News and Views on Tibet

Aiming high for Tibetan Business (Part II)-An interview with Tsewang Namgyal

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Tsewang Namgyal was born in Dharamsala, India, and graduated from Tibetan Children Village. He immigrated to the United States under the 1,000 resettlement project and then joined the U. S. Army Reserves. After his military training, he attended Dickinson College and graduated magna cum laude in 1997. He worked for three years on Wall Street and went on to complete his MBA (Beta Gamma Sigma Scholar) from Thunderbird, The Garvin School of International Management. Since completing his degree, he has worked in different Investments Banks primarily focusing on the energy sector. Besides his regular work, he has traveled extensively throughout the three provinces of Tibet and provided consulting and voluntary services to Tibetan businesses and organizations.

Tsewang is currently working on a Tibet related book project with the assistance of Dr. John C. Hirsh, Georgetown University. Below are sample of questions posed by Dr. Hirsh that Tsewang has addressed in their book.

1. Recently there have been several articles related to large natural resource reserves that have been discovered in Tibet. Many in the Tibetan exile community and those in Tibet remain very concerned on China’s development plans. What are your thoughts on these current announcements?

I think it is important we all not panic with what is happening in Tibet. Change is a reality and it opens both opportunities and risks. We need to capture the good things that change brings and think of ways to mitigate the risks. Mining is going to happen in Tibet in a big way. China is hungry for resources and the demand is going to increase with time. At this stage unless there is a major environmental catastrophe, human desires will take precedence over the environment and culture. Even in America or for most of our own personal lives it is clear that economics take precedence over the environment. So I feel instead of pointing fingers we need to understand our own human nature, the sector and find skillful ways to change change and to mitigate the negative effects.

I believe for those who have zero tolerance to mining the best solution is try and develop ecologically good industries like ecotourism. Buddhism teaches us that negative emotions can be reduced by generating positive emotion. Just saying it is bad is not good enough. Similarly I believe unless we can really develop good industries the other best alternatives are mitigating the risks and making sure that the developmental guidelines put out by China, the World Bank and other organizations are implemented. Personally, I believe at a practical level we need to encourage younger Tibetans to study and work in different sectors including mining. China is very, very hungry for natural resources and there is reason why they spent billions of dollars developing the railway line to Lhasa. Having said that, I believe outside organizations should also continue to protest bad investments.

2. Other countries like South Africa have been faced with evident injustice on the part of one group and they have successfully called upon the International community to not to do business with the offending government. But you advocate just the opposite. Why is that?

There are a few similarities with South Africa and racism is definitely one of them. However, the difference is that racism is not legal in Tibet. It’s true that the practice is not always the same as the law, but even in China the law is on our side. The other difference is that Tibetans are a minority in Tibet. Tibetans I believe should think of ways to fight racism in Chinese courts and peoples’ minds. There are many kind Chinese people who have the highest respect for Tibetan people and culture. It is important for Tibetans in Tibet to form strategic alliances with them and other friends of Tibet. Slowly with this and with favorable media coverage the ugly face of racism can be reduced. However, I believe to truly remove racism in Tibet it requires economic, educational and political empowerment of Tibetans. There is no one solution to remove racism.

3. So it appears you advocate support of investments in environmentally sensitive projects like the development of mineral resources?

Yes. We need to study the situation on the ground and global trends. Based on these we need to formulate long term policies. China is in desperate need of copper and other minerals that have been discovered in Tibet. Oil I believe is one resource that China will in particular target in Tibet. In 2006 China imported about 50% of it’s oil needs, the majority of which is from the Middle East. Most of this fuel supply comes through the Malacca straits, which lie in between Indonesia and Malaysia. Due to the vulnerability of this pirate-infested route the Chinese refer to this dependence on the straits as “the Malacca dilemma”. To put things in perspective, imagine that most of the food supply to Dharamsala comes from Pathankot and the only connection is through a narrow unstable road. Development of oil is not only an economic issue but a national security issue. Additionally, it is important to note that mining is taking place in Tibet and it is better to have qualified people who know the business mine in Tibet rather than regional “mom and pop” miners. Destruction of Tibet’s environment will directly impact China. Mining and other similar developments in particular pollute the soil and water. Since water flows downhill if mining is not done properly China will have to face the devastating short and long term consequences. Personally, I feel just as China’s need for natural resources is of national security so is having clean water and environment.

4. What can outside Tibetans and friends do?

Diversification of actions is good. Besides demonstrating against certain Chinese government policies and firms that pose a threat we need to request non government organizations to play an important role in advising local Tibetan and Chinese government officials to learn to negotiate favorable economic, environmental and social contracts. We need to help China help Tibet develop. Ideally, it would be great if we can create a committee of even five successful Tibet caring business and diplomat figures who in turn select professional experts to certify and monitor large business investments in Tibet. I am afraid that the Tibetan government in exile, non governmental organizations and the TAR do not really know how to negotiate large business contracts. I am also concerned when Tibet support groups try to certify good and bad projects. Our real threat I believe is not China or Chinese people but bad investments irregardless of who does it. If we are not careful with identifying our enemies we will only give more leverage to bad investors who can play us all of against each other. We need to play businesses of against each other not the other way around. One book that I have found very insightful on the impact of regions and countries with large natural resources is “The Prize” by Daniel Yergin. I would recommend to anyone who has serious interest on this subject to read it.

5. Which countries have been able to properly develop mining?

Earlier I asked the same question to few friends from the World Bank. One of them likes the model in Peru because a large percentage of the royalty is kept by the local government. In many developing countries much of the royalties is kept by the central government and locals hardly get anything. However, I believe one challenge faced by some local governments is that they do not know how to use the sudden large amount of revenues they get and this leads to corruption and other social problems. Anyway, I feel it is so important for local Tibetan and Chinese government officials to study these different models, including those in Mongolia and Kazakhstan, so that they can negotiate favorable terms. I also would encourage young Tibetans to visit these countries if possible and observe how both the challenges and opportunities are addressed. Personally, there is not too much we outside can do except try and give suggestions and if possible connect our friends in Tibet and China with some of our resources. Ultimately, Tibetans and Chinese inside need to make the right decisions because they are the ones who will be directly impacted.

6. Please can you share some general thoughts on economic development for Tibet?

I believe when we think of economic of development it is important for all of us concerned about Tibet to have the best interests of not only Tibet, but also the welfare of our two larger neighbors, and the world at large. This is important since if we are able to find ways to align all our interests it would allow us to succeed better because we would be able to leverage the tremendous strengths of both these countries. Secondly, I believe it is so important to really study the subject and get technical experience. Thirdly, we need to be patient, hard working and confident in implementing our plans. In general I feel there are a few immediate things that we can implement to generate practical benefit to Tibetans. Firstly, I believe we need to find ways to encourage Tibetans in Tibet to study English. This would give us a business advantage in the future and Tibetans will be able to tap the huge resources and power of the internet and connect with the outside world. Secondly, we need to think of practical ways to commercialize Tibetan Medicine and protect Tibetan medicine. Personally, I believe institutions like the Tibetan Mentsekhang in exile should focus more on education, developing patents and certification of Tibetan medicine companies. Tibetan entrepreneurs should think of ways of developing and marketing Tibetan medicinal products. Thirdly, I believe that whenever His Holiness travels around the world it would be good if representatives from, say, the Paljor office and organizations like the Tibetan Chamber of Commerce can accompany His Holiness along with our diplomats and the religious entourage. It is so important that these individuals get exposure and develop relations. There are many other suggestions I have, some of which I have shared in my last interview.

7. Please can you share your general thoughts traveling in Tibet?

My first visit to Tibet was in 1999. Since then I have traveled there a few times, covering all the Tibetan regions. The landscape is truly beautiful. The people are unique and, most importantly, I feel the culture is something that has so much to offer the world. We Tibetans really have so much to be grateful to our ancestors for their deep research and insights into the human mind. Truly the ultimate mining is that of the human mind. The biggest threat to Tibetan culture is if people lose their values of compassion and become content with only self-interest and greed. I had one American friend who essentially believed that unless people have a capitalistic attitude it will be hard for them to compete, at least economically, and if not, they will perish. Personally, the only idea that addresses this issue was a quote from His Holiness that I found very interesting: “think like a socialist but act like a capitalist.” I personally found this quote an excellent guide in my own actions and thought I share it.

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