On Tuesday 1st November, the Henry Jackson Society welcomed Dr Lobsang Sangay to speak about Tibetan democracy and the future of Sino-Tibetan relations. Dr Sangay is ‘Sikyong’, equivalent to prime minister, of the Tibetan government-in-exile and his discussion was chaired by Fabian Hamilton MP.
Dr Sangay began by discussing the make-up of the Tibetan government. Unlike other exiled peoples, the Tibetans have established a parliament and developed a functioning government that operates according to democratic principles. Elections are held for the office of ‘Sikyong’ every five years and voting took place in forty countries around the world. Voters of Tibetan origin must possess a green book but non-Tibetans can take part by getting a blue book. Both holders of the green and blue books must pay a small amount of money that acts as a form of taxation and is used to pay government expenditure. Dr Sangay noted that the Tibetan government has an annual budget of only 22 million US dollars but they still manage to operate schools, settlements and monasteries.
Having discussed the dynamics of the Tibetan government, Dr Sangay moved on to discuss relations with China and his hopes for the future of Tibet. From 2002 to 2010 there have been nine envoys to China from the Tibetan government-in-exile. Although these meetings were cordial, little progress was made and the Tibetans have not been able to advance towards their goals. Dr Sangay believes that Tibet should be an autonomous region within China. Such an idea coming to fruition seems plausible given that Hong Kong and Macau have already attained this status. Moreover, the Chinese legal system already has laws in place that would allow this to happen and the Tibetans are also making a concession as they are not asking to be independent.
Having finished his talk, Dr Sangay answered a number of questions. Most notably he described the difficulty that Tibet faces in receiving help or recognition from international organisations due to pressure from China. The World Health Organisation, for example, retracted the offer of a prize due to be given to a Tibetan hospital that treats tuberculosis. Dr Sangay rejected the idea that more covert means should be used to try and convince the Chinese that Tibet should gain autonomy. Instead he argued that, though it should be done respectfully, governments should be honest and open in their criticism of China. Finally, it was noted that, though not much progress has been made in the past fifteen years, other areas of the world, such as Northern Ireland, lend hope to the Tibetan government that they will be able to reach an agreement with the Chinese at some point in the future.
For a full transcript of this event click here