Lobsang Sangay, prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile, being interviewed by the Sankei Shimbun (Photo Yoshikazu Hiroike)
The Tibetan government-in-exile is based in Dharamsala in northern India. Their prime minister, Lobsang Sangay, recently visited Japan and agreed to an exclusive interview with the Sankei Shimbun. PM Sangay spoke of the Chinese government’s oppression of the Tibetan people.
Prime Minister Sangay was born in Darjeeling, eastern India, in 1968. After graduating from the University of Delhi, he obtained an LL.M. from Harvard Law School in 1995. First elected prime minister in 2011, Sangay subsequently assumed the role of the top Tibetan political leader after the Dalai Lama, the supreme Buddhist leader of Tibet, resigned his political post. Sangay was re-elected prime minister in 2016.
His selected comments are below.
The tragedy of Tibet still shows no signs of ending. Since 2009, 145 Tibetans have committed suicide by auto-immolation. Every time I hear reports of these suicides, my heart is wrenched with pain. The act of killing oneself in this way is a cry to the international community for help. Life is the most precious thing for the government-in-exile, and we plead with the Tibetan people not to carry out any more self-immolations. Nevertheless, they go on killing themselves, paying the ultimate sacrifice.
Traditional Tibetan structures are also being razed one after another. As we speak, the Chinese government is dismantling Larung Gar, the largest Buddhist monastery in eastern Tibet. The Chinese government plans to clear out most of the approximately 12,000 monks and nuns at Larung Gar, reducing the monastery’s population to some 5,000. This kind of destruction by the Chinese government is a daily occurrence, such as its destruction of the Yarchen Gar temple complex, where the government has evicted the monks and prohibited all religious activities. Those whom the Chinese government evicts from monasteries and convents are forced to sign a pledge promising never to return to the area.
In the years leading up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, as many as 5,000 Tibetans per year fled to India. The numbers of refugees increase in the winter, when patrols along the border are weaker. It takes between two and five weeks to cross the Himalayas in the extreme winter cold. Some of the refugees are children not even ten years of age. Many refugees arrive with fingers missing from frostbite.
However, the numbers of refugees have recently been decreasing because the Chinese government is putting pressure on Nepal, which in turn is stepping up border security and thus cutting down on the flow of refugees. Nepal has now become a satellite nation of the People’s Republic of China. The Chinese government’s propaganda line is that Chinese investment is allowing the people of Tibet to live happy lives, so it must be an inconvenient fact for the Chinese government that thousands and thousands of Tibetans are trying to escape Chinese rule.
Refugees are thrown in jail and tortured if they are apprehended by the Chinese government. They are locked up in freezing rooms and beaten with cattle prods. One can get into trouble simply for owning a picture of the Dalai Lama, and organizing a demonstration of even a handful of people leads to arrest. Many prisoners die in Chinese jails, while those who are released often suffer permanent physical and psychological damage. Prisoners begin to think that burning oneself to death and thus dying in an instant is better than slowly and repeatedly being tortured to death over many years.
Japan is a fellow Buddhist country and is also a great power wielding tremendous influence around the world. The initiative known as the All-Party Japanese Parliamentary Group for Tibet was formed with the objective of increasing understanding of and support for Tibet in her current situation. This group releases forward-looking messages aimed at the international community. The message that Japan is standing with Tibet provides hope to Tibetans suffering oppression.
The Tibetan problem is not a problem only for Tibetans. What happened to Tibet could happen in any other country. When China invaded Tibet approximately sixty years ago, hardly anyone paid any attention. It is only in recent years, as China has encroached on the Senkaku Islands, the Spratly Islands, and the East China Sea that the Asia-Pacific region has begun to understand the danger posed by the People’s Republic of China. The tactics the Chinese use in those places are the same as the ones they used, and are still using, against Tibet. If you want to know what China is capable of, look to Tibet. This is the message that we are trying to convey.
I believe that the Tibetan problem can be solved by means of the “middle way” policy of nonviolence which the Tibetan autonomous government seeks to carry out. Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa, was in prison for 27 years but he went on to lay the foundations of South African democracy. I don’t think there were any experts in 1989 who were predicting that the Berlin Wall would come down. And Aung San Suu Kyi, who is now state counsellor and minister of foreign affairs, was until just a few years ago under house arrest in Myanmar.
There are many examples of great changes taking place in a short period of time. If something is not given to one, then one has no choice but to seize the initiative and act on one’s own accord. This is why we always say, “Our turn is next.”
Yoshikazu Hiroike is a political staff writer for the Sankei Shimbun