Meet the Dalai Lama’s Harvard-Educated Replacement

Harvard academic Lobsang Sangay has been elected to become the new Prime Minister of Tibetan government-in-exile. From the Atlantic:

Exiled Tibetans elected a 43-year-old Harvard academic to replace the Dalai Lama in his role as political leader of Tibet. As prime minister, Lobsang Sangay’s got a lot on his plate: lobby for greater autonomy from China and improve the livelihood of Tibetans in and outside of China. So who is this guy and is he up to the task? Here’s some fast facts on Tibet’s new political leader:

Bio Sangay was born in 1968 in Darjeeling, India and has never been to Tibet. He came to the U.S. in 1995 and became the first Tibetan to obtain a Masters degree and doctorate in law from Harvard Law School. He routinely visits Dharamsala, where Tibet’s exhiled government is headquartered, and rubs shoulders with Tibetan officials.

More on Sangay’s background and Tibetan election implications from the Associated Press:

Lobsang Sangay, 43, a lawyer and scholar who has spent years studying international law and conflict resolution, won with 55 percent of the votes cast by tens of thousands of Tibetans around the world, chief election commissioner Jamphel Choesang said in the north Indian town of Dharmsala, where the exile government is based.

“I view my election as an affirmation of the far-sighted policies of His Holiness the Dalai Lama,” he said in a statement on the exile government’s website, calling on people to “join me in our common cause to alleviate the suffering of Tibetans in occupied Tibet.”

While the government-in-exile has existed for decades, it has long been seen as a powerless reflection of the wishes of the Dalai Lama, the exiled 75-year-old Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader worshipped as a near-deity by many followers.

Earlier this year, though, the Dalai Lama announced he would give up his political role, saying it was time for elected leadership in the Tibetan community. The political change, yet to be written into the community’s constitution, reverses centuries of tradition in which the Dalai Lama was also the region’s political leader.

While it remains unclear if an elected leader will be able to step out of the Dalai Lama’s immense shadow, the shift is widely seen as a way to prepare for the spiritual leader’s eventual death, and to show Beijing that exile leaders will continue to wield influence.

The message “is that the Tibetan struggle is clearly a Tibetan people’s struggle,” government spokesman Thupten Samphel said after Sangay’s victory was announced. “This is a wake-up call for China.”

Commentary from the Chinese press regarding Lobsang Sangay’ s election has not been kind.  The Chinese government believes he may advocate for Tibetan independence and has labeled him as a terrorist. From People’s Daily:

Lobsang Sangay was born and bred in India, but has never been to Tibet. In 1992, he rose to fame and became the youngest leading member of “Tibetan Youth Congress” (TYC), a terrorist organization in nature.

The violent incident in Lhasa on March 14, 2008 — including beating, smashing, looting and arson — exposed the terrorist nature of “Tibetan Youth Congress” (TYC) as the direct planner of the riot. The crimes made the organization look like a kin member of Al-Qaida, Chechnyan armed terrorists and “East Turkistan” separatists.”

Founded in 1970, the TYC advocates “complete independence of Tibet” and has fully integrated into the “Tibetan government-in-exile”, entering the power core of the Dalai clique. It has long been involved in secessionist activities.

The election favorite Lobsang Sangay hinted he could move beyond the Dalai Lama’s “middle way”, the policy of negotiating some “autonomy” from China. A younger generation has criticized it for producing no results despite the TYC- incited 2008 atrocities.

Lobsang Sangay also despises the Dalai Lama’s “middle way”, and calls for “self determination”, a term often used by young radicals pressing for Tibet independence.

In all likelihood, a new-generation leadership to rule the “Tibetan government in-exile” would inject the more radical and extreme theory in “Tibetan Independence”, and would also take desperate steps to obtain the highly coveted goal. And they will never cease to sow the seed of ethnic discords and fuel flames among the Tibetan people within China.

India Real Time blog conducted a telephone interview with the new Prime Minister Lobsang Sangay. Here are some excerpts. From India Real Time blog:

IRT: What will your top priority be as Prime Minister?

Mr. Sangay: My number one priority is to end the suffering of Tibetans inside Tibet, to have the Chinese government recognize the identity and dignity of Tibetans and to find a peaceful way to address the issue of Tibet.

Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King are all great leaders of the nonviolent movement who achieved their goals through both dialogue with the other side and, yes, by also confronting unjust policies as required.

IRT: What is your policy line on China?

Mr. Sangay: In my 16 years at Harvard, I organized conferences and met hundreds of Chinese scholars. I would like to continue the dialogue at the people level and if the Chinese government is willing, also at the government level.

More moderate policies and attitudes will serve their interests, too. Tibet is under occupation and there is ongoing repression, cultural assimilation and economic marginalization.

One case in point is the repression at Kirti Monastery in northeastern Tibet. It is a symptom of the ongoing tragedy in Tibet which must end. Moving away from its hard-line policy on Tibet is in the best interests of China, too. It would improve its image in the eyes of the international community.

IRT: How would you respond to critics who say you have little experience in government?

Mr. Sangay: I have an understanding of the government’s political institutions, I’ve dialogued with Chinese people and have confronted unjust policies of the Chinese government. I am also familiar with the Indian government and its people, which is also important for the role of Kalon Tripa.

Although I do not have direct experience of government, I have had exposure to the inner workings of Dharamsala because I spend a lot of time there. People have taken me for who I am. If you look around the world there are a lot or prime ministers and presidents who are in their forties, from Barack Obama in the U.S., to Julia Gillard in Australia, to David Cameron in the U.K.

They are doing fine and I should be fine as well.


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