The newly-elected Tibetan prime minister-in-exile, Lobsang Sangay, says he will use his tenure in office to continue pressing China for negotiations aimed at resolving the decades-long dispute over the status of Tibet.
Sangay assumes office Monday, ending months of transition within the exile government sparked by previously scheduled ministerial elections and by the Dalai Lama’s decision to step away from political affairs. Tens of thousands of exiled Tibetans from across the globe elected Sangay in April. The 76-year-old Dalai Lama says he will retain his role as Tibet’s spiritual leader.
China has routinely accused the Dalai Lama and his followers of advocating Tibetan secession, despite repeated assurances from the Nobel laureate that he is seeking dialogue with Beijing aimed at establishing Tibetan autonomy.
Sunday, the 42-year-old Sangay, speaking from exile headquarters in northern India, told Reuters television he will strive to communicate with Chinese civil society as well as the government, in order to “resolve differences peacefully, based on mutual interests.”
In a published commentary, Sangay vowed to restore freedom for Tibetans and for the return the Dalai Lama to his homeland.
Perhaps in response, the Chinese government has recently been trying to raise the profile of its own chosen Panchen Lama, who is still a controversial figure among Tibetans. From the New York Times:
“He” is China’s handpicked Panchen Lama, the second-most important religious figure in Tibetan Buddhism, and despite his formidable rank, his presence is not universally welcomed by the faithful in and around the white-wall Labrang Monastery that sprawls into a cavernous valley here.
The main problem is that this Panchen Lama, 21, is one of two young men with claims to the title. The one chosen by Communist Party officials in 1995, named Gyaltsen Norbu at birth, is often referred to by local residents as the “Chinese Panchen Lama.” The other is Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, who would now be 22, a herder’s son who was anointed that same year by the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader.
Most Tibetans are still loyal to the memory of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, even if he has been missing since Chinese authorities swept him and his family into “protective custody” more than 16 years ago.
“We just hope he is still alive,” said Tsering Woeser, a Tibetan essayist and blogger who noted that Gedhun Choekyi Nyima’s visage, frozen as a 5-year-old, hangs in many homes and temples. “We are waiting for him.”
As Gyaltsen Norbu moves from adolescence to adulthood, Chinese authorities are facing a quandary over how to burnish his bona fides: his standing will continue to suffer if he remains apart from Tibetan monks and the faithful, but officials risk inflaming passions by foisting him on a community that remains deeply suspicious.
In recent years, the Communist Party has tried other means to raise his profile. They named him vice president of the state-run Buddhist association and appointed him to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body that meets annually in Beijing.