COVID-19: WHY I SHAVED MY HEAD?

Tibetan Buddhists shave their heads when they enter their monasteries or nunneries to ordain. In some other cultures, people shave heads too – for instance, to mourn when close family members die. In my own case, an initiative to help charities replace income lost due to the coronavirus pandemic – The 2.6 Challenge – has led me to fundraise for Tibet Foundation by shaving my head for the first time ever!

A personal mission to raise vital funds to help the elderly Tibetan refugees.

(Tsering Passang, former Chairman and a current adviser to the Council of Tibetan Community in Britain, is the Director of Tibet Foundation.)

Tibetan Buddhists shave their heads when they enter their monasteries or nunneries to ordain. In some other cultures, people shave heads too – for instance, to mourn when close family members die. In my own case, an initiative to help charities replace income lost due to the coronavirus pandemic – The 2.6 Challenge – has led me to fundraise for Tibet Foundation by shaving my head for the first time ever!

As you know, COVID-19, which originated from Wuhan (China), has caused extreme disruption worldwide and has resulted in many thousands of people losing their lives. They include a small number of fellow Tibetans, including my good friend, Jamchoe-la, a respected member of the Tibetan community in the UK and a generous supporter of many good causes.

Our scientists and medical experts tell us that the virus, which primarily affects the elderly, is likely to remain with us for some time. Against this background, we remember our Tibetan refugee elders in India and Nepal. Already hugely vulnerable through old age and for economic and social reasons, they now find themselves increasingly imperilled by this killer disease. They need our practical support now more than ever before.

Tibet Foundation’s “Give Elders Dignity” campaign is providing essential aid for this section of the exile community, with a particular focus on care standards and safety in the old people’s homes we support. I am shaving my head for The 2.6 Challenge to raise funds for these elders and show solidarity with all who have lost loved ones in the COVID-19 pandemic.

If the small act of shaving my head for The 2.6 Challenge inspires you and others, I urge you consider sponsoring me, or making a donation to Tibet Foundation, through Virgin Money Giving This is also a genuine practice of compassion ahead of the Saka Dawa festival when we all engage in doing good deeds. 100% of your donation will go directly to the “Give Elders Dignity” appeal. An advantage of donating through Virgin Money Giving within the next 7 days is that we can receive additional funds from the central 2.6 Challenge pot administered by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF).

So, will you please consider making a donation today to make a real difference and help the vulnerable elderly Tibetan refugees in India and Nepal?

I’d like to thank all those who have already made a donation to the “Give Elders Dignity” appeal. Your support means a lot to me personally because, like you, I care about our elders who need our help during the twilight years of their lives.

Please donate today and share this message with your friends and network.

Please click here to make your donation: Virging Money Giving

VOT’s Table Talk with Former Representatives of The Dalai Lama from the US, UK, Switzerland and Japan

As His Holiness the Dalai Lama turned 84, over 250 former CTA staff gathered together in Dharamsala this past week to offer a long life prayer ceremony for His Holiness. The event also turned into a reunion of sorts for hundreds of former CTA staff who worked tirelessly alongside His Holiness the Dalai Lama for decades. Among these are Tenzin Namgyal Tethong, Gyari Pema Gyalpo, Phunstok Wangyal and Tsering Dorje who worked as the Representative of His Holiness in the United States, Japan, UK and Switzerland in the early 1970s and 1980s. Watch them sit together and discuss about their stint as His Holiness’ Representative, the challenges they faced and their future hopes for Tibet. PS: Don’t miss the section where they also talk about their visit to Tibet in 1980. They were all a part of the second fact finding delegation to Tibet.

(Source: Voice of Tibet – http://www.vot.org)

The 11th Panchen Lama – Online Panel Discussion

ONLINE PANEL DISCUSSION APRIL 25, 2020, (Time: 7pm IST, 9:30am EST)

Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic across the world, an important part of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery’s 31st birthday celebration of the 11th Panchen Lama (Gedun Choekyi Nyima) this year will be an Online Pancel Discussion and keynote Speech by CTA President Dr. Lobsang Sangay. The following experts will also speak and answers any questions from the audience.

  • Dr. Lobsang Sangay, President of Central Tibetan Administration, India
  • Ven. Zeekyab Rinpoche, Abbot of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, India
  • Ms Sophie Richardson, China Diretor, Human Rights Watch, USA
  • Dr Tenzin Dorjee, Commissioner, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), USA
  • Mr Arif Virani, Member of Parliament, Canada
  • Mr Metteo Mecacci, President of International Campaign for Tibet, USA
  • Moderated by Ms Pema Tulotsang, Asia Officer at National Endowment for Democracy, USA

The agenda for the online panel discussion will cover the following issues:

In view of this live discussion, we are happy to invite questions from the public based on the issues raised above. Please email your questions before the panel discussion starts to office@tashilhunpo.org

  1. I. The 11th Panchen Lama’s tragic life story
  2. II. The importance of Panchen Lama’s lineage to the Tibetan Buddhism
  3. III. The release of the Panchen Lama from the clutches of the Chinese government

Please ensure that your questions are specific and to the point. The online panel discussion will be aired via Bluejeans and streamed live on Facebook.

This special online panel discussion is organised by Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, Bylakupee, south India. https://www.facebook.com/Tashi-Lhunpo-Monastery-India-210377766072245/

A Tribute to Jamyang Choegyal Kasho (1938-2020)

We are very saddened by the passing of Jamyang Choegyal Kasho (popularly known as Jamchoe-la within the Tibetan Community in London) in the early hours of 24th March. We remember him in our prayers and send our condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.

Jamchoe-la is the first British Tibetan (living in the UK) known to have been infected with the Coronavirus (COVID-19). According to his close friend, Jane O’Sullivan, Jamchoe-la was admitted to King’s College Hospital in south London on 15th March after initial flu-like symptoms. Two days later, doctors diagnosed COVID-19. Jamchoe-la was already known to have serious underlying medical conditions.

Jane, who has known Jamchoe-la since 1992, said that he was always very grateful for the compassionate medical care he received from staff at King’s College Hospital. The hospital is one of London’s largest and busiest teaching hospitals, with a strong profile of local services.

Jamyang Choegyal Kasho was born in Lhasa, Tibet, in 1938. Educated in Tibet, India and Beijing, he became completely fluent in the Chinese language and ways of thinking, whilst also attaining mastery of Tibetan and English. In 1991, after a career as a middle-level official in Tibet, he became the first (and probably only) Tibetan official and Party member of that rank to defect while on an official visit abroad. He then spent some 20 years in London as a translator, advisor and analyst of exceptional ability, working alongside those studying and publishing commentaries on contemporary Tibetan affairs.

Jamchoe-la was a philanthropic person and a generous supporter of voluntary community organisations and charities including Tibet Foundation. Only a few weeks ago, Jamchoe-la donated to our “Give Elders Dignity” appeal – in aid of elderly Tibetan refugees in India and Nepal. He also often sent money to his friends, intended for poor people as well as for commissioning pujas in India.

His book, “In the Service of the 13th and the 14th Dalai Lamas: Choegyal Nyima Lhundrup Kashopa – Untold Stories of Tibet”, was published by Tibet House, Germany, in 2015. Jamchoe-la painstakingly dedicated many years to producing this book, to tell what he described as the “Untold Stories of Tibet” as seen through his own eyes and family experience.

In the Foreword, Professor Robert Barnett, former Director of the Modern Tibetan Studies Program at Columbia University, New York, and co-founder of the Tibet Information Network (TIN), wrote, “Kashopa Choegyal’s book is unique in many ways. It provides a detailed glimpse into the inner world of Tibetan elite politics in the first half of the twentieth century. Focusing on the last decade of the period between the 1910 and 1950 invasions of Lhasa by armies from China, it details the life and thinking of his father, a leading government official at that time. Several works about that epoch have appeared in English in recent years, written by other leading aristocrat-officials or their offspring, including at least five by the Dalai Lama or his immediate family. But those writers and their subjects had fled with the Dalai Lama in 1959 and had little knowledge of events in Tibet following their departure, as well as limited familiarity with Chinese language or politics. This book is thus the first of its kind, and the first to be written in English without a ghost writer or intermediary by a Tibetan brought up and educated in the Chinese system.”

Prominent Tibetan historian and Canada Research Chair in Religion and Society in Asia at the University of British Columbia, Professor Tsering Shakya also wrote, “Jamyang Choegyal has written a compelling case for his yab dampa pa, noble father’s place in the recent history of Tibet. As he writes, he is not writing what might be called an objective history, but the truth as he and his family see it. Yet it is a frank and detailed account of an important Tibetan historical period and as such it provides a window into the political life of Tibet. The publication of the book adds to our understanding and knowledge of Tibet.

“By writing this book, Jamyang Choegyal has served faithfully his noble father’s memory, but also provided a source of information on the recent history of Tibet for future generations of Tibetans, for whom the recollection of a once free and independent Tibet will surely provide inspiration.”

Jamchoe-la is survived by his daughter and a grandson in Tibet.

(This tribute piece was written for Tibet Foundation website, first published on 24th March 2020.)

Former senior Tibetan Minister throws his hat into the Sikyong race

Kasur Lobsang Nyandak

Kasur Lobsang Nyandak confirms his readiness to lead the Tibet Movement at “critical time of our history”.

Tibetans worldwide are now getting actively engaged in the discourse of the next Sikyong election. The incumbent Sikyong, President Dr. Lobsang Sangay, leaves the highest office of the Central Tibetan Administration when he completes his second five-year term in 2021.

After seeing Kasur Lobsang Nyandak named as a possible successor to Dr. Sangay on social media recently, I contacted him via LinkedIn. I asked the respected former Finance and Foreign Minister if he was serious about running in the forthcoming Sikyong election. Nyandak responded within hours by writing, “I have given serious thought before making the decision to run for Sikyong. Given my 30+ years of serving the community at various positions, I felt I can serve best to our cause and people at this critical time of our history.”

His confirmation is excellent news for the Tibet Movement. In him, I see a highly experienced, capable and trusted former Tibetan diplomat, who is a politically savvy public figure, having lived in the West for nearly 15 years and travelled the world as Foreign Minister for the Tibetan Government-in-Exile.

In my view, Kasur Lobsang Nyandak ticks all the right boxes for any serious Tibetan leadership contender aspiring to enter the Office of The Sikyong.

Nyandak gained special prominence when he won his parliamentary seat in 1996. He was known for his non-sectarian view and commitment to promoting unity in the Tibetan community. At the time, Nyandak was heading the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), the only Tibetan-run human rights organisation. It was monitoring gross violations of human rights, and political and socio-economic marginalisation, as well as the curtailment of the religious rights of the Tibetan people in Chinese-occupied Tibet. In addition, Nyandak was actively engaged in advocacy work on behalf of the Tibetans in Tibet. He also spearheaded various vital educational programmes to promote Tibetan democracy in the exiled Tibetan community. Nyandak founded the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in 1996. Earlier, he had served in various roles within the Tibetan community, including as a leading activist of the biggest Tibetan NGO network – the Tibetan Youth Congress. He also served as Vice President and Secretary of the Executive Committee of the National Democratic Party of Tibet.

In 2001, the former Kalon Tripa, Professor Samdhong Rinpoche, chose Lobsang Nyandak as one of his small team of Cabinet members. Nyandak became a minister at the age of 35. During his five-year tenure as Kalon, Nyandak held three major portfolios in Professor Samdhong Rinpoche’s administration. He was the Minister for three Departments – Information and International Relations (DIIR); Finance; and Health.

Nyandak actively promoted Sino-Tibetan dialogue. As the Kalon for the DIIR, he organised exclusive seminars between Tibetan and Chinese scholars. He also served as a member of the Task Force of the Sino-Tibetan Dialogue for over a decade.

As Finance Minister, he oversaw the healthy fiscal budgets of the Central Tibetan Administration. He was instrumental in setting up the Tibetan Social and Resource Development Fund (SARD) within the Department of Finance. Today, the SARD manages core funding which supports the vital needs of the exiled Tibetan administration.

As Health Minister, he oversaw many health initiatives, including preventative measures to improve public health and the introduction of free medication to the poorer sections of the Tibetan refugee community.

From 2008 to 2013, as the Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the Americas, Kasur Lobsang Nyandak established high-level diplomatic relations and worked with many US and Canadian governmental officials and diplomats. During his public service career, he developed internationally an excellent network with a wide range of influential people – potentially of great benefit to the Tibetan cause when he becomes the next Sikyong.

His international development work includes managing and raising vital funds from individuals and major donor sources to support the Tibetan refugee community in India and Nepal. As President of the New York-based Tibet Fund, Kasur Lobsang Nyandak has conducted multiple field trips to India and Nepal. He knows the realities on the ground there, and has a deep understanding of the enormous and often complex challenges faced by the Tibetan refugee community.

I am endorsing Kasur Lobsang Nyandak as the next Sikyong of the Central Tibetan Administration.

I believe Kasur Lobsang Nyandak is the right candidate at the right time for the Central Tibetan Administration. I hope there will be many like-minded friends, who care deeply about our Tibetan cause, who will give their vital backing to Kasur Lobsang Nyandak in the forthcoming election. In our efforts to preserve Tibet’s unique cultural heritage and support each other, we must march forward in unity to seek justice for Tibetans in Tibet whilst finding practical ways to help the Tibetan Diasporas.

Kasur Lobsang Nyandak says, “Together, we build Tibet’s future”. Let’s build it together by supporting Lobsang Nyandak for Sikyong 2021.

Official website: https://lobsangnyandak.com/

Official Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/KasurLobsangNyandak/

*Tsering Passang is former Chairman of the Tibetan Community in Britain (2014 – 2016). He is also an advisor to the incumbent Council of Tibetan Community in Britain (2018 – 2020). Tsering currently works for the London-based Tibet Foundation as its Director. Tsering’s blog: https://tsamtruk.com

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60th Anniversary of the 10th March 1959 Tibetan National Uprising Day and its Origin

(This article was specially written for Tibet Foundation Newsletter Spring 2019 Issue No. 74 by Tsering Passang.)

Soon after the Communist Party of China (CPC) came to power in October 1949, the People’s Republic of China was established and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers marched into Tibet.

On 23rd May 1951, the “Seventeen-Point Agreement” was signed between the representatives of the independent Tibetan Government in Lhasa and the Chinese Communist Government in Peking. Tibetans have always maintained that the agreement was signed by the Tibetan representatives under the duress. His Excellency Lukhangwa, the lay Tibetan Prime Minister, plainly told Chinese Representative Zhang Jingwu in 1952 that the Tibetan “people did not accept the agreement”.

Nevertheless His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, who was a young teenager at the time, decided to work with the Chinese “in order to save my people and country from total destruction”, wrote in his memoir. For eight years, the Dalai Lama tried to abide by the terms of that document. He even relieved his Prime Minister Lukhangwa from the post, who made no secret of his staunch opposition to Chinese rule.

In 1954, the Dalai Lama visited Peking. During his nearly 6 months’ stay he had met with many Chinese leaders including Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Chou En-lai on a few occasions. Both of them gave assurances to him on Tibet’s good future.

In 1956, at the invitation of the Mahabodhi Society of India, the Dalai Lama travelled to India to join the 2500th Birth Anniversary Celebrations of Lord Buddha. During his India trip, the Dalai Lama met the Indian Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and expressed his intention to seek asylum in India. Nehru advised the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet. At the same time the Chinese Premier Chou En-lai travelled to Delhi where he met both Nehru and the Dalai Lama and had urged the young Tibetan leader to return to Tibet. Finally, the Dalai Lama returned to Lhasa.

By early 1959 a large number of PLA soldiers, about 20,000 were stationed in Lhasa alone. The tension was now rising in Tibet’s capital, Lhasa. Tens of thousands of Tibetans from east Tibet were retreating towards Lhasa while fighting continued in the east. In early March 1959, the PLA invited the Dalai Lama to attend a planned cultural show at its headquarters without any Tibetan bodyguards. The date for the theatrical show was set for 10th March. The general public in Lhasa became suspicious and over 30,000 Tibetans gathered at the Norbu Lingkha, the summer palace for his security and requested him not to attend.

The Dalai Lama, who was then 24, faced a difficult dilemma. In his autobiography, ‘My Land and My People’ the Dalai Lama wrote, “…as if I was standing between two volcanoes, each likely to erupt at any moment. On one side, there was the vehement, unequivocal, unanimous protest of my people against the Chinese regime; on the other hand, there was the armed might of a powerful and aggressive occupying force.” Three Tibetan ministers tried to reach some agreements with Chinese generals but failed.

With the huge crowd surrounding the Norbu Lingkha palace, it was almost impossible for the Dalai Lama to leave. On the night of 17th March, the Dalai Lama decided to leave Lhasa. According to his autobiography, the Dalai Lama disguised as an ordinary soldier and marched out of his summer palace on a horseback “unchallenged [and moved] towards the dark road beyond”. He reached safely into exile in India on 31st March 1959 after two weeks of treacherous journey. Some 80,000 Tibetan refugees followed him into India, Nepal and Bhutan.

The young and charismatic Dalai Lama re-established Tibetan Government-in-exile based in Dharamsala, northern India. A staunch believer in democracy, the Dalai Lama introduced this western democratic system into the Tibetan society, stage by stage since 1960. In 2011, the Dalai Lama decided to fully relinquish his previously inherited political leadership, for nearly 400 years by the Dalai Lama Institution, by passing the historic seal to the directly elected Sikyong (or otherwise known as the President) Dr. Lobsang Sangay (a legal scholar from Harvard University), of the Central Tibetan Administration (de facto Tibetan Government-in-exile).

Under his amazing leadership, the Dalai Lama established a network of Tibetan settlements, schools, hospitals, monasteries, nunneries as well as cultural institutions to provide vital education, healthcare, welfare needs and cultural preservation in India, Nepal, and Bhutan. Internally, his visionary leadership in exile for the Tibetan society has kept its identity and culture alive. Externally, especially after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, exactly 30 years ago, the Dalai Lama gained new celebrity status on the global stage which helped to promote the Tibetan issue. His message of peace and non-violence for resolving conflicts, promotion of religious harmony and human values got greater recognition. Today, the Dalai Lama, aged 83, is not only a Tibetan spiritual leader but he is a highly respected moral leader too on the world stage.

Since coming into exile, Tibetans in India and around the world observe this poignant 10th March anniversary every year to condemn China’s repression in Tibet whilst remembering those who died in their struggle for freedom. In Dharamsala as well as in major Tibetan settlements across India, the official functions include recitation of Buddhist prayers and singing of political Tibetan songs. Every year, the President of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) and the Speaker of the Tibetan Parliament in exile issue official political statements on this day. These are available on the CTA website www.tibet.net and also it’s live webcast on http://www.TibetOnline.tv.

Non-governmental Tibetan organisations such as the Tibetan Youth Congress, which call for Rangzen (Independence of Tibet), often organises political demonstrations around this historic date. This can include demonstrations at the Chinese Embassy in Delhi or engaging in hunger strikes in front of the United Nations buildings in New York to draw their attention to the Tibetan plight.

Nepal is currently home to about 10,000 Tibetan refugees. Due to the Chinese pressure on Nepal, their activities including the celebration of the Dalai Lama’s birthday are strictly controlled. Unable to observe this year’s 10th March commemoration event, many Tibetan youth activists from Nepal travelled to Delhi to join the political demonstrations organised by the Tibetan Youth Congress.

In London, this year, several hundred members of the Tibetan Community and Tibet supporters gathered opposite Downing Street. After a short rally with speeches, the demonstrators marched through central London to the Chinese Embassy by chanting loud slogans – calling for human rights, religious and political freedoms in Tibet. Later, an evening function was organised at the Indian YMCA where the visiting Deputy Speaker of the Tibetan Parliament from Dharamsala and London-based Dalai Lama’s Representative gave addresses. 

Tibetans in the UK often try to reach out to the British politicians to secure their support. Messages of support from several British MPs and MEP were read out at the evening function. In addition to the statement of support from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Tibet (APPGT), Ms Karen Lee, a Shadow Minister from the Labour Party sent her support in her own words. She wrote:

Karen-Lee-MP“I’d like to apologise for my absence today, but I’d like to send my solidarity to all of those still struggling for the freedoms of Tibetans. 

Today is a historic day of commemoration. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the uprising in Lhasa. Together we remember 85,000 people who gave their lives for their beliefs and in order for future generations to be proud Tibetans.

As a socialist, I wholeheartedly believe in a community’s right to self-determination. The right of Tibetans to determine their own political, economic and cultural future. 

The courage of peaceful protesters across Tibetan territory is admirable, especially at a time when Tibet is being squeezed and oppressive measures are tightened. The current struggle is in aid of advancing freedoms and human rights, but in the 21st century, these should already be afforded to Tibetans.

Many do not remember a time before Chinese rule, but this does not deter them from protecting Tibet’s proud cultural heritage.

I’d like to end by sending my support to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and all of you in attendance today. I am sorry for my absence, but my thoughts, and those of many others around the world, are with those in Tibet, and one day you will be free.”

 

Tibetan President on Official Visit in UK

lobsang sangay-in parliament-november 2017(London, 22 November 2017)

Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay arrived in London on Wednesday morning for a two-day official visit.

The President of the Central Tibetan Administration (also known as Tibetan Government-in-exile) was accorded very warm reception at the world’s busiest airport – London Heathrow. Dr Sangay was received by Chonpel Tsering, Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his colleagues at The Office of Tibet as well as by members of the Tibetan Community in Britain.

A further reception was accorded by Phuntsok Dalu, Culture Secretary, on behalf of the Council of Tibetan Community UK at the London Paddington station. The Sikyong arrived in the British capital by Heathrow Express, a 15-minute high-speed train journey from the world’s busiest airport. After a short drive, the Sikyong arrived at the hotel where a small contingent of Tibetan Community members accorded their final and formal reception.

In the capital, the Tibetan Leader has scheduled meetings with the parliamentarians and government officials. It is unlikely that he will meet with the British Prime Minister. During his last visit to the UK a year ago, Speaker John Bercow has met with the Sikyong. He was later acknowledged of his presence during a live parliamentary debate in the House of Commons, which was broadcast on the BBC Parliament.

As part of his current five countries’ tour, the Sikyong earlier visited Denmark, Sweden and Norway, which was coordinated by the London-based Office of Tibet. The Sikyong arrived in London from Canada. This is Sangay’s third official visit to the UK in the last six years after he was first elected in 2011. He flies back to Delhi on Thursday night.

Tibet, the 19th Party Congress and China’s United Front work

dr tshering chonzom bhutiaBy Tshering Chonzom, PhD, Associate  Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies

What does a powerful Xi Jinping as General Secretary of the Communist Party of China mean for the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) various minority nationalities, especially the Tibetans? The nature and extent of authority accorded to the United Front Works Department (UFWD) that handles nationality, religious and overseas Chinese affairs, during Xi’s second term is an important starting point for analysis.

The UFWD organized a press conference on 21 October 2017 on the sidelines of the 19th Party Congress, in which its leadership saw the organization as an important player in Xi’s new formulation of ‘new era’. For instance, the various conferences held under its aegis in the past five years – such as the Second Central Xinjiang Work Conference (May 2014), Central Nationalities Work Conference (September 2014), 6th Tibet Work Forum (August 2015), National Religious Work Conference (April 2016) – are retroactively characterised as work convened ‘under the guidance of the new era of socialism with Chinese characteristics’. Indeed, at the national religious work conference that was held from 22-23 April 2016, Xi called upon the UFWD to take the lead in coordinating responsibilities with various organisations. In his report to the 19th Party Congress, he likens United Front work to a ‘magic weapon’ that will ‘ensure the success of the party’.

Hence, it is not surprising that on taking up the mantle of General Secretary of the CPC and President of the People’s Republic of China in 2012 and 2013 respectively, Xi turned his attention to the UFWD. A UFWD website report informs that the highest level of CPC leadership, that is the PBSC, initiated an effort to draft regulations for United Front work, encompassing delineation of its ‘principles, frameworks, priorities and progress’. The regulation finally came into effect on 18 May 2015 and is touted as being historic, marking the entry of united front work into a ‘new stage’.

In this context, we may turn to the statements of Zhang Yijong, the deputy head of UFWD (and former deputy party head of the TAR from 2006 to 2010) during the press conference mentioned earlier which has caught the attention of quite a few (ICT and Reuters).[1] In the four-hour long press conference, the transcript of which is available online (in Chinese), the term Tibet is mentioned 20 times and Xinjiang six times. As expected, his statement calling upon ‘governments around the world (to) speak and act with caution and give full consideration (to) their friendship with China and…respect…China’s sovereignty’ while meeting the Dalai Lama received widespread coverage. Zhang’s responses lasting half an hour were made in five parts in response to a question posed by Phoenix TV, one of the few broadcasters with permission to broadcast inside China.

Another comment by Zhang was about Tibetan Buddhism’s origins: that it ‘originated within China’ and ‘didn’t come in from the outside’.

Notably, discussion on religion/religious figured 29 times during the press conference. Compared to three mentions in Hu’s 2012 report to the 18thParty Congress, Xi’s report to the 19th Party Congress had eight references to religion/religious work, wherein he avows that ‘we will fully implement the Party’s basic policy on religious affairs, uphold the principle that religions in China must be Chinese in orientation and provide active guidance to religions so that they can adapt themselves to socialist society’.

At the national religious work conference mentioned earlier, Xi had reiterated the need for adaptation of China’s religions to its socialist society and further, called for studying of the ‘new situation and new problems’ facing the party’s religious work and development of ‘socialist religious theory with Chinese characteristics’.

The implication of the above, along with the revised regulation on religion that was promulgated earlier this year on 26 August 2017 is going to be far-reaching from a Chinese perspective. For one, the question of the Dalai Lama’s succession that has been making headlines for quite a number of years will be dealt under its rubric.

The UFWD has also been an important institutional contact for the Tibetan leadership in exile during the three decades long intermittent Sino-Tibetan dialogue process (1978-2010). The UFWD officials have also been in the forefront in making statements on anti-separatism/splittism, the ‘Dalai clique’, and so on. Many have wondered if officials like former UFWD deputy head, Zhu Weiqun, who has been the most vocal in the Chinese as well as international media in attacking the ‘Dalai clique’, command the confidence of the Chinese central leadership. His inability to secure a seat in the CPC Central Committee in 2012 was interpreted as a sign of his insignificance. At the same time, his absence from the Central Committee has not necessarily translated into a moderate approach on Tibet.

REFERENCES

[1] Zhang Yijong was joined by UFWD Vice Minister Ran Wanxiang, and Guo Yezhou, vice minister of the International Department of the CPC Central Committee (See Xinhua. 2017. ‘Press conference held on CPC united front, external work’, 21 October,   http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2017-10/21/c_136695451_4.htm)

(Source: https://icsdelhiblogs.wordpress.com/2017/11/01/tibet-the-19th-party-congress-and-chinas-united-front-work/)

Being Tibetan in the West: How much to adapt, How much to not adapt

On Wednesday 3rd May 2017, I joined with two former Tibetan MPs from North America and Europe on a Live TV Talk show hosted by anchor Namgyal Shastri (who is also a former Tibetan MP) on the Voice of America (VOA) Tibetan language programme from their London News Centre. The Live programme runs from 3pm to 4pm on Wednesdays and Fridays with news bulletin for the first 20 mins or so.

The key topics for this talk show: ‘Being Tibetan in the West: How much to adapt, How much to not adapt’.

It is predicted that soon about half of the current Tibetan population in exile is expected to be based in western countries, outside the Indian sub-continent (excluding Tibet and China).

Currently, there are about 150,000 Tibetans in Exile, scattered across some 25 countries. India is the main base for Tibetans in Exile, followed by Nepal. The Tibetan Government in Exile is based in Dharamsala, northern India.

In the past two decades or so, an increasing number of Tibetans have chosen western countries as their new adopted ‘homes’. Whilst educated Tibetans seek to secure better opportunities for their children the challenges lay ahead in maintaining their rich cultural heritage in western societies, which has become an issue.

Efforts are being made by Tibetan communities in these countries to address this issue…

Challenging China: Former Chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region faces tough questions from Tibetans in Exile

China’s Top Tibetan Legislator Challenged during University Talk in London

[Tsering Passang, London]

Padma Choling (Baimachiling in Pinyin in Tibetan or Pema Thinley), Member of The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC; Chinese: 全国人民代表大会常务委员会) and a Vice Chair of the Ethnic Affairs Committee of NPC members, led a delegation including of at least three other senior Tibetan and two Chinese officials from the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and Beijing to the UK.

Choling, who spent nearly five decades of his life in Chinese military and politics, was a former Chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region (from 2010 to 2013). Choling is notoriously known for his rhetoric against the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama and Dharamsala-based Tibetan Government-in-exile.

He continues to say that there’s no Tibet issue; Dalai Lama must stop Tibetan independence activities; and the Tibetan spiritual leader must recognise Taiwan as a part of China.

Choling began his four-day of UK tour in the morning of Saturday 25th March, when he met with Councillor Sue Murphy, deputy leader of Manchester City Council.

Padma Choling said that China’s people’s congress at different levels stands ready to strengthen communication with their counterparts in Britain and Manchester City and to promote the exchanges between the two countries and its peoples.

Councillor Murphy said that she was happy to see the cultural diversity in China and hopes to visit Tibet.

On Monday 27th, Choling attended an hour-long afternoon session, at the request of the Chinese Embassy in Westminster University, London.

Professor Dibyesh Anand chaired the session, titled “Development in Tibetan Regions” with Padma Choling.

The Indian-origin International Relations professor started by saying that the Westminster University has previously welcomed Tibetan spiritual leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay of the Tibetan Government-in-exile. He also said that the University has previously invited many other Chinese and Tibetan scholars.

“In this university, and also in other academic institutions in the UK,” Anand said, “I hope that the platforms we provide for different views to discuss their arguments would help to reach agreements.” He further said, “Even if agreements are not reached, at least, we should respect each other’s point of views.”

“In this light,” Anand added, “we are happy to host Padma Choling, a senior Tibetan official from China” to share his perspective on Tibet.

Choling spoke very briefly about his visit goals and introduced his delegation team.

Choling said that during his current visit he hoped to learn how the UK maintains its policies on ethnic relations. He was pointing out that Tibet is one of the 56 minorities in China.

Choling’s presentation included a short video propaganda – Beautiful Tibet – which was about 8 minutes long. He said that the film captures the “development and happy lives of the Tibetan people in Tibet” under Chinese rule.

The propaganda video was extremely impressive with very bright and colourful, even the Tibetan farmers are wearing brand new clothes when they work in the farms.

After the film screening, Anand thanked Choling for his presentation and raised several points before inviting questions from audience.

The audience was mostly filled by the Chinese delegation side including their embassy officials and media team. Less than 20 Westminster University’s staff, students and others including London-based Tibetans attended the afternoon session which lasted about 75 minutes.

Choling was asked why the Chinese Government has not produced any Tibetan Party Secretaries in Tibet even after 50 years of the Chinese rule. He was also asked whether any discrimination against the Tibetan people by the Han Chinese prevails which forbid the ethnic minority to reach to the top level leaderships.

Choling responded by saying “There are many Tibetan Party Secretaries in county and prefectural levels but the current Party Secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region is half-Tibetan.” He added, “There are no discriminations against the Tibetan people in China.”

Tsering Passang, an exiled-born Tibetan challenged Choling by saying, “I disagree with your response on the discrimination issue.” He added, “As a matter of fact, there are discriminations against the Tibetan people by the Han Chinese in Tibet.” The former top Communist Tibetan official was made aware that the exiled Tibetan respected his response. Passang also said that he understood the official government position that Choling holds.

Larung Gar Demoliations

Passang then asked Choling about the ongoing demolitions at the Larung Gar Institute. He said: “We are very deeply concerned by the ongoing demolitions and the forced removal of Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns from the Larung Gar Buddhist Institute. We often hear that the Chinese government put a lot of efforts towards the preservation of the Tibetan culture: yet; this includes the Tibetan Buddhist heritage? Can you please shed some light on the ongoing destructions at the Larung Gar? Why is the government involved in the destruction of this Tibetan Buddhist culture and heritage site, in contrast to its claim on the preservation of the Tibetan Buddhist cultural heritage? Can you please urge the senior Chinese leaders, policymakers and decision makers in Beijing to not go against their own statement of preserving the Tibetan culture?”

Choling replied by saying that Tibet has “1700 temples including several mosques in TAR”.

He said that there are 40,000 ‘professional’ monks. “Government has allocated huge funds for the maintenance of spiritually significant Tibetan cultural sites including the Potala Palace and the Jokhang temple.” He said that a number of Tibetan historical sites are listed in the UNESCO World Heritage.

Instead of answering the demolitions and removal of monks and nuns from the Larung Gar Institute in Serta, Choling said that it does not fall within Tibet (meaning the Tibet Autonomous Region). Ironically he also chose to even told-off the exiled Tibetan to be mindful with asking question to the right person next time, indicating the question should be asked to someone who comes from Serta where the Larung Gar is located and not the TAR.

More questions followed.

SinoTibetan Relations

On the ten rounds of dialogues between Beijing and Dharamsala, Choling said that the status of talks should be asked to the Dalai Lama’s former representatives – “Lodi Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen” – directly on why this did not move forward. He said that the Central Government conducted ten rounds of talks with the Dalai Lama’s representatives. He added, “The Central Government hasn’t changed its position.”

Choling stated that “Dalai Lama must renounce Tibetan independence; accept Taiwan as part of China; and he must stop splittist activities.”

He further added that “Lobsang Sangay is not qualified to contact with the Chinese Government” as he allegedly “leads an illegal organisation.”

Lesson on Ethnic Relations

Choling was asked what lessons he has learned on ethnic relations whilst in the UK from its dealings with Scotland and Wales, referring to his own opening remarks on learning from the UK during the tour. He responded by saying that the delegation arrived in London from Manchester and following his further engagements in London, he was leaving the country the next day.

Choling said that he had met with the deputy leader of the Manchester City Council. He also said that he did not get enough time to learn about the ethnic relations this time.

About Chinese Communist Party

Choling was also asked, instead of being so critical of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government-in-exile, as a Communist Party member for nearly 50 years, what did he really know about the Chinese government.

To which, Choling replied, “I joined the party in 1970”. From birth to present, Choling said that he is “deeply proud to be harmonious with the 56 ethnic groups in China”. He said, “I myself have benefitted a lot from my work, servicing the Tibet Autonomous Region, in the fields of development and reconstruction.”

Choling also said that his “mother is still alive and is in her 90s, who is a believer in Buddhism.” “My mother doesn’t interfere in my belief and I have never interfered in her belief.”

SelfImmolations in Tibet

On Self-Immolations, Choling acknowledged that “over 100” have engaged in this action. He said, “These took place in Tibetan inhabited areas outside the Tibet Autonomous Region. There was only one case of self-immolation near the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa. That person was from Gansu Province.” He also raised the question of the role Sikyong Lobsang Sangay in relation to the self-immolations.

Spiritual Life in Tibet

On Spiritual belief in Tibet, Choling acknowledged “a good question.” “Many people asked me this question. The majority of the people in Tibet believe in the Buddhist belief to support their life.” He added, “But it is not their pillar of life. I used to tell Tibetans in rural areas. First, you should live a good present life.”

Responding to a student’s question, Choling said that “since the peaceful liberation and the founding of TAR [1965], Tibet is now fully integrated into China.” He added by saying, “When I was in the Office [as TAR Chairman], I used to say, ‘I want Tibet to be the role model’ for the development of ethnic relations in China.’”

Meeting Dalai Lama and Chinese Visas

Whilst summing up the session, Professor Dibyesh Anand, asked, “If the Dalai Lama comes through this door, would you respect him or … leave the building?”

Choling replied, “I don’t want to see that man, to be honest.”

The moderator repeated his earlier assertions by saying, “In this university and in the UK academic institutions, we very much welcome and encourage frank and open discussions even though we may not agree with each other.”

Anand then asked, “Can we expect the same treatment in China? Can our straight-talking students get visas for China or not?”

Choling replied, “Exchanges are good and communications are important.”

Anand continued, “So … do you want our students to come to China.”

Choling responded by saying, “We will invite you to China at an appropriate time. As you know, there are red tapes in China.”

Further engagements

On Tuesday 28 March, Padma Choling and his delegation met with Crispin Blunt MP, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and Richard Graham MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for China.

China’s Outreach with Tibetans Overseas

After the four-day UK trip during which they met with a small number of UK based Tibetans, who were invited to a dinner, courtesy of the Chinese Embassy, Choling and his delegation left for Switzerland on Tuesday, where they were also expected to meet with some Swiss-based Tibetans.

The Chinese Government in recent years has been increasing their outreach with Tibetans living in western countries. Unfortunately, this has directly implicated Tibetans in these western countries engaging less on Tibet’s political struggle as well as other mundane community affairs.

In addition, the dedicated Chinese Embassy officials in these countries maintain regular contacts with some of the Tibetans to undermine Tibetan freedom movement and damage their unity.