Vivek : Issues & Options

“…We are fighting for Tibetan Dignity, Tibetan Identity, Tibetan Freedom, and what we are seeking is Equality…”

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Dr. Lobsang Sangay, Kalon Tripa, Tibetan Government in Exile

Key note address by Dr. Lobsang Sangay, Kalon Tripa, Tibetan Government in Exile on 06 September 2011 at the VIF Seminar on Tibet

Thank you very much Ajit Dovalji for your very kind and generous introduction and Mr. T.C.A. Rangachari and others for organising the Conference today. It is a great honour to be in the presence of so many esteemed guests and I would like to begin by saying that I am truly humbled by the invitation to be here. When I first came Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), in June and shared my thoughts in an informal session and again today when I am here to address the Conference formally, I felt that VIF is the right place to give both my first informal ideas and the formal presentation because I grew up in India and I owe a lot to India and the Indian people. Often when journalist ask me about how do I feel about India I say that I grew up in a Tibetan refugee camp subsidised by the Indian government, I went to a refugee school subsidised by the Indian government, I went to Delhi University again subsided by the Indian government and nowadays I travel around in trains and cars of which the gas is again subsidised by the Indian government. I am a proud product of subsidies provided by the Indian government! Hence it is very appropriate that I come here to share my thoughts with very prominent Indians in the centre of the capital city Delhi.

When I was first asked to come here I was a bit hesitant. As you know during the elections I was labeled as the youngest and the least experienced of the candidates, I thought perhaps it is better I spend much of my time preparing for the Parliamentary session that is coming up beginning September -16th to Oct 1st . As you know it is a grueling session between the executive branch and the legislative branch because it is not a parliamentary system where the majority of the parliament runs the executive branch. Ours is somewhat like the presidential system. Our Speaker is also here today. So I thought of spending most of my time doing that. Because when I took oath on Aug 8 to Sept 16th there is another challenge that I have that is a one man rule till the parliament confirms my cabinet. I have to run the whole administration myself all seven departments, hundreds of monasteries, etc. On a daily basis files pile up before me, I keep giving executive orders, signing so many documents. But then I thought I don’t mind being grilled by the parliament but because I owed so much especially to this effort of VIF that I should come down and share my thoughts here. It’s a great privilege and honour.

I will briefly show a power point presentation, rather pictures of Tibet. People misunderstand when you talk of Tibet. I shall discuss the political, environmental and cultural map of Tibet, then the brief history and then the current political environment and situation. We have very good speakers form Dharamsala, to share their thoughts. So they will dwell more in detail later. I will also discuss what does the devolution for political authority by His Holiness mean in general, but I will limit it to myself, to me as a person. So in short I have to cover two thousand years of Tibetan history, current situation and what is going on now in the next 20 some minutes, I will spend hundred years per minute so please bear with me I will give it in the form of ‘karak chai’, so I hope when you go through it you will not get a headache but rather some clarity on the situation of and in Tibet.

When we talk about Tibet, the Chinese definition of Tibet constitutes only the area of Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) whereas the Tibetan definition of Tibet includes parts of Chinese province of Yunnan and Sichuan, Qinghai and small part of Gansu. In a sense geographically Tibet is almost 1/4th of China. So territory wise the area is 2 million sq km. of estimated of land which is as big as Western Europe or Texas and California combined, it is a huge tract of land. When China says Tibet is only TAR we say no that includes Qinghai and Sichuan that is where my father was born. The Tibetan uprising in 2008 occurred in hundred or so counties of the Tibetan areas, so I think the Tibetan voice has made it very clear that this is Tibet in all the parts. Our definition of TAR is mainly U-tsang province and Amdo is where His Holiness the Dalai Lama was born and Kham where my father was from and so this is the traditional map of Tibet. Again you can see that linguistically also the political map and the traditional map also reflect that Sichuan and Qinghai are the Tibetan speaking people areas and it overlaps. And you can see from the geography itself that the Tibetan plateau is Tibet. So it is very clear that when we say Tibet it is Tibetan plateau then geographically also it is different from China. You can see the two maps; there is a lot of environmental destruction happening because of climate change. As Rangachariji was saying just a while ago, in Delhi also we have heavy rains now in September which is unusual. With glacier and the ice melting in Tibet it directly affects the monsoon and the climate all over Asia. There are the 10 major rivers flowing from Tibet. So one question is why India should or Asia care or support Tibet – it is very clear. Fresh water of Tibet provides water to Asian people all around. The rivers flow all the way to Mekong, to Thailand to Burma, Bangladesh and Pakistan, all the way. In India also you see the Brahmaputra river which comes from Tibet. Tibet has been a steward, a guardian of Tibetan water and environment in general and we have maintained the spiritual and natural way of dealing with the environment, in the sense that we have allowed the natural flow of rivers, we have respected that. Now with the Chinese coming in, what has happened is that they have dammed the major rivers not just one but lines of damming all the way to Yunnan. Now as has been mentioned in the Indian media the Brahmaputra is dammed quite heavily so it affects India and the neighbourhood. If nothing else, the Chinese will have the control over the flow of water to India and other regions of the subcontinent. Millions of people in Bangladesh and all over survive on fishery and agriculture and when you dam water, you have control over it and it will affect millions of people’s livelihood.

And you know the rare earth is now becoming very famous because without that you cannot make many of the technological gadgets and China has a monopoly over it. Almost 80-90% of rare earth comes from China, actually Inner Mongolia and the major source of water is from Tibet they also have control over it, China controls both these resources. Recently they have announced that the largest gold reserve in Asia is also in Tibet and the gold price is shooting up the sky nowadays and this is historically used to be part of the Tibet Empire. So, as you can see, Tibet was neither a small territory nor a small power. Historically in 7th and 8th century it was a major power and extended all the way up to the Chinese capital, Chang'an. Once the Tibetan army marched all the way to the Chinese capital and captured it including the emperor and reportedly appointed a puppet Chinese emperor, so Tibet was a major power. The Tibetan King Songtsän Gampo had two wives, one was the Chinese princess named Wencheng and the other was Nepalese princess named Bhrikuti Devi. At that time Tibet was such a power that even the Chinese and Nepalese kings gave their nieces and daughters in marriage to buy peace with the Tibetan empire.

And then we move straight to 1910, when 13th Dalai Lama when he fled to India after the Chinese invasion. The challenge Tibetans face now is how to restore freedom in Tibet and ensure the return of H.H. Dalai Lama to Lhasa. This was the same challenge with the 13th Dalai Lama. With the Chinese invasion the 13th Dalai Lama fled to India and the Tibetans successfully managed to have him return to Lhasa. So the challenge remains the same, and we have done it before, and we believe we can do it again. The Tibet-Mongolia treaty was signed in 1913 and it mutually declared each other as independent countries. All of you know about the Simla Agreement in 1914. On the left of the document you will see a stamp of the British Indian and Tibetan representative. The treaty demarcated the McMahon line as the border between India and Tibet. Then came the 17 point agreement which was signed between Tibetan and Chinese representatives in Beijing 1951, the year we lost our sovereignty. The agreement essentially surrendered our sovereignty but it was under duress because our representatives were told that if you don’t sign invasion will move forward and your country will be occupied. Having said that and as mentioned earlier His Holiness seeks genuine autonomy within the framework of the Chinese constitution. If you read Article 1 of the 17 point agreement it says that Tibet shall return to the motherland. So Chinese government claims two ways on this: one – they say Tibet has always been part of China but as you can see from the Tibet’s empire and the 1913 treaty with Mongolia and even the 17 point agreement acknowledges that Tibet was not always part of China other wise where was Tibet returning from if it was always part of China. And Article 4 says that the power and status of His Holiness and the Tibetan government will be kept intact in the sense of one country and two systems. The idea the Chinese government has implemented in Hong Kong and Macau was very much enshrined in the 17 point agreement that we signed in 1951 but by 1959 it was very clear that the Chinese government had other ideas. They wanted to occupy and colonise Tibet rather than grant what was agreed to in the 17 point agreement. By 1959 the Chinese government was more interested in occupying rather than giving autonomy to the Tibetan people.

On March 10, 1959 there was a major uprising in Lhasa and then after the occupation of Tibet around 80,000 Tibetans fled to India. And with the kind effort of the Indian government Tibetans were provided land in various parts of India to start refugee camps and many of them were given jobs as road construction workers, so from Sikkim to Manali to Dalhousie the highways that you see were built by Tibetans. And then during the Cultural Revolution in China the second most popular Tibetan leader Panchen Lama went through a very harrowing time. And then the present times, and you read e.g. in the Frontline magazine and the Hindu N. Ram saying that he went to Tibet and everything was fine, Tibetans are satisfied with the situation, they are happy, but the actual picture is otherwise. For example this slide shows a small Chinese shop in Lhasa giving a job advertisement, saying if you are Tibetan we will give you 30 Renminbi, if you are Chinese we’ll give you 50 Renminbi, so in Lhasa the capital city of Tibet - Lhasa means land of God for Tibetans – it is sacred, a Chinese shop has the audacity to put a job placement that says if you are Chinese we will give you more than a Tibetan. How would you feel, if there is a sign board in a Chinese shop in Delhi which says if you are Indian we give you 30 Rs. a day and if you are Chinese we give you 50 Rs. a day. So these are signboards of Chinese economic development, the socialist paradise that they promised. Initially when they came they promised this socialist paradise and told the Tibetan people that they will be happy to remain within the Chinese domain. And again, I am again reminding you that the situation is prevalent in all parts of Tibet and there is a demand of how we define Tibet hence there was protest all over Tibet.

You can see from a recent picture of monk committing self-immolation, given the unbearable situation, given the repression that is going in Tibet, and Tibetans find it so unbearable that they are willing to give up their lives. You can see him [the monk] a healthy young man and then self-immolating himself, this happened recently. It is not unusual. This is going on; Tibetans are being pushed to the brink by the Chinese occupation. The Tibetan spirit still remains, it has been 60 years of occupation since 1951 and a whole generation of Tibetans has changed, in the sense the majority in Tibet have never seen or met with His Holiness Dalai Lama. Most of us have not been to Tibet as well and the interaction between us is quite limited. Having said that the Tibetan spirit inside and outside is still very very strong. This is evidence of that spirit, in 1987, 88, 89 when there were a series of protests in Tibet and most of the protests were led by monks and around the Jokhang temple the holy shrine. The Chinese government thought that they could find a solution to these kinds of protests by replacing all the monks in Jokhang temple with loyalists. So they removed all the monks from the temple and recruited new monks and they are the only monks in the whole of Tibet who are paid salaries, even the Tibetans have a little bit of suspicion towards these monks and believed that they had leanings towards the Communist Party. But then in 2008 when protests happened all over Tibet the Chinese government thought perhaps that they could have some propaganda by inviting 20 odd journalists to Lhasa to show that peace has returned to the city. They showed them around some Tibetan Communist Party offices, obviously the Tibetan Communist Party members will parrot the party line; the group was then taken to the Jokhang monastery, where the Chinese thought the monks would authenticate the Chinese version. When the group reached the monastery, these paid monks came out and said “no, His Holiness is not responsible for the uprising in 2008 and it’s a lie, Tibet is not free”. In short, Tibetan spirit is so strong that even though you are paid and fed by the Communist Party your loyalty to your leader and to your cause and to the Tibetan people and Tibet is so deeply embedded that they will come forward and speak the truth. The Chinese government promised us a socialist paradise and yet all these protestors are below 60 years and they are leading the protest in Tibet. This slide shows that we have no freedom of speech, this is in Amdo area, and all of them are young and leading the protest. So if any one has any doubt as to what has happened to the Tibetan spirit, you can see that the essence of loyalty, of patriotism, the essence of urgency for the cause is very strong and very deep.

So everywhere, even in front of tanks, what the Chinese government did at that point of time is that they rolled out tanks in the streets of Lhasa and other places. Now with that I come to the final part of my presentation – what does the devolution of political authority to the Tibetan people mean? On August 8th was the inauguration and if you have read in newspapers it was widely covered by the international media and again the fact that the international media covered the elections of the Kalon Tripa and the parliament so widely indicates that the Tibetan issue is very much alive and strong in the mind of the international community. I remember when I was in Delhi University I used to be the president of regional Tibetan Youth Congress, we used to organise protest in front of the Chinese embassy and to make sure it was covered…We had pre-typed press releases and we would go and drop these in all the press boxes and scan the newspapers the next day for some news. Sometimes a small caption would give us a great thrill. Today media coverage is very huge, and on an almost daily basis I get media requests from various parts of the world. So it has changed, media interests, sympathy and support of the international community is very strong for which we are very grateful. Now the title of the conference is ‘Tibet in the Aftermath of Devolution of Political Authority’. I just wanted to make it very clear what Tibet means and how Tibet looks like, its huge area, its serious issues as well as major ramification. Two, when people hear the word after the devolution, they feel as though there is a disconnect between before and after the devolution of power. But what has happened is the continuation of the same political leadership. What did His Holiness say on that day, he said ‘I, the former regent, the elderly handed over the political leadership to me when I was young, today I am handing over the political leadership to young Lobsang Sangay’, that is a very important historical statement because since 1642 till August 8th the political authority rested with the institution of the Dalai Lama, both spiritual political. From the Fifth Dalai Lama onwards through the 6th, 7th, and 8th, the transition continued till 8th August. Therefore when he said I am handing over political leadership to young Lobsang Sangay he was handing over the political authority of the institution of Dalai Lama to the Kalon Tripa, it is the continuation of history, the continuation of the same political authority of the 369 years old institution of the Dalai Lama and most importantly after he made the statement he said this has been his ‘long cherished goal’ which is again very important.

Another thing that the former Kalon Tripa did was to hand over a seal of the 7th Dalai Lama to me. The seal was established in 1751 in Tibet and the same seal was brought out to India in 1951, the same seal was handed over to me, this means that the same political authority established by the 7th Dalai Lama continued with me, the same legitimacy that the institution of the Dalai Lama had continued with me, the same political leadership that the institution of the Dalai Lama had continued with me. So devolution of authority means separation of the spiritual and the political authority of the institution of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual authority continues with the Dalai Lama but the political authority continues with the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) and the political leadership, so it’s a continuation and not the end. I want to make it very clear, sometimes they say His Holiness has given up power, everything has changed, I want to say that nothing has changed, my role is not to do something different, rather my role is to live up to the expectation of His Holiness and that I can provide the leadership whereby the Tibetan people can stand on their feet and run the Tibetan movement forward. My role is to fulfil the vision of a secular democratic society that His Holiness has and also to remember the hard work of elder Tibetans, including those who are dying in Tibet and those who were construction workers – who built roads for India. They have worked very hard and built the CTA and the freedom movement is strong only because of past hard work of elder generations. My duty is to remember that and to build on their legacy to move the Tibetan freedom struggle forward.

When I was in Harvard I spent sixteen years meeting hundreds and hundreds of Chinese students and scholars. I organised seven major conferences involving Chinese scholars who had come all the way from Beijing University or the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and even the Communist Party School. I have a sixteen years record of having dialogue with Chinese intellectuals, now the Chinese government and media label me as illegal etc, I wasn’t that when I was in Harvard, I used to meet with them on a daily basis, now suddenly when I got elected they are labeling me. But that label is not going to change me and my belief in dialogue had been established when I was in Harvard. This means when His Holiness says that we are sincere in having dialogue with the Chinese government to resolve issues peacefully, he means it, when I say it I also mean it. When you meet with Chinese its not that easy, some Chinese are nice, some are nasty, some are ignorant, so I tolerated their ignorance and nastiness for sixteen years that means I believe in His Holiness’s idea that we have to solve the issue peacefully through dialogue. I have also organised two conferences between His Holiness and Chinese scholars between 2003, 2009 where hundred Chinese scholars met with His Holiness. We have a proven record of believing in and organising conferences to solve the issue peacefully through dialogue. That’s why there are some many Chinese intellectuals in China and outside who are really interested on the issue of Tibet including the Nobel Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo and others.

What does Tibet mean for India and Indian people? Tibet is a core issue between India and China. Tibet is a core issue, there are issues and we are not against having a better relationship between India and China or a business relationship, but it is a truth that no one has profited from doing business with China and the Chinese people. It is the truth but we are not against it, we are for doing business with Chinese people. Once I was asked to give talk to the Nepalese students and scholars at Harvard Kennedy School and they said we want railway lines all the way from Lhasa to Kathmandu. I asked why. They said we want to do business with the Chinese, I said no one in the world has profited by doing business with the Chinese. In the end you will be cumulatively in the loss column. I wished them good luck and said that initially we also thought that when the Chinese first came we shall profit from their business, they started building roads, they gave us silver coins etc, they were polite, once the roads were built over night they changed there personality, they became rude, overbearing, and started shooting, and occupied us. Their roads surrounded the strategic areas, they went to the mountains and destroyed our pristine forests, our wood went to China, and our minerals were mined and continue to be mined. They took away all kinds of mineral resources, I am not surprised that the Chinese are staying longer than guests are expected to stay and they have valid reasons it seems! So the idea that they are there to help us is absolutely not true. Now why should India and Indian people take interest in the issue of Tibet? Obviously, Buddhism we borrowed from India, we say Tibetan civilisation but it is very much Buddhist and borrowed from India. Our literature is very similar to the Indian; it is adapted from Indian script. And there is also the issue of security, on a daily basis there is incursion in border areas, sea wise from Burma to the naval port in Sri Lanka, to Pakistan Chinese presence is felt. Then there are the airfields, there are so many airfields in Tibet, some say five major airfields, and railway lines coming up to the Nathu La Pass, may be in Nepal and Bangladesh as well. It is a fact that India is surrounded by Chinese presence, so when we talk about the Chinese, now its not that you have to go to Nathu La to see Chinese, even in Kanyakumari now you will feel the presence of the Chinese. These facts are all based on the Indian media reports; I am not saying anything new here.

His Holiness said that the devolving of his political authority to Tibetan people means that he is a true democrat, he believes in democracy and it was his vision to establish secular democracy in exile so he took steps every ten years to devolve authority and the completion was on August 8. And if you look at the Tibetan charter or Constitution it is very much based on the Indian Constitution. Dr. Rajendra Prasad helped edit the first Indian Constitution. Trikamdas was another lawyer who helped to draft it. You will witness that our parliament is very much akin to the Indian parliamentary system, there is zero hour, and in it I will be grilled without any forewarning. In short, what we have built in Dharamsala is a kind system modeled after the Indian democratic principles, Indian democratic values and system. And what we are, the basis of our struggle is non-violence, ahimsa, we borrowed that from India, His Holiness says that I am a chela of Mahatma Gandhi. In some sense, what we are losing today, i.e. the Buddhist civilisation, Tibetan literature is very much connected with India. And what we are fighting back with is also based on Indian values of democracy in ahimsa, so in some sense if we succeed Indian values will succeed, India’s borders will be secured. If we fail India based Buddhism and the literature we borrowed from India will also disappear and the Tibetan people might become a museum piece and Tibet might disappear altogether from the map of the world. Hence for India Tibet is a core issue. I appeal to all of you who are here to take interest in the issue and thank VIF for organising this conference and hopefully we will have it on a yearly basis and I shall be happy to come and send more scholars.

I conclude my remarks by referring to the verses of Bhagavad Gita recited at the beginning. It was said that dignity freedom and equality are three principles mentioned in the Gita. These are the principles we are fighting for, we are fighting for Tibetan dignity, Tibetan identity, Tibetan freedom, and what we are seeking is equality. These are also enshrined in the Indian Constitution, this is what we are aspiring for, these are what all human beings should have, and we are denied these while we ought to have them too. I also believe as another verse said, ‘rise up rise up with determination’, Tibetan spirit is strong we have the determination inside and outside to strive for what is ours, i.e. our homeland, our identity and our dignity. We will do that. …With the help of India and the Indian people our freedom will be restored and His Holiness will return to Tibet soon one day!

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Published Date: 22nd September, 2011