that we have to carry historically. It is really shameful if such a thing happens. For that reason, I am doing my best to carry out the administrative functions.
The current political impasse is always in my mind. I have not set it aside nor am I indifferent about it. I am paying close attention to the matter. However, our system is a democratic polity gifted to us by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. For over 50 years, His Holiness has nurtured the Tibetan polity into a democratic system that we can see and enjoy right now. However, if we set aside the rules and regulations, and react solely based on raw emotions, our democracy won’t be a true democracy. It will be a democracy only in name. However, I am firm in my belief that the stakeholders in the impasse will think about this and also realize that we are dependent on others for the smooth functioning of the administration.
Tenzin Chemey: Tibetan schools and monasteries in exile are facing a dwindling number of Tibetan students and Tibetan monks. We also have to think about the sustenance of Tibetan settlements in exile. What are your plans for these issues?
Sikyong: We have held several meetings with the Department of Education. Till now, 25 Tibetan schools have already been transferred to the education department. The schools that are yet to be transferred are the six schools in North India. Just a few weeks ago, we contacted all the settlement officers via the education department and asked them to compile a list of all children till the age of three. We already have the data about children enrolled in Kindergarten and K12 schools. Based on this data that we received, it is really shocking to learn that between 2012 and 2021, there has been a drastic decrease in the number of Tibetan students. In 2012, there were over 20,000 Tibetan students in Tibetan schools. However, in 2021, there are only 9,700 Tibetan students in the Tibetan schools. There is a decrease of over 50% in the number of Tibetan students. There could be a lot of reasons for this decrease. However, one of the most important reasons is the decrease in the flow of Tibetans coming from Tibet particularly since 2008. Then from 2013-14, the flow decreased even more to less than 100 people. For instance, last year there were only five people coming from Tibet into exile. And this year only seven people have come into exile. This is one of the most important reasons for the decrease of Tibetan students in Tibetan schools. Secondly, many Tibetans are also immigrating to other countries. Some Tibetans are also migrating to bigger cities within India and going to schools over there. So, we have to think about how to merge the schools. I will be visiting the five schools that are yet to be transferred in the next few days from 7 September. On the way back to Dharamshala from Ladakh, I went to Dalhousie to see the school and the settlement. In the case of the Dalhousie school, there were only 22 students. Out of the 22, 3 were Ladakhis from Kargil. The remaining 19 were local Indians. And for the 22 students, the school has 15 staff and teachers including the principal. Such is the situation. In the case of Shimla, it actually has to be 90% Tibetans and 10% from the local community. However, today it is 90% from the local community and 10% from the Tibetan community. The situation is the same in Herbertpur, and CST Mussoorie. And it is like that in many schools as well. In the case of TCV, it has information only about the schools under it. Similarly, Sambhota only has information about its own schools. No one has complete data about Tibetan schools and students. The same is with THF Mussoorie. There are also some Tibetan private schools in Dhondupling and other areas around Dehradun such as the Lingtsang settlement. We have to look at the complete picture. So we will hold a meeting of all the school heads in the near future to devise a plan for the future whether it be school mergers or providing support to each other. Our primary objective, however, would be the education of Tibetan children.
Regarding Tibetan settlements, there are about 45 Tibetan settlements in India. There are another 12-13 settlements in Nepal and 6-7 settlements in Bhutan. We have to assess the sustainability of these settlements in the future. Those small settlements in particular which have a slim chance of sustenance should be merged with the larger Tibetan settlements. These are not short-term projects that can be completed in one or two years. It could take up to five-ten or more years. We have to carry out these projects with a well-thought-out strategy otherwise we could face big problems in the future. I hope everyone will work together on these matters.
We are also planning a population survey. We are not calling it a demographic assessment as of now as demographic assessment requires a lot of information such as family status, economic status, education status, social status, etc. We are only looking for information about the individual. A one-and-a-half-page plan has already been laid out and other plans are in the pipeline. Due to the slight delay in carrying out this project, I am thinking if I should postpone it till next year when most Tibetans are in their respective settlements. Once I get accurate data from the population survey, it will be easier for me to plan projects based on this data. In doing this, our projects and policies would be more effective and efficient. However, I am not saying that just because I am relying on the survey, there won’t be any obstacles or errors. There could arise unforeseen problems but the errors would be minor.
Tenzin Chemey: One of the problems facing the Tibetan community at the moment is the inability of the Tibetan parliament to hold its session. For that reason, administrative functions such as seeking budgetary approval from the Tibetan Parliament could face hurdles. If this impasse lingers on, the problem would only get more difficult. What are your opinions on the matter?
Sikyong: As I have mentioned before, I am hoping for the best. We should realize that we are all Tibetans first. Basically, in a democracy, we have to abide by the rules and regulations. We cannot move forward by setting aside the rules and call it a democracy. Everyone has to think about that. If the parliament is able to hold a session first, then we could discuss the matter. That is one thing. Otherwise, in terms of administrative functions, I don’t think there are any big obstacles. If the parliament is able to hold its session and accordingly approve the Kalons, the Kashag’s activities and capacities would surely be enhanced. The Kalons would look after the respective departments while the Sikyong would carry on other important tasks such as strengthening the bond between the Tibetan public and the Central Tibetan Administration and resolving the Sino-Tibetan conflict. Surely, I would get more time to devote more on these matters. That is the only difference. Otherwise, there won’t be any significant hurdles. So, I would like to assure the public that there won’t be any negligence on administrative functions on Kashag’s part. Even if the Kalons are not there, the entire bureaucratic structure led by the secretaries is there. The administrative work is a confluence of efforts by the Kalons and staff. In my three months since assuming the responsibility of Sikyong, the staff have been extremely cooperative. Even among the younger staff, the basic knowledge and education are really strong. In my visits to all the departments, I spoke to each and every staff and inquired about their educational backgrounds and the works of the respective sections. This was done with the aim of familiarizing the staff with the main policies, goals, and objectives of the 16th Kashag so that we are all moving in the same direction in sync with each other. If the staff and leadership are not moving in sync with each other, it would be really difficult to achieve our common goals. That’s why I spent a lot of time restructuring the administration till now. For instance, in some three departments, there weren’t any Additional Secretaries. These indicate that even within the bureaucratic structure, there are gaps. The bureaucratic structure is supposed to look like a pyramid but it isn’t so at the moment. So, based on the recommendations of the work assessment committee, new staff regulations and reshuffles would be carried out. This will be a one-time shuffle to restructure the administration. After that, everything will be settled and move on as usual. For the administration to perform well, the efforts of both the staff and the Kashag must synergize. There won’t be any discernible major problems at the moment. However, the real problems would arise after 31 March next year. If the parliamentary impasse is not resolved by then, there is a possibility that the CTA would have to close. If that happens, it will not only impact the administration but also the schools and many other institutions. In such a scenario, who will take the blame? We have to think about that. Otherwise, as I mentioned earlier, there won’t be any serious problems till the 31st of March next year in terms of administrative work. Of course, it will have some impact but only in a minor way. However, from a larger perspective, the administrative work is going smoothly and efficiently. The public need not worry about that.
Tenzin Chemey: You began your official visit to Tibetan settlements (since assuming the responsibility of Sikyong) from Leh and Jhangthang regions of Ladakh. How did the first official visit to Ladakh go?
Sikyong: The visit was very fruitful. I made a promise during my campaign that if I win the Sikyong election, I would begin my official visit to Tibetan settlements from Ladakh. There are a lot of reasons for that. The most important reason is that Ladakh is one of the largest settlements located in a remote region. If you have to go to the Jhangthang areas, you have to travel at least 200 kms. During my visit, I visited the entire nomadic region. From Leh to Nyoma, Nyoma to Kagshung, Kagshung to Ghoyul, Ghoyul to Hanle, Hanle to the nomadic settlements in Makhyu, and from Makhyu to Sumdoh, and from Sumdoh to Rachungkaru in Chumur and Samye. Similarly, I visited all the Tibetan camps and communities in Choglamsar and Leh. I held informal meetings with the people, met the poor, and listened to their grievances. I also met the leaders and dignitaries of the local Ladakhi community. I attended meetings and addressed the Tibetan community through the local Cable TV. Wherever I went, I told the people that I won’t leave until I heard every one of their concerns, questions, and grievances. The people also expressed their concerns without any apprehensions. Since I cannot solve everything, I also brought along with me officials from the concerned offices such as Migmar Bhuti from Home Department, Norsang and Jungney from SARD so that the concerned staff could have a clear and holistic understanding of the issues. I was also accompanied by officials from the Tibetan Co-operative society, Local Tibetan Assembly, regional freedom movement, CRO, etc. They are the ones who will follow up with the work. Based on the people’s concerns and suggestions, I will devise a concrete plan to resolve the issues whether it be from the Sikyong’s office, home department, or the Chief Representative’s Office. Before leaving Ladakh, I also addressed the public for about 45 minutes about the visit. From my own experience, we have to devise a long-term plan of 10-15 years in resolving the issues as most of the concerns in Ladakh were related to land. Some issues are related to the sustainability of the nomadic lifestyle. However, there are also avenues of opportunities as well such as exploring sources of renewable energy like solar power in Ladakh.
Regarding the official visit, the people of Ladakh extended an extremely warm welcome to me. I think it is because they believed that the key person working under His Holiness the Dalai Lama has come. I know in my heart that it is because of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s grace and blessings that the people of Ladakh have accorded me such great respect and love. Thiksey Rinpoche also bestowed me great love and blessings. When I went there, I thought we were meeting only a few people but they have organized a large and grand ceremony. I also met members of the Himalayan Tibet support group, and also Jamyang Tsering Namgyal, the respected member of the Indian Parliament from Ladakh. He has graduated from a Tibetan school and is doing a really good job. I met the DC and went to the Sowa Rigpa Institute. Ladakh has also been a Union territory for the last two years. So, I met the chief councilor and other councilors of Ladakh. They assured me that they think of Ladakhis and Tibetans in Ladakh as two brothers from the same mother, and extended the same support and facilities to both the communities. Since Tibetans are not Indian citizens, not all opportunities can be provided. Otherwise, they are doing everything in their capacity to help Tibetans. They have also promised to construct an elevator at Shiwa Tsel Phodrang, the dedicated resident of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Ladakh. Appreciating the fact that Tibetans and Ladakhis share the same culture, traditions, and most importantly as the same devotees of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, they have been very gracious and kind to me during the visit. The only person that I couldn’t meet was the Governor as there was an official from the central government visiting him on 28 August. Other than that, I was able to meet almost the entire leadership in Ladakh. Fortunately, no one from our delegation fell sick or encountered any untoward incident. People advised us that we need to rest on arrival to acclimatize to the altitude. However, we started our visit without any time for rest. Our day began almost every day at 8 AM and ended at about 10 pm. In a nutshell, I am happy that I was able to meet the public and the public seemed happy to meet me. My personality is such that I don’t deceive people or make false promises. I told them whatever I felt was true and accurate. To help the public and work for their welfare, I first need to understand their situation, their needs, and their aspirations. Without understanding these, we couldn’t do anything effective even if we wanted to. So, this visit has been really helpful and enlightening. I am planning to do the same with the other Tibetan settlements as well so that our projects are well-intended and well-targeted based on the proper strategy. The money that we are receiving from the donors are taxes collected from the hard-earned money of the people in our countries. We cannot waste it just like that, we have to use it properly. From a Buddhist perspective as well, it’s a sin. When I explained my plans and objectives, the public really appreciated it. It is my deep-rooted belief that as a publicly-elected Sikyong, I have a huge responsibility towards the public. With that attitude, I met the people, talked to them, and listened to each and every one of their questions, grievances, and concerns.