Bhuchung K. Tsering

Tasks before the Re-Elected Sikyong

Tibetan Election Observation Mission

Tibetan Election Observation Mission members with the Tibetan election commissioners in Dharamsala on March 19, 2016.

On April 27, 2016, the Tibetan Election Commission announced the results of the Sikyong and parliamentary elections. Except in the case of some members of parliament, for the Sikyong and some other MPs, the results were already known and this is a mere formality.

There have been some discussions about the degeneration of the Tibetan society in diaspora in the months leading to the elections, with now even the politicians realizing their shortsightedness. There have been some damage but all is not lost in the broader scheme of things. In the past when there were concerns about his devolution of authority, His Holiness the Dalai Lama had said it is better that the people tread on this path of self-reliance while he was still active as he can then provide guidance if things go astray. Therefore, the recent development was something that would have happened at any time given the nature of the system and it was good that it happened now while corrective measures can be taken.

In any case, I wrote the following after the previous election cycle in 2011. Upon re-reading it, other than there being a change in the nomenclature from “Kalon Tripa” to “Sikyong” the rest of my assertion continues to be valid for the new administration under Sikyong Lobsang Sangay. Therefore, I am reposting it.


Message from the Tibetan Elections
Bhuchung K. Tsering
April 27, 2011

Today, the Tibetan Election Commission in Dharamsala, India, announced the results of the general elections held on March 20, 2011 to elect the Kalon Tripa, the Chairman of the Tibetan Cabinet, and members of the Tibetan Parliament. As pointed out in the statement our organization issued today, congratulations are due not just to the winners but also to all the Tibetan people who participated in this historic democratic process. Above all, this is yet another testimony to the foresight of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in his several decades-long efforts at democratizing the Tibetan governances system.

When campaigning began for the present election cycle in 2009, I wrote the following about what the next Kalon Tripa’s responsibilities would be.

“The next Kalon Tripa should devote his or her time and effort to the consolidation of the Tibetan community, becoming their spokesperson and look into creation of a system providing a continuation of leadership.

“There are three main ways to implement this provision of political leadership.

“First, the position needs to understand that the basis of the Tibetan people’s support to the leadership currently is the historical role of the institution of the Dalai Lamas. The next Kalon Tripa needs to work on a strategy to continuing this relationship and to strengthen the institution to prepare for any and all eventualities.

“Secondly, the Kalon Tripa needs to be the seen as the leader of all Tibetans and not just of the hundred thousand or so Tibetans in exile. The strength of the Tibetan leadership under His Holiness the Dalai Lama today is that it enjoys the loyalty and support of the broad majority of Tibetans who are in Tibet. The millions of Tibetans in Tibet have shown this in different ways, time and again. The next Kalon Tripa needs to find creative ways to strengthen this special bond between the Tibetan people and the leadership.

“Thirdly, the next Kalon Tripa needs to clearly comprehend the reality of the position in terms of relationship with the international community and the governments throughout the world, including that of India. Accordingly, he or she needs to come up with a strategy to secure the formal or de facto acceptance by the governments as a spokesman for the Tibetan people. He or she needs to be able to stand on his or her own feet (think beyond the structure of Dharamsala) and be recognized as being on the helms of the Tibetan leadership by the international community.”

I had written the above before there was any inkling of His Holiness the Dalai Lama deciding to devolve his political authority to an elected leadership. Now that we are faced with this new reality, Kalon Tripa-elect Lobsang Sangay la as well as our newly elected parliamentarians have greater responsibilities than before. I would urge them to think on the above points as they prepare to take charge.

As I write this, Lobsang Sangay la has, while speaking to Voice of Tibet about the election results, opined that one individual alone would not be able to do much but that he would work to the best of his ability. I believe team work is certainly something that needs to be given serious consideration as the new Kalon Tripa begins his work. Secondly, Lobsang Sangay la also said that his election is a strong message to China that under the guidance of His Holiness the Dalai Lama a new generation has taken responsibility. The Kalon Tripa-elect also went live on Radio Free Asia and Voice of America Tibetan services in Washington, D.C. today expanding on his views.

As for China, the authorities seem to have already got the message from the Tibetan elections and there is an article today entitled “On 14th Dalai Lama’s view of ‘political reform’ “ that is very defensive of the Chinese system. Given that the Chinese system does not permit Tibetans in Tibet to have a direct say in who becomes their leader (for that matter even Chinese do not have that right), the Chinese authorities cannot have the courage to welcome the positive message that the tiny Tibetan community in exile is sending in terms of political governance.

The international community, as reflected through the media coverage, has shown great interest in this Tibetan democratic process. It remains to be seen how the governments will react to the new reality and the new Administration in Dharamsala. There is continued public support whether in the United States, Europe or elsewhere to the just cause of the Tibetan people and the political leadership in all the countries would need to keep this in consideration as they try to frame a new approach to the Tibetan issue.

My Tashi Delek to all the winners in this election and wish them all success as they begin their work for the wellbeing of the Tibetan people.

Losar in the State Department Heralds the New Year for Tibetan Americans, in more sense than one

On July 21, 2014, history of sort was created when around 100 Tibetan Americans from Amherst, Boston and nearby areas joined US Congressman James McGovern at the City Hall of Northampton, MA, as he held a press conference on his introduction of HR 4851: The Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, in the House of Representatives. This was a public acknowledgement of the existence of the Tibetan American community and their being a stakeholder on issues relating to Tibet in the United States Congress.

Seven months later, another history was created when on February 24, 2015, Under Secretary Sarah Sewall, in her capacity as the U.S. Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, hosted in the State Department a Losar (New Year) to an invited group of Tibetan Americans, diplomats and other guests.

State Department Losar reception

Sarah Sewall with some of the Tibetan American artists and “Chang maidens” during the State Department Losar reception.

As Under Secretary Sewall invited the gathering to join her in saying, “Losar Tashi Delek” one could sense a special emotional feeling among the Tibetan Americans privileged to be participating in the event. Excitement was clearly visible as quite a few of the Tibetan Americans who had come to help serve the traditional Tibetan delicacies and drinks could not resist taking the time to shoot photos, to record the history in the making.

In fact, Karma Gyaltsen la, who together with some other colleagues performed songs and dances, put it best when he adjusted the lyrics of a traditional Tibetan New Year fixture, the recitation by a Drekar, a jocular mendicant, wondering whether the Losar celebration within the State Department “was a dream or a reality.”

Why is the Losar at the State Department significant? As Under Secretary Sewall said at the reception, “Now, one of the amazing things about the Tibetan American community is that in numbers you all… are relatively small, but in your influence, and in your impact, you are enormous.” It heralds virtually a new year for the Tibetan Americans whose existence is increasingly being noticed in the United States.

Former Special Envoy of H.H. the Dalai Lama, Gyari Rinpoche, also saw the Losar celebration as an indication of the implementation of the United States’ objective of helping to preserve and promote the distinct Tibetan religious and cultural heritage.

As I write this, we are preparing for the next annual Tibet Lobby Day here in Washington, D.C., which will be held on March 2 and 3. This is an event that has seen increasing participation by Tibetan Americans as they go to the offices of their members of Congress and exercise the freedom to express their views on Tibet to them.

Henceforth, Losar would not only be an exotic tradition of a people far away in Tibet, but is a Tibetan American culture and thus as American a culture as any other.

The Dalai Lama and 25 years after the Nobel Peace Prize

On December 10, 2014, lovers of peace, friends, well-wishers and followers of His Holiness the Dalai Lama celebrate the 25th anniversary of the bestowal of the Nobel Peace Prize to him. His Holiness is of course is in Rome to participated in the Nobel Peace Laureates Summit, which has now been relocated there.

It is a cliché to say what a difference 25 years can make. But in the case of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, these two and a half decades have indeed cemented his place as a statesman and a conscience of the world. Today, the Dalai Lama and peace/compassion have virtually become synonymous.

In 1989, I was working in Dharamsala and so was part of the collective Tibetan rejoicing of the event. We, at least I, then interpreted the prize solely in the context of Tibet, and Tibet alone. We saw this as Tibet’s day in the sun. Fast forward to 2014 and I reread His Holiness’ acceptance speech (of December 10, 1989) as well as his Nobel lecture (of December 11, 1989), and the Presentation Speech by Mr. Egil Aarvik, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. I now have a fresh perspective of the expanse of the Dalai Lama’s impact.

His Holiness’ remarks in Oslo in 1989 appear to me as the germinating ground for the philosophy for which he has become well-known today. This includes his dialogue with the scientific community, his adherence to nonviolence, and, above all, his three main commitments: promotion of human values, promotion of religious harmony and promotion of Tibetan culture.

Let me expand.

By the very awarding of the prize to him, the Nobel Committee acknowledged the Dalai Lama as a proponent of peace and nonviolence. In his Award Presentation Speech, Mr. Egil Aarvik, Chairman of the Nobel Committee, said, “In view of this, fewer and fewer people would venture to dismiss the Dalai Lama’s philosophy as utopian: on the contrary, one would be increasingly justified in asserting that his gospel of nonviolence is the truly realistic one, with most promise for the future. And this applies not only to Tibet but to each and every conflict. The future hopes of oppressed millions are today linked to the unarmed battalions, for they will win the peace: the justice of their demands, moreover, is now so clear and the normal strength of their struggle so indomitable that they can only temporarily be halted by force of arms.”

In the Tibetan cultural context, the Dalai Lama is also referred to as Zamling Shidey Depon ( “pilot of world peace”) and he continues to be one today.

The Dalai Lama’s stress on the need for religion to have dialogue with science can also be perceived in his Nobel remarks.

In his Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech on December 10, 1989, the Dalai Lama said, “With the ever growing impact of science on our lives, religion and spirituality have a greater role to play reminding us of our humanity. There is no contradiction between the two. Each gives us valuable insights into the other. Both science and the teachings of the Buddha tell us of the fundamental unity of all things. This understanding is crucial if we are to take positive and decisive action on the pressing global concern with the environment.”

Today, the Dalai Lama has established a strong foundation for dialogue between religion and science through the Mind & Life initiative. In the process, he has had an impact on the thinking of the scientific community, particularly those working in the field of neuroscience, through his sharing of the Buddhist perspective.

I also want to believe that through his Nobel remarks, the Dalai Lama was also crystalizing his now well-known three commitments.

His Holiness began his Nobel lecture, delivered on December 11, 1989, by saying, “Thinking over what I might say today, I decided to share with you some of my thoughts concerning the common problems all of us face as members of the human family. Because we all share this small planet earth, we have to learn to live in harmony and peace with each other and with nature.”

He continued, “The realisation that we are all basically the same human beings, who seek happiness and try to avoid suffering, is very helpful in developing a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood; a warm feeling of love and compassion for others. This, in turn, is essential if we are to survive in this ever shrinking world we live in. For if we each selfishly pursue only what we believe to be in our own interest, without caring about the needs of others, we not only may end up harming others but also ourselves.”

In another words, His Holiness was stressing on the fundamental human values that all human beings share.

The Dalai Lama was addressing the issue of religious harmony when he said in the same lecture, “As a Buddhist monk, my concern extends to all members of the human family and, indeed, to all sentient beings who suffer. I believe all suffering is caused by ignorance. People inflict pain on others in the selfish pursuit of their happiness or satisfaction. Yet true happiness comes from a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood. We need to cultivate a universal responsibility for one another and the planet we share. Although I have found my own Buddhist religion helpful in generating love and com-passion, even for those we consider our enemies, I am convinced that everyone can develop a good heart and a sense of universal responsibility with or without religion.”

As for Tibet, the Dalai Lama said this in December 1989, “The awarding of the Nobel Prize to me, a simple monk from faraway Tibet, here in Norway, also fills us Tibetans with hope. It means, despite the fact that we have not drawn attention to our plight by means of violence, we have not been forgotten. It also means that the values we cherish, in particular our respect for all forms of life and the belief in the power of truth, are today recognised and encouraged. It is also a tribute to my mentor, Mahatma Gandhi, whose example is an inspiration to so many of us. This year’s award is an indication that this sense of universal responsibility is developing. I am deeply touched by the sincere concern shown by so many people in this part of the world for the suffering of the people of Tibet. That is a source of hope not only for us Tibetans, but for all oppressed people.”

So, 25 years later what is the lesson that we can take from the bestowal of the Nobel Prize to the Dalai Lama. I can only repeat what the Nobel Committee Chairman said in 1989, “ In awarding the Peace Prize to H.H. the Dalai Lama we affirm our unstinting support for his work for peace, and for the unarmed masses on the march in many lands for liberty, peace and human dignity.”

Thanksgiving Day, the Dalai Lama and the United States

Every November, Americans celebrate a noble occasion, Thanksgiving Day, when we are encouraged “to count our many blessings.” This year Thanksgiving Day falls on November 27, 2014.

Since the day comes a few weeks after yet another successful visit by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the United States (as well as Canada), I want to offer thanks to the democracy and freedom of this country that enables His Holiness to make his visits and the opportunity it provides to Americans to benefit from his wisdom.

Although we take visits by the Dalai Lama to the United States for granted today (compared to some other countries that have to capitulate to direct and indirect pressures from China) things were not always that way. His Holiness first began visiting the United States in 1979 but there were efforts many years before that for him to be in this country.

Some recently declassified United States Government documents that include communications exchanged between the White House, the State Department and the United States Embassy in India, way back in 1970, about a possible visit by the Dalai Lama gives us a taste of the decision making process then. Although it is unfortunate that His Holiness had to wait for nine long years following those deliberations, yet it is revealing to see how different organs of the United States Government approached the issue.

I summarize below the exchange of memos and cables between the White House, the State Department and the American Embassy in India between March and April 1970.

In a memo dated March 23, 1970 to President Richard Nixon, his Assistant for National Security Affairs, Henry Kissinger, begins by saying “Tibetan representatives have informed us that the Dalai Lama wishes to visit the United States and Europe this coming Autumn.” He then says the State Department is opposed to this as it “would create, gratuitously and without a compensating gain, a further point of friction between us and Communist China.”

However, Kissinger feels outright rejection is not the right response to the Tibetans and that they should be informed that “The visit would be inconvenient this year but we would wish to consider it seriously in 1971 (after the UNGA session is over).” UNGA is of course the United Nations General Assembly held every autumn in New York attended by many government leaders.

When the above guideline was conveyed to the Embassy in India, it responded to the State Department in a telegram dated April 8, 1970 requesting that “The Department revise its position to permit at least a private visit this year.” The Embassy’s view was that not allowing the visit would be seen by both the Tibetans as well as the Indian Government as “appeasing” China.

The State Department responded through a telegram dated April 14, 1970 from the Secretary of State to the American Ambassador in India saying, “I value your forthright discussion of Dalai Lama visit and have reexamined question in light of your recommendations. However, I must reaffirm decision, which was made by President, that we do not wish to have Dalai Lama come to U.S. this year and ask that you arrange to inform Tibetans of this as soon as possible, following guidance ref B.”

And that was the end of that endeavor, as it turned out to be.

It is interesting that the Secretary of State’s above telegram was followed by another dated April 15, which said: “In conveying U.S. views on Dalai Lama visit, you of course should not mention Presidential involvement in decision.”

Also interesting is the fact that Henry Kissinger, in his memo to the President, draws attention to the maintenance of principles by saying that while the United States need to consider Chinese sensitivity, “On the other hand, the Chinese have hardly abandoned their basic positions in order to talk with us and we should perhaps avoid precipitate decisions to abandon points of principle to accommodate them.”

Eventually, good sense prevailed in the United States Government, and the Dalai Lama has been able to visit this country many times since 1979. We in the International Campaign for Tibet have been privileged to have been involved in many of these visits. The Dalai Lama’s visits have enabled several thousand Americans to imbibe his message of compassion, peace and non-violence.

As a case in point, following the Dalai Lama’s recent visit to Birmingham, AL, a journalist summed up his impression in an article headlined “What Alabama learned about the Dalai Lama.” He wrote, “He had a very simple message, and he delivered it. He spoke out for peace, love, compassion and acceptance of others.”

In fact the simplicity of His Holiness and the practicality of his message have resonated well among the American public. The same journalist listed some of these in his article as being below:

“Peace must come from inside – not come from the sky.”
“Everyone wants happiness. Peace is the basis of happiness.”
“Monks, scholars should not accept my teaching by faith, but rather experience, investigation.”
“Modern science should involve more study about mind, emotion.”
“Love and kindness is the key to build happiness.”
“The education system is very oriented to material things. There is no compassion.”
“Healthy mind, very important for healthy body.”
“If our action really narrow-minded, one-sided, cheating others, you cheat yourself. Finally, you suffer. Make others unhappy, finally, you are lonely person, miserable.”
“Without other people, we cannot survive. Even morning tea, I cannot manage (by myself).”
“You have emotions. Me, too, with big name, His Holiness Dalai Lama. But emotions sometimes create difficulties.”
“I always emphasize oneness of humanity.”
“Out of seven billion human beings, more than one billion are non-believers. We cannot ignore these one billion. They also have right to be happy person.”

So, this Thanksgiving Day, I am thankful to His Holiness the Dalai Lama who has been working tirelessly for the past more than seven decades in the service of humanity. I am also thankful to the United States, a country whose adherence to the fundamental values of human rights, democracy, and rule of law continues to provide hope and succor to the Tibetan people, including in giving a sense of belonging to thousands of Tibetan Americans.

My take on the Obama-Xi Jinping summit and Tibet

Now that we have a picture of where the issue of Tibet figured in the summit between President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on November 11 and 12, 2014, overall President Obama deserves our commendation.

On Wednesday, November 12, 2014, during his press meeting with President Xi, President Obama publicly said he had urged the Chinese authorities “to take steps to preserve the unique cultural, religious and linguistic identity of the Tibetan people.”

The President also made it clear that “America’s unwavering support for fundamental human rights of all people will continue to be an important element of our relationship with China.”

Such a clear outlining of American approach was needed at a time when there are many who feel that the United States is giving into economic consideration by being soft on the fundamental American values of human rights, democracy, and freedom.

I have no doubt that President Xi Jinping and the Chinese Government have once again received the message that the American people and government have not slackened off in their support for the rights of the Tibetan people.

However, there were people who were perturbed at President Obama saying, “…we recognize Tibet as part of the People’s Republic of China. We are not in favor of independence.” While I would have wished for the President not to have said this, to be fair, recognizing Tibet as a part of the People’s Republic of China is a known American position, and as the Washington Post put in an editorial, “Obama was more diplomatic“ by reiterating it. But of course the Chinese media exploited this by focusing only on it and conveniently neglecting to refer to President Obama’s strong stress on the importance of Tibetan identity.

So, how would one sum up the summit in terms of Tibet? Here I can only quote the Washington Post editorial, which said, “In short, it’s possible for Mr. Obama to speak forthrightly in support of human rights in China and to press Mr. Xi about matters such as Tibet and Hong Kong while still partnering with Beijing in areas of mutual interest. It’s a lesson the Obama administration has been slow to learn, but the president’s performance Wednesday was auspicious.”

China’s corruption inspection team finds what Tibetans already knew

Chen Quanguo

Tibet Autonomous Region Party Secretary Chen Quanguo

The report from Lhasa about the visit there by the central inspection team and finding corruption at grass roots level, and remarks by the Tibet Autonomous Region Party Secretary Chen Quanguo warning cadres who continue to be loyal to His Holiness the Dalai Lama is interesting in a few ways.

First, here is a summation of the report. The official Tibet Daily carries a report on November 5, 2014 about the findings of an inspection team of the CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), which was in the Tibet Autonomous Region from July 25 to September 24, 2014. It quotes Ye Dongsong, head of the inspection team, as saying, “Some officials have failed to take a firm political stand and some grass-root officials in the region were found to have serious corruption issues.” Apparently, the team collected the information by “interviewing some people, receiving letters from the public, receiving phone calls, personal visits, and looking at and reading relevant documents.”

It is good that the authorities are finally realizing something that has been an open secret among Tibetans in Tibet for many decades; corruption is rampant and even routine tasks that are expected from any official cannot be performed without going through the Takgo (“back door”). Therefore, finding “serious corruption issues” will not be a surprise to the Tibetans, but they will now be waiting to see how the authorities will be following up on this. Ye is quoted as reiterating that on the issue of anti-corruption campaign, Tibet will not enjoy any special privileges. But a belief among the Tibetan public is that the authorities will not be prosecuting any of these officials as they are also the ones who mouth slogans of loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party. So far the trend is for the authorities to specifically reward those officials who are criticized by the public because this was taken as an indication that these officials are upholding party lines (and conversely demote those who are praised by the people).

The Tibet Daily reports Chen Quanguo, Party chief of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, as accepting the team’s findings saying that they were “factual and comprehensive” and have “woken us up from the sleep of ignorance.”

Chen then expands on the situation saying that the anti-corruption campaign should be coordinated with the anti-separatism campaign. He is reported as saying that one hand should uphold the anti-corruption campaign and the other hand should uphold the anti-separatism campaign.

Now here comes the interesting part. Chen is reported as saying, “Those cadres and officials who harbor fantasies about the 14th Dalai Clique, follow the 14th Dalai Clique, participate in supporting separatist infiltration sabotage activities will be strictly and severely dealt with according to the law and disciplinary rules.” Chen adds that they should not be Go-nyima (“dual headed”).

If there was any doubt on why Chen Quanguo was saying this, it was clarified by a Chinese professor to the official Global Times on November 5. “Some officials in Tibet still sympathize with the Dalai Lama. They continue to support the Dalai Lama out of their religious beliefs,” said Xiong Kunxin, a professor with the Minzu University of China. The professor also adds, “… those officials also support the Dalai Lama’s separatism activities.”

The findings of China’s inspection team and the admission by Chen Quanguo that even cadres are looking to the Dalai Lama instead of to the Communist Party confirms the reality that despite all their efforts the Chinese authorities have not been successful in severing the historical and special bond between the Tibetan people and the Dalai Lama.

China has always attempted to make the world believe that everything is fine in Tibet, and that the Tibetan people are happy under the Communist rule. They even claim that “Earth-shaking changes have taken place in Tibet since the peaceful liberation 60 years ago.”

But the latest report confirms what the Tibetans knew all along; their steadfast devotion to the Dalai Lama and the existence of corruption at all levels in the Tibetan society in Tibet. The sooner the Chinese Government acknowledges these and positively addresses them, the better it is for China and Tibet.