Why Sikyong Sangay matters

Lobsang Wangyal

Lobsang Wangyal

By Lobsang Wangyal

DELHI, India, 8 March 2014

There has been much musing over Sikyong Lobsang Sangay’s talk at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), a Washington DC academic institution, on 8 May 2013.

Sangay’s oratory has won him accolades, and the top position in the 2011 general elections of the exile Tibetans. His presentation at the CFR, that I saw on a video, was as usual, impressive and substantive. As the top political leader of the exile Tibetans and the head of the exile administration, he was asked to present the Tibetan case. Sangay spoke about the current political stand of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), which is the the “Middle-way” policy — that of not seeking independence but, in his own words: “genuine autonomy within the framework of the Chinese constitution”.

The Constitution of the People’s Republic of China stipulates: “All ethnic groups in the People’s Republic of China are equal. The state protects the lawful rights and interests of the ethnic minorities and upholds and develops a relationship of equality, unity and mutual assistance among all of China’s ethnic groups. Discrimination against and oppression of any ethnic group are prohibited.” The Chinese constitution further says that citizens of all ethnic groups in China enjoy equal rights as accorded to all citizens by law. Tibetans only want China to follow the stipulations of its own constitution.

The autonomy that the CTA led by Sangay is trying to negotiate with China is within the area of 2.5 million square kilometres of the Tibetan plateau inhabited by ethnic Tibetans. Within that geography, Tibetans would rule and decide their own fate, but “within the framework of the Chinese constitution.” This in essence means abiding by the Chinese laws, and not questioning or challenging the present structure of the ruling party, as Sangay says.

In such a negotiated settlement, Tibetans would enjoy all the rights given to the ethnic minority groups as enshrined in the Chinese constitution, and the law of the land would be practised there as the Chinese constitution states, which is not the case at present. In the negotiated autonomy, Tibet would consist of Amdo, Kham, and U-Tsang — the area given current autonomous status as Tibet (Xizang in Chinese, or the “Tibet Autonomous Region”) is only half that size.

What the Tibetans are hoping to see within autonomy can be read on Tibet.net, the official website of CTA.

The latest hit out at Sikyong Sangay, quoting from CFR’s debate, was an opinion piece by Maura Moynihan published in the Asian Age. Here Ms Moynihan’s poor judgement of the politics of the middle-way and the personality of Sangay was abundantly visible.

Sangay is one who can’t misspeak on the positions of the rights of the Tibetan people. His clarity on the subject is there for everyone to judge on the CFR page.

What does a journalist and daughter of a former US ambassador to India and much-praised senator, late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, want by attacking the Tibetan political leader? This seems really bizarre. Is there some other real force behind her allegations, determined to destroy the ever-congenial Indo-Tibetan friendship, destabilize the Tibetan community, and hamper Tibetan attempts to achieve autonomy for Tibetan people?

Sangay’s successful election truly ushered in a new era for the Tibetan people, in which the aristocrat-dominated Tibetan politics was brought to an end — a victory for the common people. Sangay reinvigorated Tibetan democracy and created a new awareness among the younger generation Tibetans. He is an icon and stands at the helm of the Tibetan movement for a free Tibet.

I myself have witnessed his election campaign very closely. I have seen only his firm commitment, with actions and financial support which are totally above-board, and strong support by Tibetan community inside and outside Tibet. India has no brief against him, and it’s a measure of his integrity that China attacks him!

Sangay covered in a few months’ time most of the Tibetan settlements in India — whereas many of the aristocratic families may not even know all their names. He was not flying chartered flights, but the regular flights wherever possible. To fly from north to south India would not cost more than US$150 and he was welcome to stay with friends at many places. That would not take much from his savings working at the Harvard University for many years. He has a working wife and a other well-established family members in the US as well. He would have no need to get financial support from questionable sources.

Many Tibetans in Tibet have expressed their support for him. They have sung songs in praise of him, created images hailing him, and more — taking great risks. Some have even been imprisoned by the Chinese government for their deeds. The sentiments of the Tibetans in Tibet are clear enough that they are willing to welcome him as the Tibetan leader in a future free Tibet when the capital Lhasa will have the Tibetan headquarters.

The Indian intelligence agencies will not have an air of doubt against Sangay. He was, in fact, branded as a “terrorist” by the Chinese government even before the election results were out. The Chinese understood the direction of the wind of the exile Tibetans. As a product of the new generation, Sangay on his part was sharp and prudent, and the Chinese knew that with his robust international exposure and a PhD in Law, he would hit the nail harder, unlike the previous exile Tibetan leaders.

Sangay, therefore, will have my vote in the next Tibetan election in 2016. And all Tibetans should be alert so that Tibetan unity is not disturbed by dubious characters creeping into their movement in the guise of “journalist” and “Tibet analyst”.


About the author

Lobsang Wangyal lives in McLeod Ganj, and edits TibetSun.com.

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