08/08/2011, 00.00
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A solution to the Tibetan problem touches billions of people in Asia, says Lobsang Sangay

by Nirmala Carvalho
The new Tibetan prime minister gives an exclusive interview, the first since the Dalai Lama gave up, in his favour, his role as political leader. Today, Lobsang takes office. He discusses relations with China, India and other countries as well as the suffering of the Tibetan people and possible solutions to the Tibetan question.
Dharamsala (AsiaNews) – Lobsang Sangay, the prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile, took office today. He was elected after the Dalai Lama officially relinquished his powers this year as political leader of the Tibetan people, whilst retaining his authority as religious leader. The previous Kalon Tripa (prime minister), Samdhong Rinpoche, was the reincarnation of a lama but was never able to play an effective role as a political leader. Here is an exclusive interview of AsiaNews with the new premier.

What is the relationship between the Kalon Trip and the Dalai Lama and what awaits him?

I assume these duties with the support of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and a democratic mandate from Tibetans living in exile in 30 countries around the world. The values I seek for Tibetans are those enjoyed and often taken for granted in India: freedom, equality and dignity.

What is the relationship between the Tibetan people and the Chinese people and Socialist China?

We are not against the Chinese people or China as a nation. We seek to resolve the Tibetan issue peacefully through dialogue. But the Chinese people must know that historically Tibet and China were two different entities as enshrined in the Treaty of 821-822, which states that "Tibetans shall be happy in the land of Tibet and Chinese will be happy in the land of China."

When China invaded Tibet in 1959, it promised the Tibetan people a "socialist paradise." First, roads were built and, along these roads, Tibet's untapped and abundant mineral and other natural resources were carted to China. Forests were logged. Countless and priceless statues and cultural artefacts housed in destroyed monasteries and temples made their way to China. In short, the "socialist paradise" the Tibetans were promised turned into colonialism, with Tibet's resources used to fuel China's development. The Tibetan people resisted this development with determination but the resistance was crushed with military might. This is the Tibetan experience of China's "Socialist paradise."

How are your relations with India?

We remain eternally grateful to the people and the government of India for giving us refuge for the past five decades. For those of us who live here, India is our second home. The Tibetan administration will uphold the special relationship between Tibetans and Indians. We humbly appeal for your [India’s] continued support and kind consideration to treat Tibet as one of the core issues between India and China.

What control do Chinese authorities now exercise in Tibet?

After 60 years of misrule, Tibetans continue to be repressed. Any Tibetan caught with a picture of the Dalai Lama is arrested in his homeland. Monks and nuns are put through hard labour. Even to have a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights could land you in trouble.

Ultimately, unable to accept the status of second-class citizens in their own country, in 2008, those born and brought up under the "socialist paradise," Tibetans from all walks of life, rose up and protested from Dromo to Dartsedo and Ngari to Ngaba in Tibet.

This generation of protesters in Tibet has not met the Dalai Lama; and though few in exile have been allowed to go to Tibet, our spirit is strong. Elders have entrusted their faith and leadership in the younger generation and I pledge to continue their legacy to make our freedom movement stronger and sustainable.

Following in the footsteps of the Mahatma Gandhi, the Dalai Lama believes in ahimsa (non-violence) as do I. The Dalai Lama proposes a “middle solution” of real autonomy for Tibet within China, which I support because I believe in the power of peaceful dialogue to reach change.

Although I will continue to strive ardently for Tibetan rights, meaningful progress will require the cooperation of other parties. Through peaceful dialogue and communication, I genuinely believe we have the opportunity to reach a meaningful solution that would satisfy both Tibetan and Chinese interests.

Beijing insists that Tibet is an “internal matter”. Do you think that Tibetans’ future involves the international community?

A just and speedy resolution of the issue of Tibet is in the interest of all Asia. For thousands of years, the Tibetan people served as responsible guardians of the environment of the world's highest and largest plateau that is the source of 10 major rivers that contribute to the livelihood of more than two billion human beings. China's damming of rivers that originate from Tibet will undermine the livelihood of millions of people downstream in Asia. It is for this reason that millions of people in Asia have vested interests in seeing that the Tibetan people are restored to their traditional role of responsible guardians of the environment of the Tibetan Plateau. This transcends politics. It touches upon the well-being and welfare of Asia.

What would you like to tell AsiaNews readers?

The United States and the European countries have been in the forefront of supporting the Tibet issue because of the past history of Europe. Their commitment to human rights and democracy has been quite strong. India too has been most supportive. So we are very grateful to the people and governments of Europe and thank them for their humanitarian and political support.

Tell us about your concerns and responsibilities as prime minister?

It is both exciting and sobering to be prime minster. It is exciting because, as a Tibetan, it is an honour and opportunity to lead your people and I will gladly carry out this mission entrusted to me. It is an opportunity to provide a leadership to our Tibetan people. On the other hand, to be the prime minister is also sobering. Since our people are suffering in Tibet, their pains and agonies are my sufferings and anguish as well. On a daily basis, I will have to reach out to them and address their torments, and be their voice. This task is daunting and sobering as well.
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