On completing 60 years of the arrival of the Dalai Lama to India this year, Tibetans will start a “Thank You India Campaign” to express their gratitude to India. On the sidelines of the announcement of the campaign, Dr Lobsang Sangay, the sikyong (ruler) of Tibet’s government-in-exile, officially known as “Central Tibetan Administration”, spoke to The Sunday Guardian. Excerpts:
Q: What have been the repercussions of Tibet’s illegal occupation on its people?
A: The illegal occupation of Tibet has led to political repression, economic marginalisation, environmental changes, culture assimilation and population transfer of Chinese people moving into Tibet to marginalise us and make Tibetans a minority. In the 1960-70s, they started destroying everything Tibetan and by the late 1980s, there were large-scale protests. In 2008, there were statewide protests that led to heavy crackdown and since then, it has been difficult to organise peaceful protests in Tibet. Now the hope is to bring the Dalai Lama and refugees back to Tibet.
Q: The Middle Way Approach (MWA) that Tibet seeks has not witnessed any breakthrough. What have been the challenges in negotiating with China?
A: The Middle Way Approach is our policy which seeks genuine autonomy for Tibet. From 2002-2012, there have been nine rounds of dialogue between China and Tibet, but since January 2010, there has been no breakthrough. So what we want now is to resume dialogue between the envoys of the Dalai Lama and China peacefully. The impression among the people has gone from bad to worse in Tibet, which is why the Chinese need to understand that hardline policies will not work. Liberal policies are needed.
Q: Tibet has given up its demand for independence and instead now only seeks “genuine autonomy” from China.
A: Yes, but in the sense that Tibet was always an independent country. Chinese kings had signed a treaty with our kings accepting that the Chinese will live happily in their own country and Tibetans will live happily in Tibet. So, historically, Tibet was independent and China has admitted it before too. But now after the occupation of Tibet, China says that it will not negotiate on sovereignty and territorial integrity. We agreed to take this into account, but asked for genuine autonomy (as is the case with Hong Kong and Macau) as per the Chinese Constitution. In China, this is called MWA; reaching a middle-ground.
Q: You have been at the forefront of building bridges between Chinese scholars and Tibetan scholars. How has your experience been with Chinese scholars?
A: Many Chinese scholars are liberal. They want to understand what we are saying. They are willing to listen, but there are other Chinese scholars who are very conservative. By Track 2 diplomacy people get aware and educated and they come around. But the hardliners are in the decision-making positions and so there has been no breakthrough in our talks. The whole mainland China is not against Tibet. Today, China has the largest Buddhist population in the world and that is the irony. So, if China starts listening to its own people, it would go a long way in resolving issues that spring out of its hardliner mentality.
Q: What is Tibet’s view of China’s claim on Doklam that has affected relations of Asia’s two major powers?
A: China’s claim on Doklam is baseless. There was never a border between India and China. The 3,000 km long border that we have now was always between Tibet and India. There was no presence of Chinese troops in the border of India before, but now after the occupation of Tibet, there are Chinese troops here in Tibet.
China and India are two largest countries in the continent and they have several layers to their relationship. India should have relationship with all countries, if possible have friendly relations. But since the occupation of Tibet, Chinese troops have come all the way to the border and now to Doklam too. This is just one of the many incursions China has made. Since 2011, the number of incursions made by China has doubled. In the 1930-40s, the Chinese have themselves said that it is a decades-long strategy—if you occupy Tibet, you occupy “the palm with all its five fingers”. This was said because Tibet opens the route for Sikkim, Assam, Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh along with Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand etc. So, occupation of Tibet opens road for further incursions, which is why I always emphasise that it all started with Tibet. Hence, the issue of Tibet cannot be ignored. Now we know China’s strategy and intentions. It wants to be number one and any country that stands in its way, China will walk over it.
India should be alert. China has encircled India from Pakistan to Sri Lanka to Bangladesh to Burma and that is the reality today that India cannot overlook…Tibetan border is 3,000 km long.
One of the major reasons why there is so much suspicion between China and India is because of such a long border. China occupied Tibet and India has a legitimacy and credibility to speak for Tibet.
Q: What is the “Thank You India campaign” about?
A: Through this campaign, Tibet is conveying its thankfulness towards India. Since the occupation of Tibet, no country has done as much as India has done for Tibetans. Our refugees have managed to build better lives for themselves. In return, we have been a peaceful, law-abiding lot. We have a lot to thank India for.