McLEOD GANJ, India, 23 November 2020
A recent announcement by Lobsang Sangay saying he is the first Tibetan leader to enter the White House seems to have created confusion amongst Tibetan people. It deserves to be analysed in depth, if not outright debunked.
Lobsang Sangay was just a student, probably running around Delhi trying to get things done for his university degree, when the Dalai Lama was meeting the United States President George HW Bush at the White House, creating history and headlines around the world. That was in 1991, and was the first time that a US president had met the Dalai Lama.
That historic meeting paved the way for successive US Presidents Bill Clinton, George W Bush, and Barack Obama to meet with the Dalai Lama at the White House, and in so doing show their support for the Tibetan cause. All of them told the Chinese leaders to meet with the Dalai Lama, and to have a dialogue with him to resolve the Tibetan demand for autonomy.
Barack Obama met with the Dalai Lama four times at the White House during his eight-year term, although meetings took place in the White House residence or Map room, not in the Oval Office where the president normally meets world leaders.
These meetings raised the Tibetan issue to the global level. With constant pressure from different governments at various venues, China was compelled to enter into dialogue with the representatives of the Dalai Lama. While these dialogues, the last one held in January 2010, did not produce any breakthrough, the positions of the two sides were made clear. The Tibetans are sticking to their position of gaining autonomy for the whole of Tibet within the Chinese constitution, rather than of independence. The Chinese refused to yield to the Tibetan proposal, but instead insisted that the Tibetan proposal was tantamount to covertly seeking semi-independence or even full independence. This position by China was really a stalling tactic while waiting for the Dalai Lama to pass away, at which point China expects that the Tibetan issue will fade away also.
So nothing actually moved on with regards to the dialogue. But in the meantime the Dalai Lama relinquished his political powers to an elected leader. Of course, there is nobody who could step into the Dalai Lama’s shoes. He is always the supreme religious leader of Tibetan Buddhism. As such, in 2011 the Tibetans in exile elected their political leader, known as Sikyong in Tibetan. Lobsang Sangay was then overwhelmingly elected as political leader for his Harvard University education, political activism and dialogues with the Chinese scholars, and his presentable personality. People expected a change and new approach in the administration and dealings to meet the needs of modern times.
But alas, nothing of that sort happened. Sangay failed miserably in all fronts: There has been no dialogue with Chinese leaders, welfare of the people remained as it was, and the worst was the division of the little Tibetan community of around 150,000 Tibetans in exile into two main factions after the 2016 elections. Confronting China is the real deal, and it may not be something that’s within Sangay or Tibetan people’s scope, but the unity of this little community is. Sangay never attempted to reconcile the divide, but rather dismissed the issue as the creation of just a small group of dissenters, who were to be blamed for the divide.
Since there’s nothing to call his legacy except for some buildings, Sangay, nearing the end of his term as Sikyong, is now desperate to grab any event to call as part of his record. The visit by Sangay, with Representative of the Dalai Lama to US Ngodup Tsering, to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (next door to the White House) was advertised as visiting the White House. Both the official information portal of the Central Tibetan Administration, and Sangay’s Facebook page which has close to 60k followers, flashed the visit as a “historic feat”. This wording is not even a faux pas — it’s a downright lie. What this “historic feat” could mean is a different subject, but to spread such a lie is nothing but a sign of desperation on Sangay’s part, to take undue credit. Even to say that “I have paved the way for the future Tibetan leaders to work with the US government” is a brazenly shameful assertion.
Todd Stein, a former US State Department official who served as the Senior Advisor to the Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights and Special Coordinator for Tibetan issues, quickly busted Sangay’s claim of visiting the White House in a post on Twitter.
Either Sangay didn’t know, or was willfully undermining, all that had been done by the Dalai Lama, as well as the contributions of his colleagues like the late Lodi Gyari and Tenzin Namgyal Tethong, in terms of paving the way with the US government to get US interest and support for the Tibetan cause. It is shocking that Sangay has the audacity to discredit them all in one go. He should know that he’s actually riding on the hard work of the Dalai Lama and the likes of Gyari and Tethong.
“It is a great honor to be the first political head of the Central Tibetan Administration to formally enter the White House,” said Sangay’s Facebook post. Now, what about all the visits by the Dalai Lama to meet the presidents at the White House, and to the State Department to meet with the secretaries, when he was the head of the CTA? The Dalai Lama was the head of state of Tibet and both the political and religious leader of the Tibetan people, until he gave up his political authority in 2011.
The Dalai Lama met with Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State in 2010, and with past secretaries of state (in their outer offices) going back to Warren Christopher during Bill Clinton’s first term as President. Yet the recent meeting of Sangay with the Special Coordinator for Tibetan issues at his office in the Truman Building was the highlight of the CTA’s websites for a month with another flowery title “History Made: Sikyong invited formally to the US State Department”
Let alone anything good coming for the Tibetan cause by telling such lies, desperate acts like these will hamper and trivialize the Tibetan cause and bring mockery upon the Tibetan people. We have had enough of “me, myself, and I”. This time around, Sangay owes clarification and an apology to the Tibetan people for telling such blatant lies.
About the author
Lobsang Wangyal lives in McLeod Ganj, India, and edits the Tibet Sun website.
More articles by Lobsang Wangyal on Tibet Sun.