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China’s discourse power in geostrategic competition

Securing the future means much more than the military balance, given current strategic competition with China for influence across emerging economies worldwide. China’s rise goes beyond global dominance of production of strategic minerals and the technologies reliant on them. These are great challenges, but we know how those challenges can be met, including through self-reliance, strategic reserves, re-industrialization.

China’s ambitions stretch far beyond dominance of global supply chains. China seeks discourse power. That means not only amplifying China’s voice, on China’s terms, but also being heard, believed and heeded. Discourse power frames what is normal and what is no longer sayable or even imaginable.

What China is proud to call propaganda has never been more important, both as the only source of information available to Chinese citizens and, beyond China, a story of China’s “rightful place” that demands acceptance.

At present, China’s discourse power lags its economic power. That disparity is much lamented by China’s leaders, ideologues and elite intellectuals now working to amplify China’s voice. China has plans, at the highest level, to engineer its acceptance as not only a great civilization, but the great civilization, of such unbroken continuity, super-stability and magnificence that everyone will be dazzled and then deferentially kowtow. As Deputy Foreign Minister Hua Chunying says, discourse power is “an important battlefield for the strategic game of great powers.”

In the richer countries, heeding China’s discourse seems a remote prospect, just as China’s mastery of so many technologies and industries and export markets once seemed to be remote prospects. But if you live in Africa, Central or Southeast Asia or the Pacific, if you rely on Mango TV or CGTN to know the wider world, you are already a client of China’s burgeoning discourse power.

The ancient silk road conveyed much more than silk. Buddhism travelled from its Indian origins into Central Asia and then into China on the silk road with the traders. Today’s silk road, the Belt and Road Initiative, is about more than importing coal, oil and gas into China and exporting railways, power grids, pipelines and highways. Positioning Chinese culture as the great civilization to be admired and emulated is the long-term agenda in the expanding sphere of influence of a regional superpower.

Within China, “public opinion guidance” is a major state-owned industry, ensuring citizens have access only to the official line. Ramping up or dialling down the powerful emotions of patriotic pride and anger, in real time on social media, has enlisted an army of influencers who herd dissenters away from thinking the wrong thoughts and guiding the masses to think only the right thoughts. China has built its own internal online alternative universe to disseminate, without contradiction, the Chinese Communist Party’s alternative facts and debate framings.

Beyond China, normalizing an alternative master narrative is much harder, as Chinese civilization so far lacks the appeal of Korean boy bands and squid gaming, Japanese brands, Taiwanese tech or European heritage. China envies Hollywood, Bollywood and Nollywood, but has as yet little rejoinder. China is now investing in “national culture export bases” tasked with finding that elusive formula that will dethrone Hollywood.

China’s new frontier is hearts and minds worldwide. Extending China’s reach into deep space and the deep seafloor, into a massive blue ocean force projection navy, are all familiar dangers which can be contained. But the new horizon of attaining discourse power proceeds. As with the militarization of the South China Sea, a response to the rising challenge has been belated and haphazard. Advancing China’s discourse power within the UN system has progressed for years, with little pushback.

It begins with China’s repudiation of universals and insistence on exceptionalism, especially universals such as the UN’s foundational Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which insists that to be born human is to be born with rights. The first step of naval expansion was to dredge coral reefs into islands with military airstrips; the first step of redefining master narratives is to blunt what had been normal, demanding “Chinese characteristics” exempt China from any oversight or accountability.

Having blunted the scope of hitherto universally accepted universals, China’s next step in public diplomacy is to insert its own slogans as the frame. One example is the UN Convention on Biodiversity meeting in a Conference of Parties in Kunming in Yunnan province in October 2021, which issued its agreed Kunming Declaration, titled “Ecological Civilization: Building a Shared Future for All Life on Earth.”

China is immensely proud of this achievement, combining two key propaganda slogans into one document title, that does nothing for endangered species. What is “ecological civilization”? Why does it require, as CCP propaganda repeatedly tells us, “arduous struggle” to construct it? What does an anodyne phrase like “a shared future for all life on Earth” matter so much that China lobbied hard for its inclusion? How is it possible that China’s official policy instructions on biodiversity conservation repeatedly speak of “harmony between man and nature” and “shared future for all life,” yet in the same document impose exclusion and displacement of pastoralists from their remote pastures deep inland, leading to loss of land tenure rights, food security and livelihoods?

China is building a new reality based on a master narrative of mastery, of atomistic science and state simplifications that erase the accumulated local knowledge of local communities who have sustainably managed vast landscapes for thousands of years, now recategorized as “rural labourers,” a lumpen rural proletariat no longer fit for purpose in a new era of consolidation and scaling up intensification of land use, while proclaiming “ecological civilisation.”

To those skilled pastoralists, expert at living off the uncertainties of a highly variable climate, that’s confusing. It is as confusing for observers trying to reconcile fieldwork reporting of mass displacements with the rhetorics of building a shared future for all life on Earth.

As China’s discourse power building program gathers momentum, as new propaganda slogans are issued with greater frequency, we need reliable guidance that unpacks and decodes the proliferating building blocks of discourse power.

As China codifies its agenda for a new order, with distinctly Chinese characteristics, we face a growing need to decode, to discern implicit meanings and motives. The China model is actively exported to developing countries worldwide, especially in government-to-government transactions that bypass civil society and community engagement, on the explicit basis of China’s doctrine of “non-interference.”

China’s expanding campaign to assert soft power complements China’s global economic reach, and its expanding military hard power; they go together. For these reasons, China’s vague yet meaningful propaganda slogans need to be included in non-traditional security analysis just as much as security analysts assess China’s latest missiles and what they portend.

For some geostrategists, all that matters is hard power. They see China’s propaganda as at most China steering its domestic audiences; no need to bother taking is seriously. This seriously under-estimates how central propaganda is to China’s rise, the extent to which Xi Jinping’s regime sees propaganda as a frontline, and the appeal of carefully framed propaganda slogans to emerging country governments.

Decoding China’s rapidly proliferating discursive propaganda power is increasingly necessary. The DecodingCCP website unpacks core slogans that matter to China—and now matter globally. DecodingCCP.org critiques those vague phrases China works so hard to insert into UN documents and treaties: common but differentiated responsibilities, belt and road, ecological civilization, new development paradigm, public opinion guidance, splittism, bottom-line mission, common prosperity, non-interference in internal affairs, patriotic education campaign, to name a few.

With subtle humor rather than antagonism, DecodingCCP identifies implicit meanings, hidden assumptions and party-state intentions, with plenty of scope for the reader to decide what to make of it. DecodingCCP comes to the task from a different angle, as a Tibetan product, an outcome of centuries living alongside a giant neighbor and its arrogant imperial court framing all foreign relations as submission and tribute paying. Tibetans learned quickly to master Maoist and contemporary CCP rhetorics: Their survival depended on it.

The Tibetan angle of this trilingual decoder is a fresh voice, from Tibet’s global South experience of China’s world-making hauteur.

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Tsering Tsomo is director of the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, which worked on developing the Decoding CCP website. Her email is director@tchrd.org.

Lessons from Tibet for COP15 biodiversity conference

By Palmo Tenzin, ICT Germany
Palmo Tenzin is the Advocacy and Research Officer at the International Campaign for Tibet in Germany, where she primarily focuses on advocating for Tibet at United Nations institutions. Palmo has an academic background in Sinology and is an experienced policy officer.

COP15

This week, countries are meeting virtually to open the first sessions of the COP15 conference on biodiversity in Kunming, People’s Republic of China. This conference is significant, as it will finalize the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework—a new ambitious plan to halt and reverse the loss of the planet’s plants, animals and ecosystems.[1]

This year’s biodiversity conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity is split into two sessions. The first session is currently underway in Kunming and is a virtual, largely ceremonial event which will culminate in a “Kunming Declaration.” The second session is where the key negotiations will play out and will be an in-person meeting from April 25 to May 8, 2022. The location of the meeting has yet to be confirmed.

Why is COP15 so important?

The new Global Biodiversity Framework is not only an opportunity to set ambitious targets to halt and reverse biodiversity loss, it is also an opportunity to shape a binding vision with a compliance mechanism in global environmental management—a first in the environmental space. The GBF can be a new mechanism that can institutionalize and operationalize human rights principles, such as the rule of law, participatory development, transparent governance, and compliance and accountability in environmental governance. Such success would empower citizens, including Tibetans, to access information, submit complaints and seek effective remedy when states have failed to fulfil their duties with respect to environmental management.

In the long run, the framework can further streamline the ecosystem approach to environmental conservation, which assesses environments according to the biological unit of the ecosystem; treats ecosystem management as a social process that must involve communities; and recognizes the need to balance the conflicting goals of conservation and economic and social interests. This approach is also more consistent with traditional Tibetan conceptions of the environment. For example, as one Tibetan environmental activist noted:[2]

“In the Tibetan approach to environmental protection, all living beings are equal. The [W]estern approach designates certain places as protected and leaves other places out … The livelihood and outlook of local farmers and nomads are central to successful environmental protection.”

Institutionalizing the ecosystem approach also creates future opportunities to address environmental challenges in Tibet that are transboundary (such as river systems, mountains, grasslands), consult and involve local communities and confront the drivers of biodiversity loss (such as urbanization, mining and in-migration).

What role can Tibet play in the biodiversity conversation?

Tibet is a region rich in biodiversity, and the biodiversity challenges facing Tibet offer insights into what is needed to shape a practical, inclusive, and accountable Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.

The Tibetan Plateau is characterized by four large ecosystems which contain over 12,000 species of vascular plants, 5,000 species of organisms that grow on plants, 210 species of mammals, 532 species of birds and 115 species of fish.[3] The Tibetan Plateau is also situated at the intersection of three biodiversity hotspots—defined as the earth’s most biologically rich but threatened terrestrial regions.[4] These biodiversity hotspots have at least 1,500 vascular plants not found elsewhere and have 30% or less of its original natural vegetation.[5]

Conserving Tibet’s biodiversity ensures ecosystems are more stable, productive and resilient to environmental stress—including climate change. A biodiverse ecosystem also ensures the healthy provision of ecosystems services[6] and natural resources that at least 1.4 billion people in the Himalayan river basins rely on.

Our research shows that the Tibetan Plateau is increasingly threatened by climate warming, a lack of scientific data, blind infrastructure development and a lack of locally defined responses. One clear example of poor locally-defined responses to environmental challenges has been the creation of protected areas, such as nature reserves. The top-down approach has relocated Tibetan nomads from their grasslands, effectively ignored key areas of biodiversity and dismissed local environmental knowledge at the cost of the wellbeing of both residents and the environment.

With these Tibet-specific lessons in mind, the International Campaign for Tibet presented governments with four recommendations for designing a meaningful, inclusive and effective Global Biodiversity Framework:

  1. Integrate a rights-based approach throughout the framework, as it is empowered people who can enact and sustain environmental interventions
  2. Institute strong transparency and accountability measures
  3. Using the ecosystem approach, directly address the drivers of biodiversity loss
  4. Calibrate the language on protected areas, noting the risks of removing local communities and excluding traditional knowledge.

See a full copy of ICT’s briefing.

Footnotes:
[1] https://ec.europa.eu/environment/news/un-biodiversity-summit-cop-15-phase-one-eu-leading-ambition-new-deal-protect-people-and-planet_en
[2] Kunga Lama (Director), 2010, Shielding the Mountains [Film].
[3] Wu and Feng in Ibid. Zhang et al, 2002, page 138.
[4] Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, 2019, ‘What is a biodiversity hotspot?,’ https://www.cepf.net/our-work/biodiversity-hotspots/hotspots-defined.
[5] Ibid., Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, 2019.
[6] For example, water retention, soil retention, sand storm prevention, and carbon sequestration.

TYLP: Ngawang Sangdrol and the story of all Tibetans

When first joining the 2021 TYLP program as the intern for the program, I expected to have an in depth discovery of my Tibetan cultural heritage and identity, however I did not expect on the last day to have such a memorable breath-taking speaker; that being Ngawang Sangdrol.

At a personal level the story of Ngawang Sangdrol is one which resonates to my innate Tibetan core, a story of suffering which unfortunately resembles too many other stories from the region which Tibetans once roamed so freely on. Now on the eve of the CCP’s 100-year anniversary, the Potala Palace was blanketed in a suffocating red banner of Communism and the necessity for the individual life stories of my Tibetan brothers and sisters to be heard becomes increasingly dire by each hour.

The story of Ngawang Sangdrol is one of advocacy, pain, and the unfortunate lack of justice/rightfulness that is inherent to the Chinese Communist Party. Imprisoned by the Chinese government at the young age of 13, an age at which most American children are barely entering middle school, for peacefully demonstrating against the Chinese occupation of the historically Tibetan land, Ngawang Sangdrol didn’t give up on her Tibetan identity, rather she used her unique situation being inside a Chinese prison to contribute to the Tibetan movement by continuing to protest within prison. This would culminate in a number of significant consequential achievements such as the moving of freedom songs out of Drapchi Prison, and an energetic platform from which she spread her meaningful life story/message to act as a voice for those who may not have the same opportunity.

The ability for an individual to take a scenario so precarious as imprisonment in a Chinese Communist prison and to turn that situation into a vast opportunity to assist her heritage-defined movement demonstrates a level of mental stability and perseverance that is superhuman. Furthermore, as a Tibetan American hearing this level of perseverance, especially when coming from a privileged position as many Tibetan Americans do, is perspective-altering as the relativity/juxtaposition of our situations motivates me to pursue my own ambitions and goals.

For many young Tibetan Americans these stories are generalized with rare circumstances for true personal meaningful stories from Tibetans within Tibet to be shared in a one on one setting, this leads to a greater point as seen throughout societal history the passage of wisdom and knowledge from the older generations to the younger ones is crucial in the sustenance of said society, whether that be due to the relevancy of the pure information in daily life or for the contextual relativity that said knowledge may bring to younger generations struggling for a sense of identity.

For Ngawang Sangdrol and the greater Tibetan society the importance of family is crucial, and through her story we learned the struggles of Tibetan families within Tibet, the choices they must make between freedom and culture and how those choices overlap into the lives their children and their children will leave. Tibetans possess a bright and vibrant culture, one which has thrived in the face of turmoil over the past sixty years, and now as we enter into a new age of Tibetan history, that being the rise of the first generation of Tibetan Americans into adulthood, the importance of the historical anecdotes that the older generations provide us must never be forgotten and must be kept guarded closely to our hearts at all times.

If we lose our history, we lose our identity, and if we lose our identity, we lose Tibet. This is why Ngawang Sangdrol la’s story resonated so heavily, because it is the story of all Tibetans.

By Tenzin Yonten Tsering, TYLP 2021

TYLP, an experience that will stick with me forever

I’ve always struggled with my Tibetan-American identity, never really feeling fully a part of either. Being born in America as the daughter of Tibetan refugees has greatly influenced my worldview and interpretation of my own responsibilities as a Tibetan-American. Unlike my parents and the older generations of Tibetans, I didn’t grow up in a refugee settlement or witness the difficult realities displaced people face. I wouldn’t necessarily say I was given a golden spoon in my mouth, but I was provided a spoon that was crafted from the struggle and resilience that the older generation of Tibetans endured. As a result, I have access to a plethora of opportunities and education that my parents didn’t.

Witnessing the silence of the international community on the Tibet issue has inspired me to pursue a career in international relations and public service. When I found out I had been accepted into the Tibetan Youth Leadership Program, I was excited to connect with other Tibetans and learn more about how I could best contribute to the Tibet movement. Coming from a small Tibetan community in Chicago, the idea of meeting other Tibetan-American youth across the country was one I always wished for. Based on my experience doing college remotely for an entire year, I was hesitant about participating in a virtual program. Despite entering the program with low expectations, I left the TYLP with an unforgettable experience and invaluable connections.

Through TYLP I was able to meet a variety of people in public service and learn about their connection to the Tibet cause. Although the program was only one week, I was able to participate in a US State department simulation, lobby for Tibet, talk to diplomats, and meet the people behind the human rights reports I’ve been quoting for years. Most notably, I met fellow Tibetan-Americans in public service. Considering that I had never met a Tibetan working in public service, I was surprised to meet four incredibly inspiring Tibetan Americans making change and working in the federal government. Their support and willingness to mentor and guide us through a career in public service was empowering.

Even though all of the sessions taught me something new, the first and last sessions were the most memorable. In the first session, Bhuchung Tsering la asked our cohort (something along the lines of) “What is your country?” Every single member of my cohort said “Tibet”. When Bhuchung la pointed out that almost all of the participants were born and raised in America, we all fell silent. Being American comes with its privileges and as TIBETAN AMERICANS we must utilize that privilege to uplift the concerns of those inside Tibet. I left that call with a whole new perspective on the Tibet issue and even some closure to questions I had with my own Tibetan American identity. The last session was equally as impactful. Hearing Ngawang Sangdrol la speak about her life in Lhasa and the lack of basic fundamental rights in Tibet was disheartening. My grandmother was born and raised in Lhasa, so listening to Sangdrol la’s story of resistance was inspiring.

While the long hours staring at a screen wasn’t ideal, the lessons I took away from each session and the people I met through TYLP is an experience that will stick with me forever.

By Sonam Rikha, TYLP 2021

The Feeling of Empowerment: My experience at TYLP

I swapped hours of doing administrative work in front of a computer for hours of intensive and completely eye-opening and insightful workshops, speaker events, and teachings relating to how Tibet fits in U.S politics today and how Tibetan Americans (and Tibetans), like myself, can contribute to the chant and mission statement we all grew up saying . . . how we can contribute to a “Free Tibet!”

I came into this week thinking I would learn the basics – What is going on in Tibet? How does China oppress Tibetans? And what can the U.S and people around the world do to make our chants of “free Tibet” a reality. I did in fact learn all this, but something that is more cliché, and equally important, that I gained through the Tibetan Youth Leadership Program is a sense of belonging, empowerment, and an experience of humbleness. Though I grew up in a large Tibetan community, I felt this new sense of world-wide community that Tibetans are so fortunate to have. Though we do not have a physical piece of Earth that is recognized as our homeland by some people in power, the places we have come to inhabit all makeup another type of home. A home that is built upon the restless and concrete backs of our grandmothers and grandfathers and the generations of Tibetans that came before our own. From the East Coast to the West Coast, and all the land in between, I was able to (virtually) meet truly outstanding Tibetans from across the United States that helped create a sense of this world-wide Tibetan community.

The feeling of empowerment that I felt came to actualization as I listened to Tibetans who worked in the government, and those who served in their own unique ways, give talks about their experiences in public service. This sense of empowerment comes from seeing Tibetan representation within many different career paths, that I (in my personal experience) am not often exposed to. If there is no space on the table, I now have confirmation and evidence that Tibetans can make the space for themselves, and our community, in spaces where important decisions are being made – and in doing so also making positive impacts within different career fields.

My time as a Tibetan Youth Leadership participant also humbled me – I still have so much to learn, not just in terms of the Tibetan language itself, but in terms of personal growth that will allow me to become a version of myself that is equipped to make active change, no matter how small. Though much is still a work in progress, I have learned that this does not mean I cannot contribute to my communities, it is not an exclusive relationship – one can make a positive impact in the world and still be working on oneself. I have learned through the amazing speakers and experiences that ICT was able to provide me with, that I can make important changes and positive impacts in my community while also learning and growing as a person.

I have learned so much about myself, my hopes and goals, and my Tibetan community through this experience provided by ICT. I truly think that any Tibetan who finds themselves wanting to learn and grow in any area of their life, would benefit from this program and the amazing people they will meet and get to learn from through it.

Thank you to all the dedicated and hardworking ICT staff that came together to make this program truly an invaluable experience!

By Tenzin Chodon Dorje, TYLP 2021

A Tibetan American’s experience as a Lodi Gyari Fellow on Capitol Hill

My name is Tenzin Rangdol and I am a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies with concentrations in conflict management and international economics. This summer, I interned for the democratic staff of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) as a Lodi Gyari Fellow for the International Campaign for Tibet. I was initially drawn to this fellowship to develop a deeper understanding of the American legislative process. Through ICT, I was able to place an internship that met both my desire for congressional experience and my academic interests in international affairs.

During the six-week internship, I worked on a variety of projects that ranged from drafting legislative summaries to conducting research for policy memos and preparing documents for congressional hearings. In my first week, I drafted the official summary for the Burma Unified through Rigorous Military Accountability Act of 2019 (H.R.3190— the BURMA Act of 2019). The BURMA Act of 2019 includes congressional findings on the human rights abuses in Burma, sanctions responsible actors, and authorizes humanitarian assistance to support the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities displaced by conflict in Burma and Bangladesh.

Last semester, I took a class on global forced migration, which explored the challenges of reconciling state sovereignty and human rights in refugee and forced migration policy. Through that class, I learned about the contemporary challenges the Rohingya face in their homeland in Burma and the ecological and infrastructural challenges the government of Bangladesh faces in hosting over 700,000 Rohingya refugees. This first project allowed me to apply my understanding of the refugee crisis to legislation addressing the plight of the Rohingya. This was a very meaningful experience as I not only applied what I learned in class to practice but also helped advance legislation that advocates for some of the world’s most vulnerable populations. Throughout the rest of my tenure on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I worked on organizing cosponsors for the bill and helped oversee the introduction of the bill into the committee.

While my first project was within my scope of study, I also worked on several projects in functional and regional portfolios that I did not have previous experience with. The policy memo I wrote on fifth generation (5G) technology required me to conduct research on the technical mechanisms of 5G and the implications of first-mover advantage within the telecommunications sector. In the past, I had read about 5G in relation to Huawei and great power competition between the U.S. and China, but I did not have a thorough understanding of 5G and its distinct features compared to 4G LTE. Similarly, when I was preparing an information sheet on Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Marshall Islands for a congressional staff delegation to the Pacific Islands, I got to learn about a region that I was previously unfamiliar with. These projects allowed me to simultaneously expand my understanding of important issue areas and strengthen my practical skills in research and memo writing.

In addition to the projects I worked on, the opportunity to network on Capitol Hill was an integral component of my internship. In conversation with senior professional staff and policy analysts, I learned about the different avenues through which legislation is conceived and the process of shepherding a bill from inception into law. I learned how staffers were able to champion issue areas they were personally passionate about and the process of devising strategic legislation to tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges. On a more personal level, I was able to connect with staff who were alumni of my school and learn about their career trajectories post-graduation. They took a genuine interest in learning about my career goals and offered unique insights into available opportunities within government and beyond.

During my internship in Capitol Hill, I saw first-hand the threads of civic engagement and service that make the United States unique. I witnessed the diversity of the American experience and the important role the United States plays throughout the world. I am confident that the knowledge and experience I gained on the Hill will guide me as I pursue a career in foreign affairs.

By Tenzin Rangdol, member of the first class of Lodi Gyari Fellows

An exciting and productive week of ICT’s Tibetan Youth Leadership Program

Participants of the TYLP 2019 with Mr. Tenzin N. Tethong, VOA Tibetan Director and former Chairman of the Tibetan Cabinet as well as president of ICT, and ICT President Matteo Mecacci.

First, I would like to share a big warm thank you to all the sponsors, supporters and staff members at ICT who made this program possible. Without their endless support, hard work and dedication none of this would have been possible. I am forever grateful for receiving such an amazing opportunity to attend the 2019 Tibetan Youth Leadership Program. This exciting and productive week flew by and I wouldn’t want to trade this experience of being able to meet and interact with extraordinary members in the community who have contributed greatly to the Tibetan issue with any other.

One aspect I enjoyed most about this program was gaining exposure to grasp a better understanding of how the American political system works, in order to help us further enhance our methods on improving the current situation in Tibet. Listening to distinguished professionals working on foreign policy issues and sharing their stories and experience greatly allowed me to put things into perspective as well as see that there is still more that we can do to create change. Another aspect of this program which I appreciated greatly was the fact that we all came together with a shared ambition and purpose in wanting to make an impact for Tibet despite our different backgrounds in field of study.

I believe that it is crucial that in order to be effective leaders in our community one must have both an educated mind and heart. I find it really important that everyone prospers and thrives in whatever field they’re studying so that there is a solid base to start from. I encourage everyone to put their mind to whatever it is that they want to study and do so with great dedication. I found it very captivating how all my fellow participants and I are all studying different things in our universities such as nursing, economics, finance, psychology and etc. because it makes our drive so much more productive and powerful. The fact that we can each contribute something unique to the table makes fighting for our cause so much more engaging.

Attending ICT’s week long Tibetan Youth Leadership Program has truly been a valuable experience. I believe the size of the participants in this program has enabled us to get closer to one another on a deeper level as we are all able to come together. In addition, the fact that we can all come together despite varying fields of study under a common goal on behalf of Tibet makes us stronger than ever. It is extremely important that the younger generation understand that it is our duty as Tibetan Americans to continue to be louder than ever despite all the actions the Chinese regime puts forth to shut us down. It is in our position to utilize what we learn and place matters into our own hands to see real change. Something I will carry on from this program is the everlasting knowledge and friendships I have made with everyone here.

Whether or not you have any interest in politics or International affairs or relations, deep down we are all involved in this as this issue is no longer a foreign issue but a domestic one. Now, it is more important than ever to make our voices heard because the Tibetan issue lies within all of us and so we must educate ourselves to make an impact in politics which plays a huge role in the world and global affairs. Everyone should apply to this program because we can never have too many leaders in our community to lead Tibet to its freedom.

I have gained an insight into the true value of how important education is in being able to advocate for ourselves as well as educating others, Thank you ICT!

By Yeshi Lhakyi, a member of the 2019 Tibetan Youth Leadership Program.

Remembering Tony Rowell

Tony Rowell

Tony Rowell

It is with deepest sorrow that International Campaign For Tibet (ICT) & The Rowell Fund for Tibet announce the passing of Tony (Edward Anthony) Rowell on February 16th, 2019, at the age of 50.

Tony was part of the ICT family since 2003 when he, along with former ICT President John Ackerly, helped develop the Rowell Fund in honor of his late father Galen Rowell, a famed photographer and mountaineer, who was an avid supporter of the Tibetan cause. Tony became very instrumental in the success of the Rowell Fund over the years. Following in his father’s footsteps, Tony traveled to Tibet in August 2004 with National Geographic Expeditions, and has donated his photos from the trip to the International Campaign for Tibet.

Named after his Grandfather, Tony was the second child of Galen Rowell and entered this world on August 8th, 1968. (Tony’s older sister, Nicole Rowell Ryan, also a member of The Rowell Fund Advisory Board, passed away last year at the age of 54.) With Galen’s adventures, the Rowell family were always on the road heading in every direction with many summers spent in Yosemite Valley, California.

One of our favorite memories with Tony is of climbing Oregon’s tallest peak, Mount Hood. A passionate photographer, Tony documented the ascent with many pictures that left us very impressed with his talents. Tony was also an accomplished astrophotographer as well. Tony was always intrigued with space and began photographing earth-based subjects with a galactic background. His pioneering work in this field eventually led him to author his spectacular book Sierra Starlight. Tony’s photography adventures took him from the Arctic Circle to the mountains of Tibet.

Tony is preceded in death by his Father Galen, Mother Carol and his sister Nicole. Tony is survived by his two nephews Forrest Avery Ryan and Colby Dustin Ryan. Last year, Tony’s eldest nephew Forrest Ryan joined the Board of the Rowell Fund for Tibet, continuing the family’s legacy to help Tibetans safeguard their culture and traditions.

Tony will always be remembered for his kind and generous heart and big smile. He made friends everywhere he went and will be greatly missed by so many that knew and loved him. As fellow Rowell Fund Board member Conrad Anker wrote, “Tony was a joy to be with and was always a reminder of his direct connection to his father.” John Ackerly summed it up well by stating “Tony was a great advocate for Tibet and the Rowell Fund for Tibet, which he helped to co-found. Galen shot his photos quickly during the mountain light, in the early morning and late afternoon, while Tony had the patience to leave the shutter open for minutes or hours, capturing the distant stars and pondering the universe. Like meteors, they both came and went far too quickly.”

By John Jancik & Terri Baker, The Rowell Fund For Tibet

In Memoriam – Nicole Rowell Ryan

Terri Baker and John Jancik

Nicole and her husband Ray Ryan with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

It is with deepest sorrow that ICT and The Rowell Fund for Tibet announce the passing of Nicole Rowell Ryan on Sunday, April 29th, 2018, at the age of 54.

Nicole, a member of the Rowell Fund Advisory Board, was part of the ICT family since 2003 when she, along with former ICT President John Ackerly, developed the Rowell Fund in honor of her late father Galen Rowell. Galen, a famed photographer and mountaineer, was an avid supporter of the Tibetan cause during his life. Nicole was instrumental in the success of the Rowell Fund over the years.

Her husband, Ray Ryan, remembers her insistence that whoever the grant recipients were, they truly represented the culture of the Tibetan people, and they would help advance an understanding and appreciation of Tibet so that the culture would not fade away and be forgotten. He remembers how passionate she was about the awards being offered.

Nicole’s younger brother, Tony, remembered the many days they both spent with their father in Yosemite National Park while they were growing up – together over countless campfires.

One of our favorite memories of Nicole is sipping wine over a campfire together in Yosemite at the Tibet at Tuolumne fundraiser. She reminisced about her times in the park with family. She spoke with love and pride about her husband and sons. She also spoke about her concern that the beauty and peacefulness of the Tibetan culture would be lost.

Nicole, is survived by her brother Tony Rowell, husband Ray Ryan and sons Forrest and Colby.

A Celebration of Life has been scheduled for Saturday July 7th, 2018 at 4pm at the Amador County, California Fairgrounds.

Tibetan Youth Leadership Program 2018: week of insights

Tenzin Tsedon

Tibetan Youth Leadership Program

Participants of the 2018 Tibetan Youth Leadership Program in front of the State Department in Washington, DC.

We would often sit facing one another in a fashion identical to conference rooms. Throughout the week of the program, we have sat in the same manner in varying locations under differing circumstances. There was a sense of intimacy in that seating arrangement, the comfort felt was an embodiment of a rooted connection that formed fast and firm amongst us. Although, we all carried starkly distinct assortment of life experiences, the ceaseless tug of a unique cultural identity on our hearts served as the undeniable, unifying factor for us. In other words, the participants of the Tibetan Youth Leadership Program of 2018 were diaspora-induced diverse, yet the common cause of the diaspora linked us all strongly. I had never felt a connection such as this, this program not only strengthened my sense of self which in the past I often observed in a gray area, but it also awarded me with valuable peers, a set of role models in whom we can observe a segment of ourselves and knowledge, of official processes, insight on new perspectives as well as a glimpse of how we fit as activists in a chaotic international backdrop.

I personally came into this experience, uncertain, with minimal knowledge of the American government and the Tibet movement. But, I left, with a heavy heart and a mind with an equally significant weight of a newfound will. Our week consisted of dialogue with influential figures, observation of those very leaders in their respective fields, and touring of facilities to obtain a general understanding of the proceedings that shape policy and garner action for change. We also had a fruitful networking session where there were no shortages of sources for inspiration. The portions of the week that I enjoyed the most were lobby day on the Hill and the multilateral diplomacy simulation at the State Department. The latter was incredibly exhilarating; the art of considering a myriad number of factors and differing circumstances, of balancing scientific information with human morals before reaching a diplomatic solution was highly educational to partake in.

On the very first day, we learned of the importance of personal activism to go along with the popularly sought collective activism. At that time, this was merely an idea we became aware of, but lobby day materialized this idea and fortified its strength in our minds. Advocating and being a word away from earning support with potential for large-scale change showed us how being a small functional unit within a grand democratic system is powerful with true possibility of effectiveness. Lobby day also fortified the duality of some of our identities by fostering active participation. To explain in simpler terms, I learned that Tibetan-Americans can support the Tibet issue not solely by clinging to an ethnic identity, but also by working to interject the issue onto the United States political platform as the country’s citizens.

Hearing from exemplary people about their work, the organizations they represent whether it is a government or an NGO, their motivations for why they do what they do, their origins and the ‘flip’ that occured that woke them up from comfortable passivity to acute awareness was as moving as it was thought-provoking. I would again and again be left in awe when they spoke because they were often one individual making waves with ripples that crossed borders and oceans. The dialogue with and the observation of these leaders motivated us to come out of our own boxes of passivity, and most importantly, I think it dispelled the excuse that I personally have been guilty of holding onto, the excuse of the irrelevance of a single person in a chaotic and crowded political world. This reasoning no longer applied and made sense because there they were, relevant and strong individuals with fixed and visible roles in that very same chaotic backdrop.

This one week with ICT in the TYLP program gave the participants insights and skills built on new perspectives that we can navigate and utilize within as well as outside of the political discourse. I came with my understandings in singles and left with them in layers with the true feeling of having learned and acquired a worldly sense. This was an amazing opportunity that I believe every Tibetan youth should look to participate in and it would not have been possible without the figures who from the very first day guided us with their encouraging words and smiles that resonated with home away from home. These figures remained with us every step of this experience and facilitated our learning and effective participation by ensuring safety, comfort and instructive preparations. Bhuchung Tsering la, Tencho Gyatso la, Mr. Matteo Mecacci, and ICT, we thank you all for everything that you all do and for having continued doing so for a long time so we in our present didn’t miss it.

* Tenzin Tsedon is studying at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst where she plans to double major in Microbiology and Spanish.