Tibet’s Exile Leader Sees ‘Positive Signals’ on Possible Talks With China

Penpa Tsering says he remains cautious, though, pending assurances the signals are 'genuine and trustworthy.'
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Tibet’s Exile Leader Sees ‘Positive Signals’ on Possible Talks With China Penpa Tsering, Sikyong of the Central Tibetan Administration, Tibet's India-based government in exile, is shown in a March 22, 2021 photo.

Penpa Tsering, the Sikyong of Tibet’s India-based exile government, said this month that he has seen indications China may be willing to resume talks on Tibet’s status under Chinese rule, but cautioned more must be done to move ahead.

“We are actually receiving positive signals from the Chinese side on the issue of dialogue,” the Sikyong, or Tibet’s political leader in exile, told RFA in an interview on Sept. 4 marking his first 100 days in office.

“However, I am being cautious, as we need to verify whether these signals are genuine and trustworthy,” Tsering said. “Until we agree on the right strategy for resuming dialogue, there are certain things we need to prepare, and we have already begun to do this,” he said.

Tibet’s struggle has been a national struggle for more than 60 years, Tsering said, adding, “It is difficult to estimate the timeline for resolving this issue. So now, the key question is how we move forward, and we have to reach out to our Chinese counterparts to begin with.”

Tibet’s Dharamsala, India-based exile government, or Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), has now formed a Permanent Strategy Committee of four members, each from a different department of the CTA, to consider options for moving ahead with talks, Tsering said.

Nine rounds of talks were previously held with high-level Chinese officials beginning in 2002, but stalled in 2010 and were never resumed.

“Whether we can make any progress on resuming the Sino-Tibetan dialogue or not depends very much on the Chinese government,” Tsering said.

“For our part, we will continue our efforts as representatives of the Tibetan people to resume the dialogue, so that when we leave office after five years we can account for ourselves to the public,” he said.

Divisions persist in the Tibetan exile community—about 150,000 people living in 40 countries, mainly Indian, Nepal, North America, and in Europe—over how best to advance the rights of the 6.3 million Tibetans living in China, with some calling for a restoration of the independence lost when Chinese troops marched into Tibet in 1950.

Tibet’s invasion and incorporation into China by force prompted Tibet’s then national leader the Dalai Lama and thousands of his followers to flee into exile in India and other countries around the world.

“Even though His Holiness the Dalai Lama has formally relinquished his political leadership role in the Tibetan exile government, he still remains the protector and symbol of the Tibetan people,” Tsering said.

“So we have from time to time been updating His Holiness on the condition of the administration and the tasks that we perform.”

“We will do our best to fulfill the aspirations of His Holiness the Dalai Lama,” Tsering said.

'I have a huge responsibility'

Tsering, former speaker of Tibet’s exile parliament in Dharamsala, won a closely fought April 11 election to become Sikyong held in Tibetan communities worldwide.

The fifth elected CTA leader, Tsering replaced Lobsang Sangay, a Harvard-trained scholar of law, who had served two consecutive five-year terms as Sikyong, an office filled by candidates elected since 2011 by popular vote.

On Aug. 20, Tsering began a round of official visits to observe conditions in Tibetan settlements in India, beginning with settlements in the Leh and Jangthang areas of India’s remote northwestern region of Ladakh.

“I made a promise during my campaign that if I won the election, I would start my visit to settlements beginning in Ladakh,” he said, adding, “Unless you go and see these things for yourself, it is impossible to picture the actual situation and concerns of the Tibetan people and be able to offer them help.”

Tsering said his government must now devise a long-term plan of from 10 to 15 years to resolve the settlements’ longstanding problems.

“As a Sikyong elected by the public, I have a huge responsibility,” he said. “And with that in mind, I have met with people, spoken with them, and listened to each and every one of their questions, grievances, and concerns.”

Tibet’s exile parliament, stalled for months by disputes over the legality of the oaths taken by seated members, should now move forward with its own responsibilities so that government business does not come to a halt, Tsering said.

“Right now, there is no legitimate body for the Kashag [the Sikyong’s cabinet] to work with,” he said. “If the impasse in parliament is not resolved by March 2022, there will be a risk of disorder in the Central Tibetan Administration that could hurt the Tibetan cause.”

“Democracy is about rules and the law. So if one does not abide by the law, democracy cannot function” he said.

Reported by Lobsang Gelek for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Tenzin Dickyi. Written in English by Richard Finney.


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Sep 23, 2021 02:23 PM

The CTA should not be fooled by China's false promises. The CCP has no intention of ever giving Tibet genuine autonomy or basic human rights. The PRC won't even talk directly with the CTA. Dialogue is pointless without good faith & positive actions. China is reneging on its promise for autonomy & democracy for Hong Kong. China is committing genocide against Uyghurs. China is putting Tibetans who revere the Dalai Lama in jail. There's no evidence that China will give Tibet any degree of freedom. It's time to regain Tibet's independence.

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