News and Views on Tibet

Interviews with Thomas Mann, Samdhong Rinpoche and Lhasang Tsering

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The Preamble

The following interviews have been published in July 2005, in “Diplomatie”, a French magazine devoted to international and diplomatic issues. They have not been published yet in English media. Doing it now is very interesting to assess the situation during these last four years, in the light of the 2008 unrest in Tibetand the ongoing changes within Tibetan movement.

Three political figures were interviewed about two main and highly connected issues: the “dialogue process” between Chinese and Tibetans; and the opportunity to recognise the Tibetan Government in Exile as the legitimate representative of the Tibetan people, as suggested by the European Parliament resolution of 6 July 2000.

The three political figures interviewed were Thomas Mann, Member of the European Parliament and President of Tibet Intergroup ; Samdhong Rinpoche, Prime Minister of the Tibetan Governement in Exile; and Lhasang Tsering, Tibetan writer and former President of the Tibetan Youth Congress.

The European resolution of 6 July 2000 invited “the governments of the Member States to give serious consideration to the possibility of recognising the Tibetan Government in Exile as the legitimate representative of the Tibetan people if, within three years, the Beijing authorities and the Tibetan Government in Exile have not signed an agreement on a new Statute for Tibet, through negotiations organised under the aegis of the Secretary-General of the United Nations”. But this resolution remained in standby till now.

After the three years deadline, on 8 July 2003, the Tibet Intergroup held a meeting to assess the “Sino-Tibetan dialogue”. According to TIN report (15 July 2003), “the option of a new resolution by the European Parliament was maintained. However, it was also decided that in consideration of the two delegations’ visits and the positive contacts established with Chinese officials, no unnecessary pressure should be exerted.”

When these interviews were published in Diplomatie Magazine, in July 2005, two years had passed since Tibet Intergroup’s meeting and three years more since the adoption of the European resolution. Thus what happened?

On this issue, Samdhong Rinpoche answered: “The European Parliament resolution was helpful. Regarding none implementation of this resolution, I cannot answer on behalf of European Parliament. One should ask this question to EP”. For the MEP Thomas Mann, things seemed to have been momentarily in standby for technical reasons: “The possibility for a renewal of the resolution through the EP is high. The actual task is to convince the newly elected Members of the EP of the high relevance of recognition of the Tibetan Government in Exile”. But till now, in 2009, no result. And no sign of any real attempt in this direction.

In his answer, Lhasang Tsering was more direct, as well known free speaker. According to him, “the so-called ‘dialogue diplomacy’ was an important part of China’s strategy to play for time. (…) It was a clever ploy by the Chinese to offset the very important resolution of the European Parliament on Tibet”. The view of Lhasang Tsering is not unique, it reflects the sentiment of a large number of Tibetans and their supporters.

For example, Vijay Kranti, an Indian journalist close to Tibetan community, quoted several Tibetan voices in his article “Rangzen first, the rest can follow” (in Border-Affairs, October 2002): ” ‘This visit and dialogue have only helped China by sabotaging the first ever chances of winning international recognition to Dalai Lama’s exile government’, says an angry senior officer of the Central Tibetan Administration”. For many, it was like “‘helping Beijing to wriggle out of EP ultimatum”, Vijay Kranti added.

Today, events give reasons to Lhasang Tsering. The Chinese crackdown of the “Tibetan Spring” in 2008 was the most concrete answer to dialogue from Beijing side. During their last visits in China, in July and November 2008, Special Envoys of the Dalai Lama expressed their disillusionment about talks. The Dalai Lama himself acknowledged the failure of all attempts to dialogue with Beijing as he “lost faith in Chinese leadership”. During the Special Meeting held in November 2008, many questioned the consistence of the present Tibetan policy. As mentioned in its post Special Meeting statement, the National Democratic Party of Tibet “discussed in the meeting to appeal effectively to recognise the exile-government by EU, UNO and other independent countries”.

Previously, in May 2007, Jamyang Norbu wrote an article titled “Reflections on a political solution”. In it, he thought about strategies to resolve Tibetan issue: “A step might be to seek governmental recognition of the TGIE. This may appear to be a difficult even impossible task but have we really tried? There are precedents for recognizing exile governments. (…) There might not be, for some time at least, a big power willing to offer such recognition, but it is at least a perceptible goal to which our supporters and friends in their respective countries could at least work towards. (…) Getting even one small country -size doesn’t matter in these things- to recognize Dharamshala as the legitimate government of Tibet is extremely important.”

Now, in the light of all these elements, the reader should be able to objectively decrypt the following interviews. Even after four years, they remain valid. They even may show the way to go ahead.

Mathieu Vernerey


Interview with Thomas Mann
Thomas Mann is Member of the European Parliament and President of Tibet Intergroup.


Q: On 6 July 2000, the European Parliament passed a resolution inviting Member States to recognise the Tibetan Government in Exile as the legitimate representative of the Tibetan people if there was no negotiation within three years. What were your reflection and your strategy?

T.M: By the resolution the EP, as the “voice of human rights in the EU” embarks the strategy to put pressure on the Commission, the Council and the Member States to establish the recognition of the Tibetan Government in Exile as a core demand of the permanent dialogue between the EU and China.

Q: Don’t you think this recognition request was in contradiction with the official policy of the Tibetan Government in Exile?

T.M: The recognition of the Tibetan Government in Exile would be an important sign of support for the peaceful policy of the Dalai Lama. Therefore, I cannot perceive a contradiction to the official line.

Q: On the other hand, could such recognition be an opportunity for the Tibetan Government to review its strategy and clarify its positions?

T.M: The Tibetan Government in Exile has always been a strong supporter of the peaceful policy of the Dalai Lama, which stands out through clearness, straightness and reliability. As a recognized player in international relations the government would be able to spread these ideals more effectively in foreign affairs.

Q: According to the conditions and the objectives stated in the resolution, why had this one not be implemented?

T.M: The resolution is based on a broad majority in the European Parliament. We have steadily increased the pressure on the Commission, the Council and the Member States. This results in the Chinese invitation for talks with the Tibetans. The possibility for a renewal of the resolution through the EP is high. The actual task is to convince the newly elected Members of the EP – one third of the plenary – as well as the newly composed EU-Commission of the high relevance of recognition of the Tibetan Government in Exile.

Q: The visits of the Dalai Lama’s Envoys in China have been qualified as “positive signs” manifested by Beijing towards “substantive negotiations”. However, these visits had produced no result, except divergences of views on fundamental issues. By supporting yourself these “positive signs”, don’t you contribute to a Chinese strategy of communication which counter Tibetan interests?

T.M: Both visits have been an important sign, but not more than a first step, which has to be followed by further more. The EP has motivated the EU-Commission to push for more substantial negotiations. The EP and other sympathisers of Tibet will increase the volume of their protests, if public relation shows will go on – these shows have to be unmasked! Therefore, substantial progress is also in the interest of the Chinese government.


Interview with Samdhong Rinpoche
Samdhong Rinpoche is the Prime Minister of the Tibetan Government in exile.


Q: What about your relations today with China about Tibet’s future and in view of eventual negotiations?

S.R: We believe that the Chinese authorities receiving the three visits of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s envoys to China and Tibetan areas is a positive indication that China is serious in setting the issue of Tibet peacefully and through a process of negotiations. Our main issue is that the six million Tibetan people are granted enough freedom to protect and promote Tibet’s distinct cultural identity. For that we are seeking genuine national regional autonomy within the framework of People’s Republic of China.

Q: In October 2002, you asked Tibet’s supporters not to disturb Chinese officials’ visits until June 2003, in view to create a conducive atmosphere for dialogue with China. Did it work? Why did you set this deadline rather than another one?

S.R: Yes, we did indeed request the Tibet Support Groups and the Tibetan NGOs not to be provocative during demonstrations. I believe that our request has produced results in terms of creating a conducive atmosphere for negotiations because our contacts with Chinese leadership are strengthening and the envoys of His Holiness could visit for the second and third time due to improved environment. Thereafter we have again urged the Tibet Support Groups not to be aggressive and provocative to the PRC until the process of dialogue and negotiation reached to a logical conclusion.

Q: You have called “positive” some signs made by China. How do you understand some Beijing statements which contradict you on this matter?

S.R: Regardless of the rhetoric coming out from the China it is our believe that the Chinese leadership is serious in setting the issue of Tibet peacefully. You cannot expect a visible change in the public statement of PRC till substantive negotiation reached to a definitive stage.

Q: In July 2000, a resolution of the European Parliament planned to ask Member States to recognise your government as the legitimate representative of the Tibetan people, if there were no negotiations within three years. Is that a coincidence? Did this resolution help or disturb you in your diplomatic effort? Why had it not be applied?

S.R: Any concern expressed by the international community or resolution passed on the issue of Tibet by any parliament around the world is helpful for the cause of Tibet. This sends a message to China that the international community is concerned about the current conditions in Tibet and will help encourage the Chinese leadership to settle the issue peacefully. And similarly, the European Parliament resolution was helpful. Regarding none implementation of this resolution, I cannot answer on behalf of European Parliament. One should ask this question to EP. The fact is that we are still in the process of dialogue. Negotiation is not achieved as yet.

Q: Which statute are you looking for in view of eventual negotiations if your government is not recognised? Why do you maintain this one if you give up independence?

S.R: The issue of Tibet is yet to be settled. That is why we continue to maintain the Central Tibetan Administration to look after the welfare of the Tibetan exiles in India and elsewhere in the world. Once the issue of Tibet is settled to the satisfaction of the Tibetan people and His Holiness the Dalai Lama returns to Tibet in freedom, the Central Tibetan Administration will be dissolved and the governance of Tibet will be left in the hands of the Tibetan people in Tibet.

Q: In the case of failure of your present policy, which alternative do you consider?

S.R: We are pursuing the process of negotiation with PRC leadership through Middle Path Approach having full faith that it will definitely achieve our desire goals. So therefore the question of considering an alternative does not arise at this moment.


Interview of Lhasang Tsering
Lhasang Tsering is a Tibetan writer and former President of the Tibetan Youth Congress, largest Tibetan group seeking independence


Q: How do you understand the “renewed dialogue” with China and the “positive signs” from this one since 2002? What is your point of view about the three delegations that visited China and Tibet?

L.T: The first thing we must understand about the so-called “dialogue diplomacy” between Beijing and Dharamshala is that we only have “talks about talks” but no meaningful dialogue. This is because China has essentially no need to talk to the Tibetans. In that case one may ask why then are the Chinese inviting and receiving “Envoys of the Dalai-Lama”? The simple truth here is that this is an important part of China’s strategy to play for time.

As for the talk about a “renewed dialogue” due to the visit to Beijing of the Special Envoys of the Dalai-Lama in 2002; in my view this was a cleaver ploy by the Chinese to offset the very important resolution of the European Parliament on Tibet which stated that member countries of the EU would seriously consider recognizing the Tibetan Government in Exile if, within three years, China does not enter into meaningful negotiations with the Dalai-Lama to resolve the future status of Tibet.

From the very beginning I felt that the Tibetan delegations visiting China and Tibet was a mistake. The stark reality facing the Tibetan people today is that China’s population transfer policy has set a time limit. The fact is that time is running out for Tibet; China is playing for time and the delegations visiting China and talking about “positive signs” is playing into Chinese hands.

Q: What strategy do you advocate to help negotiations opening? Are these ones necessary and according to which objectives? In your view, is there an alternative based on another objectives and another strategy?

L.T: I cannot understand the idea of “a strategy to achieve negotiations”. As I see it, negotiation is only a means to achieve an end and not an end in itself. Which is to say that negotiations can only be a part of a wider strategy and merely holding negotiations; without a clear goal, can at best only be a waste of time.

I also believe that meaningful negotiations can only take place when there is a shared need on both sides to come to a negotiated settlement. Regarding China’s occupation of Tibet, I cannot see any reason why China should surrender even a small part of its total control over Tibet and for that reason I cannot see why China should hold any meaningful negotiations with Tibetan refugees. What is going on now is not negotiations – it is only talking about talks. And this is happening simply because China is killing not just two – but three birds with one stone.

Firstly, China has effectively neutralized the Tibetan struggle by keeping the Tibetan leadership hoping and waiting; which, in turn has thrown the Tibetan people into confusion. By “talking about talks” and periodically inviting the “Special Envoys of His Holiness the Dalai-Lama” to Beijing; China has also effectively kept at bay the possibility of any international involvement on the issue of Tibet. The result of keeping the Tibetan leadership hoping and waiting and, therefore, ruling out any international involvement on the issue of Tibet is that China has gained the time that it needs to send in more and more and more Chinese settlers into Tibet. The railway will reach Lhasa in 2007 – some say even earlier. Soon there will be so many Chinese in Tibet it will become meaningless to talk about a Tibet for Tibetans.

I believe it is not possible to work out a unified strategy to overcome any problem without first having a clear understanding and acceptance of the nature of the problem.

As such, I believe it bears repeating that; before we can come up with any meaningful strategy; it is a pre-condition that the Tibetan people – and most of all the Tibetan leadership – must first understand and accept the fact that China will never voluntarily and willingly relinquish their control over Tibet. We must formulate and implement a plan of action that will hurt China enough – if not to throw them out of Tibet then, at least to force them to come to the negotiating table.

Q: Does the Tibetan Government in Exile have the will and the means to review its current policy? Is that to be hoped?

L.T: I am not in a position to say whether or not the Tibetan Government in Exile has the will to review its current policy. But it certainly has the means to do so since it enjoys the faith of the overwhelming majority of the Tibetan people and I can think of no other factor holding back the Tibetan Government from taking its own decisions. More to the point; in my view it is not a question of will – I believe the Tibetan Government has the duty to respond to the right and the desire of the Tibetan people for freedom and independence.

Perhaps I should add here that the desire of the people inside Tibet should be more than clear to the Tibetan Government in Exile in view of the fact that all the protests and demonstrations inside Tibet; in which many, many Tibetans have been killed and many more have been imprisoned; have all been for freedom and not autonomy.

However, as things stand now, I can see no signs that the Tibetan Government in Exile is considering any departure from the Middle Way Policy; and soon it will be too late.

Interviews conducted by Mathieu Vernerey for Diplomatie Magazine, July 2005. Mathieu Vernerey is the editor of the French-review Alternative tibétaine (Tibetan Alternative). As a journalist, he also works with the review Le Monde diplomatique and the magazine Diplomatie.


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