Europe must support Tibetan democratic institutions in exile

Penpa Tsering swears in as the new “sikyong,” the leader of the Central Tibetan Administration, on May 27, 2021.

On May 27, Penpa Tsering took over as the new “sikyong,” the leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile, after two rounds of an election fought worldwide. Penpa succeeds Lobsang Sangay, who was not allowed to run for a third term as per the rules of the Charter of the Tibetans in Exile.

Tibetan democracy in exile needs support because it faces numerous challenges in extremely difficult conditions. On the one hand, elections have to be organized in the over 30 countries where Tibetans live in exile, on a voluntary basis and without large financial resources. The Central Tibetan Administration—the official name of the government-in-exile—cannot levy taxes and is dependent on development cooperation or voluntary donations from Tibetans in exile. On the other hand, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) tries to undermine the authority and work of the Tibetan government-in-exile wherever it can. Representatives of the Tibetans in exile, although they emerged from free and democratic elections, are still shunned by European governments for fear of the CCP’s reaction.

In 2018, in response to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “Belt and Road” initiative, the European Union launched the EU-Asia Connectivity Strategy. The concept essentially provides for the establishment of transport links, energy and digital networks, so-called connectivity partnerships and the promotion of sustainable financing. It does not speak of democracy and the rule of law, despite autocracy and enemies of democracy being on the rise in Asia.

The Tibetans, among others, would be ideal partners in a necessary value-based connectivity strategy. The European Union and its different institutions, as well as its 27 Member States, should therefore reach out to the Tibetans in exile and actively support the democratically elected representatives of the Central Tibetan Administration. This also includes receiving and listening to these representatives, including Penpa Tsering.

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Vincent Metten

Vincent Metten is the EU Policy Director for the International Campaign for Tibet since September 2006. Based in Brussels (Belgium), he is in particular in charge of developing and implementing advocacy strategies vis-à-vis European Union Institutions, most of European countries and the UN, in cooperation with other ICT offices. Previously he used to work four years for the European Commission as National Detached Expert in the security field (space policy and nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction) and two years at the Office of the Belgian Minister for Defense as advisor on International Issues.