By Lobsang Wangyal
McLEOD GANJ, India, 30 April 2021
Sikyong Lobsang Sangay, the political leader of the Tibetans in exile, travelled to the US for “a courtesy visit” to Washington DC to “meet with the newly elected members of the Biden administration” and to attend a thank you gala dinner organised by Tibetans in New York City, as he completes his second five-year term at the end of May.
In Washington DC, Sangay met on 24th April with State Department officials Lisa Peterson, the Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour; Scott Busby, the Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour; and Foreign Service Officer Anton Jongeneel at the Office of Tibet, Washington DC.
Some other officials — Jonathan Fritz, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian & Pacific Affairs, and Mariah Mercer, the Deputy Director of the Office of International Religious Freedom, along with members of the National Security Council — joined the meeting virtually.
Due to strict COVID restrictions, no foreign guests have been allowed into the State Department since the new Administration took over. The officials were then invited to the Office of Tibet.
“This is a milestone development and a moment of pride for the CTA,” the website of the Central Tibetan Administration wrote.
Later that day, Sangay met with Congressman James McGovern, the key person in making possible the Tibet Policy and Support Act 2020, signed into law by the previous president Donald Trump. McGovern serves as Chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.
During the latest visit, Sangay gave an interview to Radio Free Asia, Tibetan service, as well as during a public talk at the “Thank You” dinner in New York, in which he said that the White House and the State Department has not been receiving any foreign dignitaries since the new administration took over in January due to the Coronavirus situation.
It was because of this situation, he said, that he wasn’t able to go to the White House and the State Department during his visit. “Officials told us that if I were given special consideration, the door will have to be opened for others too,” Sangay said in the interview.
However, US President Joe Biden met with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on 16 April at the White House, just a week earlier, in which Suga became the first foreign leader to hold a face-to-face meeting with President Joe Biden.
From these conflicting statements, it could be inferred that either Sikyong or the US officials were lying, as President Biden has met with a foreign leader.
Further, it’s relevant to ask if Sangay was told about the restrictions only after his arrival in the US?
Tibet Sun sent a request for clarification from Sangay about this through his Personal Secretary by email, which was directed to the Office of Tibet, Washington DC, for reply.
“[The] State Department and NSC staff mentioned restrictions in meeting with foreign leaders in the State Department and the White House. However, the concerned State Department officials were very responsive to our request to secure Sikyong’s meeting to take place inside the building,” the email reply from the Office of Tibet said.
“We became optimistic as they asked for our details on 19th April for security checks. However, on 21st April we received communication that exemption for in-person meeting was not granted as no foreign leaders were received at the state department since January 2021. So, we were aware of the restrictions in advance but however remained optimistic till the 21st April as efforts were underway to seek a waiver.”
More importantly, the email response said that: “An in-person meeting at the White House was not sought as NSC officials were to join the meeting at the State Department.”
At the end the email said, “Senior officials of the State department had a formal meeting with Sikyong at the Office of Tibet for the first time.”
Since Sangay did not reply to the questions himself, it still remains unclear in regard to his statements pertaining to the White House whether he or the US officials were lying.
His statements imply that had there been no pandemic situation, he would have visited the White House.
What’s relevant to mention here is that when the Parliament expelled the Chief Justice and the two additional justices on 25 March, Sangay remained silent in the Parliament. Later in a statement he said that the press didn’t ask him questions about it — blaming the press for his silence. But when questions are asked, there is no answer.