Q&A: Tibet-in-Exile’s New PM
Lobsang Sangay is the first Kalon Tripa, or prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile, to come to power since the Dalai Lama announced he would relinquish his political responsibilities last month. As such, Mr. Sangay will have an unprecedented role to play in the future of the Tibetan movement.
The results of the election for the new prime minister, which took place March 20, were announced in India’s Himalayan town of Dharamsala, where the exiled government is based, on Wednesday.
Born in a Tibetan refugee settlement in India’s hill station of Darjeeling in 1968, Mr. Sangay moved to the U.S. in 1995 to study at Harvard Law School, where he later completed a doctorate on the history of Tibet’s exiled government. He has been living in the U.S. since, and is now a senior fellow at the school.
Before moving to the U.S. he was an active member of the Tibetan Youth Congress in Delhi, participating in many protests against Chinese rule in Tibet.
Mr. Sangay, who is set to take office in August, is widely seen as the face of political change among Tibet’s exiled community. In a telephone interview with India Real Time, he talked about his approach to the job and the plights of Buddhist monks at Kirti Monastery, located in a traditionally Tibetan area of China’s Sichuan province, following police crackdowns on unrest there over the past month.
IRT: How do you feel about being the first Prime Minister to be elected since the Dalai Lama announced his retirement from politics?
Mr. Sangay: It’s humbling and also an honor and a privilege that Tibetans have entrusted their hope and aspirations in me and I will do the best in my capacity to live up to the expectations of Tibetans.
I regard His Holiness’ top down gift of democracy as magnanimous. For Tibetans it remains a difficult decision to digest and I, for one, will do my best to promote His Holiness’ vision of a secular, democratic, Tibetan society. This will always remain my inspiration.
IRT: What will your top priority be as Prime Minister?
Mr. Sangay: My number one priority is to end the suffering of Tibetans inside Tibet, to have the Chinese government recognize the identity and dignity of Tibetans and to find a peaceful way to address the issue of Tibet.
Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King are all great leaders of the nonviolent movement who achieved their goals through both dialogue with the other side and, yes, by also confronting unjust policies as required.
IRT: What is your policy line on China?
Mr. Sangay: In my 16 years at Harvard, I organized conferences and met hundreds of Chinese scholars. I would like to continue the dialogue at the people level and if the Chinese government is willing, also at the government level.
More moderate policies and attitudes will serve their interests, too. Tibet is under occupation and there is ongoing repression, cultural assimilation and economic marginalization.
One case in point is the repression at Kirti Monastery in northeastern Tibet. It is a symptom of the ongoing tragedy in Tibet which must end. Moving away from its hard-line policy on Tibet is in the best interests of China, too. It would improve its image in the eyes of the international community.
IRT: You’ve attracted a lot of support from young Tibetans in exile. What message do you have for them?
Mr. Sangay: I come from a humble background. My parents had to make many sacrifices for me to go to the Tibetan refugee school. I spent my winter vacations working in the woods to help my parents. The person I have become is mainly because of the education I got and because of my hard work. I hope to inspire the young generation to pursue their education.
I’ll do my best to provide the opportunities, through policies and funding, so that they will be able to stand on their own feet and become successful professionals in the future.
IRT: How would you respond to critics who say you have little experience in government?
Mr. Sangay: I have an understanding of the government’s political institutions, I’ve dialogued with Chinese people and have confronted unjust policies of the Chinese government. I am also familiar with the Indian government and its people, which is also important for the role of Kalon Tripa.
Although I do not have direct experience of government, I have had exposure to the inner workings of Dharamsala because I spend a lot of time there. People have taken me for who I am. If you look around the world there are a lot or prime ministers and presidents who are in their forties, from Barack Obama in the U.S., to Julia Gillard in Australia, to David Cameron in the U.K.
They are doing fine and I should be fine as well.
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