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Surya Gangadharan
Wednesday, November 28, 2012 at 16 : 29

'Tibet is not a priority for China'


Lobsang Sangay represents the new face of the Tibetan Government in Exile. With the Dalai Lama now out of the picture, Sangay is the Siyong (equivalent to prime minister), the man who runs the government with his cabinet. Excerpts from an interview

Change in Tibet policy:

In China don't expect any change even with a new leadership. It is true Xi Jinping's father knew the Dalai Lama and even the Panchen Lama. He had in fact backed China's most liberal premier Hu Yaobang. Whether the father's ideas have influenced the son is not clear. We may or hope to see some change only after the 19th party congress in about five years from now. The present people are in their 60s, people whose minds were shaped in a different era. Also, the system carries on no matter whose in charge. Point to note is that Tibet is not a priority for China's government. How else can you explain Tibet and Tibetans being fed the same medicine even though it's apparent that the medicine is not working.


Immolations have now touched 85. There was one immolation in 2009 but in 2011 it shot up to 23. Match this with the crackdown on Tibetans seeking to enter India through Nepal. The Chinese have sealed close to 75 per cent of the border with Nepal. They have also trained Nepali border guards and are providing food and fuel to Nepali villages near the border to report the presence of any Tibetans in their area. Up to 2008, between 3000-5000 Tibetans used to enter Nepal, now it is down to 1000.

The positive here is that the international community is becoming increasingly vocal about Tibet. After a long time the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay issued a strong statement on Tibet.

The PLA view on Tibet:

There is a theory (and this is only a theory) that the PLA leadership sees no purpose in their presence in every nook and corner of Tibet. Currently, PLA troops are deployed in villages, in small towns. This is apparently not liked by the top commanders who say their job is to defend the borders from invasion, not point their guns at their own people. Autonomy for Tibet is something they would be open to if it would lessen the tension and violence. China's defence budget is around $107 bn but the internal security budget is $111 bn and per capita the largest chunk of this budget is spent on Tibet's six million people.

There's another theory that the Chinese only trust their ethnic kin. They've granted autonomy to fellow Chinese in Hong Kong and Macao. The dialogue with Taiwan centres on the same readiness to extend autonomy to Taiwanese. This may not extend to Tibetans whom the Chinese clearly do not trust.

On India-China:

I think the Indian government is getting more realistic about China. I don't want to see any confrontation between India and China but Tibet is a standing example of what the Chinese are capable of. India needs to be more assertive vis a vis China. It's an example that will go down well with the rest of Asia.


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More about Surya Gangadharan

Surya Gangadharan is International Affairs Editor at CNN IBN and was in Egypt to cover the anti-government movement. He has covered wars in Afghanistan, the UN intervention in Somalia and Rwanda, elections in Pakistan and the civil conflict in Sri Lanka where he interviewed the top leadership of that time. He has worked for the Straits Times Group in Singapore and also for PTI, the Indian Express and India Today in India.