PM Modi's call to Dalai Lama sends a message to China, says Penpa Tsering, President of Tibetan govt-in-exile

New DelhiWritten By: Sidhant SibalUpdated: Jul 10, 2021, 04:37 PM IST

WION's Sidhnat Sibal in conversation with Penpa Tsering, President of Tibet's government-in-exile Photograph:(WION)

Story highlights

Penpa Tsering also hit out at the Chinese govt, as it attempts to eradicate "Tibetan national identity", highlighting, "loyalty of Tibetan people inside Tibet lies with his holiness Dalai Lama and Central Tibetan Administration rather than the Chinese government

The new president of the Tibetan government-in-exile or the Central Tibetan administration Penpa Tsering has welcomed the announcement of PM Modi's call to Dalai Lama on his birthday saying it sends a message to China. Speaking to WION's Principal Diplomatic Correspondent Sidhant Sibal, Tsering said,"we know that the Indian govt, particularly PM Modi has been wishing his Holiness Dalai Lama for many years. It is just not PM Modi, but his predecessors as well." Last week, a public announcement was made for the first time that Indian PM congratulated Dalai Lama on his birthday. This is a major departure from the past. 

Penpa Tsering also hit out at the Chinese govt, as it attempts to eradicate "Tibetan national identity", highlighting, "loyalty of Tibetan people inside Tibet lies with his holiness Dalai Lama and Central Tibetan Administration rather than the Chinese government." On China keen on making an announcement on next Dalai Lama, he advised that "if China is really interested in looking for reincarnation they should learn Buddhism first"

WION: What will be your key focus areas?

Penpa Tsering: One of the main focus areas is to solve the Sino-Tibet conflict through the middle way that was proposed by His Holiness Dalai Lama and approved by the Tibetan parliament-in-exile. The second focus is to look after the welfare of the Tibetan diaspora. Within that, as soon as I took over, the first issue we needed to handle was Covid cases within the Tibetan community in India, Nepal, and Bhutan. So, in terms of specific programs there is quite a number, but in terms of a larger issue that we need to handle, resolving the Sino-Tibet conflict comes first.

WION: Resolving the conflict, do you think China will be willing to resolve it, given the provocative behavior it has been engaging in?

Penpa Tsering: I think, many governments, and many communities live in denial. The issue here is that the Chinese government lives in denial that there is no Tibet issue, there is no Tibet problem or Tibet conflict. Similar was the case how they used to view the Uyghur issue, Mongolian case, or the Hong Kong case. Now all those issues have become dominant in world politics and the Tibetan issue has taken a little bit of a back seat due to the emerging situations in other parts of China. 

But the reality is over the last 60 years, since the Chinese occupation of Tibet, the aspiration of the Tibetan people have never been met. As long as the ruler, the people who don't understand the real aspiration of the people they rule, in terms of Tibet, it is to do with Tibetan national identity, Tibetan language which came from India, Tibetan religion which came from India or the larger issues of human rights in Tibet, in China as a whole and environmental issues that concerns not only Tibet but the whole region of south and southeast Asia. These are issues that cannot be ignored. 

Therefore we have a lot of hope and we remain positive that a sense of realization will happen in the mind of Chinese leadership that these issues, you just cannot wish away by hoping that His Holiness is now 86 and that he might die very soon, or the Tibetan issue will die because they can rule Tibetans inside with an iron hand. That wishful thinking is not going to work. I believe that Chinese leadership will have to understand the real situation inside Tibet, the policies and programs that they are implementing inside Tibet are all aimed at eradicating Tibetan national identity. 

It will be our job to point out to the Chinese leaders that these policies and programs are not helpful for Tibetan people and the Chinese govt in long run, in the short there might be some sense of satisfaction that they have been able to repress and put force on the Tibetans to refrain them from doing certain things they don't want Tibetans to do. But in the long run, this is sure is not going to work out, over the last 60 years they have realized that the loyalty of Tibetan people inside Tibet lies with his holiness Dalai Lama and Central Tibetan Administration rather than the Chinese government. This is also the reason that China is the only country that perhaps spent more money on internal security than external security. But we remain hopeful, if there is no hope, then there is no struggle.

WION: Indian PM called Dalai Lama and wished him over his birthday. This for the very first time made public. How do u see the development?

Penpa Tsering: I have always been saying it will be too naive on my part to advise the Indian govt as to what they should be doing. But over the last 60 years, the humanitarian support, the political support that the Indian government has extended to the Central Tibetan Administration and its people and diaspora. Therefore we remain ever grateful, but in terms of political position, his Holiness Dalai Lama used to say India is over-cautious when it comes to Tibet. 

Now because of the certain emerging situation that has already developed over the last one or 2 years with Galwan and Doklam, there is a sense of urgency within the Indian leadership, as well as the media and the people. Lot of interest as to what is happening and how Tibet comes into play because there was no border ever before 1951 when the so-called 17 point agenda was enforced on the Tibetans through the threat of invasion by the Chinese people liberation army. 

But at the same time, we are very very grateful and we know that the Indian govt, particularly PM Modi has been wishing His Holiness Dalai Lama for many years. It is just not PM Modi, but his predecessors as well. This time, the defense was that also because of technology PM made it public and everyone got to know that, that also sends a signal to Chinese leadership as to where the relationship between the Indian govt, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and the Tibetan people are today. It is a development that sends a message. 

WION: Can we expect more communication. We know a hesitation had developed by the Indian side after Doklam, has that been dropped?

Penpa Tsering: Engagement between the Tibetans and the Indian govt has gone on for many years, as I said before also. The visibility depends on the situation. Otherwise, engagement has been very very strong, it is not something new that is going on. Now because of the developing situation, it is becoming more visible. For the Indian govt decides on how they go about it..but in our heart of heart, the mind of the mind, we know India is always there for us.

WION: India will be hosting an International Buddhist Conference, will Dalai lama will be keen to participate in it?

Penpa Tsering: The issue of religion or spirituality is not related to politics. So His Holiness devolved his political and administrative responsibilities in 2011 and since then, even now he says, you do your job, my job will be to help humanity as much as I can. His Holiness is one of the most revered Buddhist leaders in the world, naturally, all Buddhists, have a lot of respect for him and it will be ideal for His Holiness to be invited or to address such gatherings that will be good for everybody including the organizers and attendees coming from different parts of the world. 

Wion: How do you see China, at the present time, when it has been indulging in provocative behavior. Do you think, the threat needs to be dealt with?

Penpa Tsering: China doesn't respect weakness, China respects strength, I think, India and the rest of the world community understand how China views this. So India is also showing its strength by not succumbing to Chinese belligerence. What China is doing today is completely not in tune with what china has been saying. The Chinese leadership has been saying harmonious international relations, relations with its neighbors, within its people, but what they are saying and what they are doing are 2 different things. 

Unprovoked provocation through belligerent moves cannot sustain China's respectability. China has military power, China has political power, China has economic power, but the only thing they lack is moral power. The only way they can win moral power is by being friendly with its neighbors, India or the countries around the South China Sea or East Asia, Europe, or the US. You cannot be friends by being violent with them, the only way u can win friends and also trust is by having cordial relations, relations that benefit the country and the people of all the country. This is not happening right now. I have been saying China is not on the right track.

WION: China is very keen to appoint the next Dalai Lama, take the leadership of Buddhism, your views?

Penpa Tsering: Everybody knows what China does particularly when it comes to religion, is to control organised groups which they perceive as a guest. But religious matters are purely religious matters, spirituality is dependent on an Individual's choice, not the govt's choice. And Communist govt which does not belives in religion, cannot change the landscape of religion. 

So therefore whatever China does, everybody knows in the world, they will be doing it only for political gains, or for political purposes. The influence of His Holiness Dalai Lama has expanded over many years and decades around the world, and it is not dependent on Tibetan people, His Holiness has followers in the Himalayan region, in the republics of Russia, in Mongolia, South East Asia, all over the world. When it comes to looking for the 15th Dalai Lama, then this purely a religious matter and I have always been saying if China is really interested in looking for reincarnation they should learn Buddhism first and His Holiness had also said in jest that if Chinese govt is really serious, they should look for Mao Zedong's reincarnation first, Deng Xiaoping second then maybe Dalai Lama's. 

Now there is a paradox, an irony, when the journalist who went to Tibet, they found portraits of Xi Jinping everywhere, from monasteries to the office building. It sounds like Xi Jinping also wants to be recognized as a Lama, that is one Tibetan who was indoctrinated to say that has been saying, again sarcastically that Xi Jinping is our guru. But that does help, just a physical facade doesn't help, there should be a deeper understanding of what religion means for reincarnation. For reincarnation, one should believe in life after death. When you yourself don't believe in the concept of life after death, why you want to interfere in a person's rebirth. We all know, it is for political reasons, but that is not going to work. What has happened with their own selection of Panchen Lama has gained respect from the Tibetan people, leave alone the rest of the world.  

Wion: On the issue of Chinese transparency when it comes to the Covid crisis, or the origin of Covid, your views? views on China vis-a-vis the Covid crisis?

Penpa Tsering: This is a common trait of the Communist party, whenever they make a statement based on lies, build lies upon lies, and say it 100 times and they believe lies will also become truth. Unfortunately, that is not how it works today. Maybe they can control the media and information flow within China, it is not possible to control media flow outside. So I am not a scientist, how it originated, how it spread, but there is definitely a general understand that China has not been transparent from the beginning, not just with the pandemic. 

It is just not SARS or COVID-19 that was bungled in the beginning or initial stage, it applies to all levels from political or religious or financial. Nobody tends to believe China because they are not being truthful, without trust you cannot build a real friendship and China has to learn lessons from the past and make sure they become more accountable to the world community. Everyone expects China to change but they always come, from religion or market economy with Chinese characteristics. So far they got away with it, in long run it won't work.