National Press Club

Tibetan leader urges U.S. to pressure China to resume dialogue

November 3, 2011 | By Robert Webb |

Lobsang Sangay, new leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

Lobsang Sangay, new leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Lobsang Sangay, prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile, urged the United States to pressure China to resume talks aimed at peaceful resolution of its issues with Tibet at a Nov. 2 Newsmaker.

His appeal came in his first public appearance in Washington and on the eve of his testimony on Capitol Hill. He said he had been meeting with members of Congress.

"We believe in non-violence," he said.

When asked if he would accept an invitation to Beijing, he said, "We are willing to have dialogue anytime anywhere. We have envoys who met with the Chinese for seven years but none has been there in the last two years."

He expressed gratitude for the help India and the United States have given Tibet and praised the U.S. Declaration of Independence as a model. He was elected last March by Tibetans in 30 countries after the Dalai Lama decided to restrict his role in Tibet to that of spiritual leader.

Sangay sees himself as part of the new generation of Tibetan leadership.

"We'll be (in charge) the next 30 years, and if we don't have freedom by then, Tibet will disappear from the map of the world," he said.

Tibet would accept autonomy en route to full freedom, said Sangay, a 43-year-old Harvard law graduate born in a Darjeeling, India, in 1968.

Sangay emphasized that the exile government's outreach to China would be peaceful.

But Tibetans must overcome an obstacle to autonomy that doesn't face Taiwan and Hong Kong. Tibetans "are not Chinese," Sangay said.

There have been nine cases of immolation in recent months, including Buddhist monks and a nun protesting Chinese rule, according to Sangay. He also said a Sri Lankan monk was immolated in what could have been such a protest.

The exile government doesn't encourage immolation, Sangay said, but does "stand with" those who took that route.

"We pray for them," Sangay said.

The Arab Spring may have had some impact on Tibet, Sangay said. Tibetans are being encouraged to use social media to make their voices heard.

China's efforts to move more Chinese to Tibet have been ineffective, Sangay said. The migrants mostly come to urban areas and "go back to China in winter."

Sangay also said that China is damming some of the 10 rivers in Tibet, threatening the water supply to Thailand and other southeast Asian countries.