A special interview with Honourable Sikyong Dr. Lobsang Sangay, President of the Central Tibetan Administration in India. Dr Sangay was re-elected during the recent election and he is currently serving his second five-year term in the office.
During his six-day official visit to the UK from 29th October to 3rd November 2016, the Londonney Tibetan Productions were pleased to secure an interview with the President of Tibet’s government-in-exile. This special interview was conducted by Tsering Passang on 1st November.
In May 2011, I told Honourable Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay in Dharamsala that I did not cast my vote to him during the 2011 Kalon Tripa election. He simply returned a smile. And then I said, ‘Majority of the Tibetan people elected you to lead the Tibet Movement as the Executive Head of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) and it is now your responsibility to fulfil their aspirations. I accept the election result and I will now be supporting you as my political leader as well’.
The incumbent Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay won the 2011 election with a big margin against the two heavyweight candidates – Trisur Tenzin Namgyal Tethong and Kasur Tashi Wangdi, who both served in the Kashag (Tibetan cabinet). Sikyong Sangay recently stated that he still enjoys a good and cordial relation with the two CTA veterans, who between them had accumulated over 70 years of public service in the Central Tibetan Administration.
In the 2016 final Sikyong election, there is only one challenger against the incumbent Sikyong Dr Sangay, who is seeking his re-election to complete the foundation of works he started during his first term. The contender is the incumbent Tshoktso Penpa Tsering, Speaker of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile, who comes across as a strong Middle-Way advocate. Tsering bagged just over 10,000 votes in the preliminary round last autumn whilst Sangay scored over a massive 30,000 votes.
Last year, Tshoktso Penpa Tsering publicly stated that he would refuse to share platforms with the Rangzen (Tibetan independence) advocate, Mr Lukar Jam, who secured third in the Sikyong’s preliminary election. The former Tibetan political prisoner failed to make it to the final round of Sikyong election due to new rules set out by the Central Election Commission.
Unlike the incumbent Speaker, Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay chose not to take the hard-line stance against the former Tibetan political prisoner, who is also the current President of GuChuSum, a well-respected Tibetan NGO representing ex-political prisoners, who all escaped from Tibet into exile. The GuChuSum changed its political stance from Rangzen to Middle-Way approach in recent years.
In this 2016 Sikyong election, we have been witnessing a big change compared to the 2011 Kalon Tripa election. Unlike the previous elections, the current two Sikyong candidates criticise each other, which is acceptable as this is a part of the democratic practice. What is unfortunate is that there are strong negative campaigns on both sides compared to the 2011 election. These were primarily initiated and carried out by the candidates’ respective supporters/camps; some are utterly baseless, which are uncalled for. The Tibetan democracy and the Tibetan electorates deserve better than this.
My personal observation on the incumbents Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay and Tshoktso Penpa Tsering
The Tibetans in Exile have a wonderful opportunity to elect their Political Leader who can represent them both at home and abroad. We should be able to place our confidence in the chosen candidate, who will be serving the Tibetan people during the next five years as our Sikyong.
In my view, it is better to look objectively at what these two candidates have done in the past, at least during the past four to five years in their respective offices and then analyse and decide whether the candidates are likely to deliver what they said they would do for the Tibetan people to secure freedom and justice in Tibet whilst getting the Dharamsala-based Central Tibetan Administration and its affiliated bodies in the Indian sub-continent and abroad, in order or not during the next five years as Sikyong.
The Incumbent Tshoktso Penpa Tsering
I think Tshoktso Penpa Tsering has done an amazing job as Speaker of the Tibetan Parliament who conducted its affairs in good order during this last parliamentary term. There was only one exception when he briefly walked-out of the parliament after a Chithue raised a previously unfounded allegation against the Speaker.
Tshoktso Penpa Tsering has travelled extensively with his parliamentary colleagues and promoted the Tibetan cause in many countries in addition to his parliamentary duties in Dharamsala.
Tshoktso Penpa Tsering also seems to have some good ideas on strengthening the Tibetan communities outside the Indian sub-continent amongst his other initiatives but we have not heard these in details.
We would like to know how Tshoktso Penpa Tsering intends to implement those good ideas into practical actions, including raising the required capital funds.
We would also certainly like to hear more of his plans and policies to bring about alternative change to the incumbent Sikyong’s legacy rather than dwelling on the Kalachakra postponement and other less important issues.
Tshoktso Penpa Tsering did say that he was unable to organise the planned International Convention of World Parliamentarians for Tibet this past year due to some technicalities but nonetheless he did organise such conventions in the past, drawing international parliamentarians’ support for Tibet, which shows his capabilities.
The Incumbent Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay
Over the past four years, I have been observing Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay and his administration very closely. Surprisingly, the Harvard legal scholar, who had no previous experience in administration, impressed me tremendously especially with his smart move as the ‘People’s Sikyong’ both at home and abroad.
To start with, Sikyong Sangay formed a great Kashag team, who delivered the public services beyond expectation. The only unfortunate news is the untimely resignation of Kasur Dicki Chhoyang from the Kashag.* (Please see the postscript section at the bottom of the article for details on the resignation issue.)
Some of the achievements observed over the past four years:
Honourable Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay knows how the media world works. He uses it effectively to raise the plight of Tibet throughout the world.
Sikyong Sangay sets his aims and objects high when visiting foreign countries. He is unafraid to meet with foreign leaders, senior officials and politicians to garner support for Tibet and the Tibetan people both politically and through other practical means.
As alumni of Harvard, Sikyong Sangay has an added advantage which he uses unashamedly in his favour to share the story of Tibet and the Tibetan people to influential people. He was invited by numerous high-profiled Think Tanks and delivered lectures on Tibet in various countries in addition to speaking in front of over tens of thousands of students, a move likely to engage new young supporters for Tibet.
Sikyong Sangay said that he wanted to build direct link between Washington and Dharamsala, which he did. The New York-based Office of Tibet was moved to the newly acquired office buildings in Washington.
Evidence of improved ties with the United States is visible after President Obama publicly supported the Middle-Way policy, championed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, in 2014.
More frequent visits by international dignitaries to Dharamsala observed in recent years. Institutional grants, US government and other foreign grants increased during Sikyong Sangay’s administration to support the Tibetan refugee community.
Most importantly, relations with the Indian Government both at the central and the states level have developed further under the incumbent administration. Thanks to the amazing work of Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay and his star colleague Kalon Gyari Dolma, who fully supports the incumbent Sikyong’s re-election.
These all show that the incumbent Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay is capable of garnering increased political as well as other practical support from countries such as the US, Canada and India, who are close allies of Tibet and the Tibetan people.
The FRR Division, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India has recently provided a grant-in-aid of Rs. 40 Crore for a period of 5 years commencing from 2015 – 2016 to 2019 – 2020 to the extent of Rs. 8 crore per annum. The aid is provided to supplement the administrative expenses incurred by Tibetan settlements in India.
This is an amazing work of the CTA’s Department of Home towards the sustenance of the Tibetan settlements in India.
Department of Education:
Increased scholarships for Tibetan students in India, Nepal and Bhutan;
Increased and reserved scholarships for Tibetan students in Nepal
What it shows is that the Sangay’s administration can raise funds to support the education of young Tibetan students in colleges or universities with a long term goal to create a self-reliant community, once educated/qualified.
The previous yearly scholarships of 150 for college/university students, is now increased to over 630 scholarships per year. This is a massive increase!
In four and half years, the CTA budget has increased by over 100%. That is amazing achievement. In 2010, the annual CTA budget was just over 1 billion Indian rupees. In 2015-2016, the CTA budget increased to just over 2 billion Indian rupees. In 2016-2017, the CTA budget will increase to 2.2 billion Indian rupees.
The incumbent Sikyong recently stated that based on needs of the exiled community and from his past record, he is confident of sourcing new untapped funds to reach the annual budget to 2.5 billion (2500 million) Indian rupees by the end of the next Sikyong’s office term.
Department of Security:
Securing enhanced security services for His Holiness the Dalai Lama in human resource as well as financial and high-end technologies that enable the landing of plane ferrying His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the Gaggal airport in the outskirt of Dharamsala during the poor weather from the concerned State and Central governments is a massive contribution.
“In 2009 CTA survey, it was found that over 45% of the Tibetan exile community suffers from diseases such as Cancer, Tuberculosis, Liver cirrhosis, Diabetes and heart diseases, which require a high degree of secondary and tertiary care. Lack of an adequate healthcare coverage has been a major cause of high mortality as well as a primary cause of poverty and financial insecurity amongst the community.
Under the leadership of the Kashag of Honorable Sikyong Dr.Lobsang Sangay, the Department of Health had launched the implementation of TMS Health Plan on 1st April, 2012. Since then, TMS is being implemented successfully, for close to four years now and has provided an equitable and comprehensive healthcare coverage to the Tibetans living in India. During last four years, 49,000 Tibetans have enrolled in the TMS and more than 2000 have availed the benefits till date. However, more participation of the Tibetan public is crucial to build TMS stronger and self-reliant; and to pre-empt financial constraints faced by the Tibetans during medical emergencies.
The revised TMS Health Plan got operational from 1st April 2015 and aims to further strengthen health care mechanisms by providing sustainability to the existing TMS Health plan. With this, the revised TMS Health Plan proposes to cover all the exile Tibetan population in India.”
Based on these findings, Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay has finally earned my vote in 2016! Although I extend my best wishes to both candidates but I will be praying for the incumbent Sikyong Dr Sangay’s victory in this forthcoming election which will be held on 20th March.
In the next five years, I would like to see Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay to complete his unfinished tasks and pursue more political as well as related practical support for Tibet and the Tibetan people from Europe and Asia Pacific regions.
*Postscript: Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay formed a great Kashag team in 2011. The only unfortunate news is the untimely resignation of Kasur Dicki Chhoyang from the Kashag. It is a blow to the Sangay camp as Chhoyang’s resignation comes at a critical moment of weeks before the final election which is to be held on 20 March. The erstwhile Kalon chose to submit her resignation on a weekend by visiting the Sikyong’s residence. She immediately called a press conference after tendering her resignation to the Sikyong.
In politics, resignations, back-stabbing and defection take place. It’s nothing unusual but the calm and unshaken Sikyong Sangay knows how to handle the situation. After the urgent meeting of his Kashag team on the same day of Chhoyang’s resignation, the incumbent Sikyong called a press conference and updated the latest development to the public.
Many speculated implosion within Dr Lobsang Sangay’s Kashag team after Kasur Chhoyang’s resignation but the remaining Kalons reassured their full support and trust in the incumbent Sikyong Sangay for his outstanding leadership as well as for his re-election.
Days later Kasur Chhoyang released a written document outlining qualities of a Sikyong. Chhoyang said that she supports the incumbent Tshoktso Penpa Tsering as the next Sikyong. There is no doubt that her defection is a carefully planned political move to take vengeance against the incumbent Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay. It may well be that she knew Sangay was not going to reappoint her as a Kalon in the next Kashag.
To be fair we do not know the ins and outs of the situations and decision that led Kasur Chhoyang to resign from the incumbent Kashag but I did learn from a non-Tibetan a few years ago that Chhoyang was unhappy in her role as a Kalon at the Department of Information and International Relations (DIIR).
One can safely conclude that Kasur Chhoyang was unhappy with the Sikyong and therefore she carefully planned her defection for weeks, if not for months, to disrupt Sangay’s re-election. I do not think Sikyong Sangay expected this unpleasant news at the critical moment but this betrayal did shock Chhoyang’s other former colleagues.
The Washington-based Radio Free Asia (Tibetan Language) interviewed the incumbent Sikyong, Dr Lobsang Sangay, the leading candidate in the forthcoming Sikyong (Political Leader) election, and posed some direct questions related to his Administration over the past four and half years.
The incumbent Sikyong’s strong contender is the incumbent Tibetan Parliament Speaker, Mr Penpa Tsering, who recently raised some serious questions of oversights and concerns on Sangay’s Administration during his election campaign speeches in the US, Canada, Switzerland, Belgium and France.
Dr Sangay’s campaign tour in the US, Canada and Switzerland is following the cities where Mr Tsering had already visited. The incumbent Sikyong said that he was requested by his supporters in the US to make clarifications on misinformation disseminated by the incumbent Speaker Penpa Tsering during his election campaign speeches in the US and Canada.
In this interview, the RFA anchor highlights some of the claims made by Speaker Penpa Tsering against Sikyong Lobsang Sangay and invites the incumbent Sikyong’s response.
As electorates, we look forward to positive election campaigns from both deserving candidates and especially from their core supporters.
One has to note that the forthcoming election is not simply about the winning of the highest offices in the exiled Tibetan Administration for either of these two great candidates but we should strive to use the ‘democracy’ bestowed upon the Tibetan people by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in the most positive way as possible.
10th March 2016 – Calling for Justice in Tibet 57th Anniversary of the Tibetan National Uprising Day
Join the protest in London
1.30pm: Protest outside the Chinese Embassy
5.00pm to 8.00pm: Programme at Westminster Cathedral Hall, London
On March 10th, 1959, thousands of Tibetans rose up to protect their leader, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, and to protest China’s invasion and occupation of their country.
As the protests intensified, Chinese troops responded with fatal force. On March 17th, the Dalai Lama began his harrowing escape to India on horseback. In the following days, the Chinese army took full control of Lhasa. Tens of thousands of Tibetans were killed and imprisoned in the months that followed and thousands more fled persecution by making the dangerous journey into exile in India.
March 10, 2016 marks the 57th anniversary of the historic 1959 Tibetan National Uprising. For more than half a century, the Tibetan people have suffered unimaginable hardship under Chinese rule, but have refused to give up their internationally recognised right to freedom and self-determination.
Despite the ongoing repression in Tibet today, the younger generation is using new and creative ways to assert their identity and culture. The spirit of their resistance is alive both in Tibet and in exile, as we see a new wave of young Tibetans taking up the torch of Tibet’s nonviolent freedom struggle.
On Marth 10th, Tibetans around the world stand united, belonging to one nation, with a proud history of resistance. Please support the Tibetan freedom movement and stand on the right side of the history.
Tibetan Uprising Day, observed on March 10, commemorates the 1959 Tibetan uprising against the presence of the People’s Republic of China in Tibet. The failure of the armed rebellion ultimately resulted in a violent crackdown on Tibetan independence movements, and the flight of the Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso into exile.
Today, Tibetan Uprising Day is observed throughout the world led by Tibetan Communities and joined by Tibet supporters.
Tsering Passang, Tibetan Charity sponsorship co-ordinator, 39. Now in Bexley, Passang has lived in Britain since 1996
Tsering Passang: ‘It’s sad when politicians play up the problems of immigration and certain nationalities’ (David Vintiner)
‘Though I am Tibetan, I was born and raised in a refugee camp in Nepal. My father, a nomad, had fled the Chinese regime.
“The Tibet Relief Fund was organising scholarships for young Tibetans to come and study at Weston College in Somerset, and I was lucky enough to get one. I did a BTEC diploma in computer studies.
“I think meeting me was a bit of a culture shock for some people in Weston-super-Mare. I had to explain to them that Tibet was the place with the Himalayas and the Dalai Lama. But that didn’t worry me. After all, as a Buddhist, I was ignorant about Christianity when I arrived here.
“I’ve read about racism in Britain in the papers, but I’ve not encountered it myself. I have easy access to lots of Buddhist centres and temples here to practise my beliefs, and I’ve never sensed any religious tension. Sometimes you might have teenagers throwing something at a bus you’re on. But when you’re a teenager, you’re just playing; you don’t mean anything by it.
“It’s sad when politicians play up the problems of immigration and certain nationalities. Nigel Farage and Romanians, for instance. If we focus on the positive stories and people in these communities, it will give their members more role models – and that will benefit everyone.
“I feel very fortunate to be able to live in and contribute to this country. I now work for the Tibet Relief Fund and I’m chairman of the Tibetan Community UK association. There are only about 700 Tibetans living here, but we are trying to share our Buddhist teachings, language and performing art and, as a peace-loving nation, I think we’ll help build a stronger society. I’m a proud British Tibetan!”
The Tibetan Refugee Charitable Trust was founded by a small dedicated members and supporters of Tibetan community in Britain in 1986. Ever since its founding, the Tibetan Refugee Charitable Trust has been focussing its work primarily in the field of education for Tibetan refugees. The Trust is being managed by successive elected members of Tibetan Community in Britain Council, who serve a two-year term on pro bono.
Over the past 29 years, the Trust has raised and spent £400,000 to support the education of Tibetan refugee children in the Indian sub-continent. The Trust’s main partner agencies are the Department of Education (Central Tibetan Administration) and the Sambhota Tibetan Schools Society based in Dharamsala, northern India.
In recent years, the Trust has been sending between £15,000 and £20,000 annually to its partner agencies to support the education of Tibetan children. Currently, the Trust supports 86 Tibetan refugee children in various schools.
‘Tibetans Helping Tibetans’ Initiative Launched
The incumbent Council of Tibetan Community in Britain recently launched a major initiative – ‘Tibetans Helping Tibetans’ to drive their community members to adopt child sponsorship through the Tibetan Refugee Charitable Trust. To lead by example, each Council member committed to sponsor a Tibetan child.
The formal launch of this important community initiative was initially planned for the Benefit Dinner with Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay, Central Tibetan Administration on 1stFebruary at the London Imperial Hotel. Despite the cancellation of Sikyong’s UK trip at the eleventh hour, the Council went ahead with the official launch, which was blessed and declared open by Mr Chonpel Tsering, Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama based at The Office of Tibet, London.
Dr Tamdin Sither Bradley, who is currently serving on the Council as Sponsorship Secretary, is aiming to double the child sponsorships over the next two years. Soon after the official launch of the ‘Tibetans Helping Tibetans’ initiative, members and supporters of Tibetan Community in Britain committed to sponsor 25 children through the Trust. At least further 20 members expressed their interest as well as agreed to consider their support.
Great Success and Thank you!
The elected Council regards the launch of this good cause a historical event with great success, and extends sincere gratitude to all those who have committed to support the education of Tibetan refugee children through the Trust.
Afternoon Tea with Supporters
As a token of appreciation, the Council of Tibetan Community in Britain hosted an Afternoon Tea for supporters of Tibetan Refugee Charitable Trust on Sunday, 1st February 2015 at the Imperial Hotel, London.
We invited child sponsors, founding trustees and former sponsorship secretaries, who have been supporting the work of Tibetan Refugee Charitable Trust over the past 29 years.
Since its inception in 1986, the Tibetan Refugee Charitable Trust has raised and spent £400,000 for Tibetan children’s education in India and Nepal. Our partner agencies are he Department of Education (Central Tibetan Administration) and Sambhota Tibetan Schools Society based in Dharamsala, northern India.
Tsering Passang (Mr)
Tibetan Community in Britain & Tibetan Refugee Charitable Trust
Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari, Former Special Envoy of His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari is a seasoned and skilled diplomat who is an impassioned advocate for the Tibetan people, universal human rights and global democratic reform. Mr. Gyari has successfully worked at the highest levels of the international arena. He is trusted, consulted and admired by many world leaders and members of the diplomatic corps.
Mr. Gyari has spent the majority of his professional career working directly on behalf of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Prior to his arrival in the United States in 1990, Lodi Gyari served in the senior most elected and appointed positions of the Tibetan administration in exile – from Speaker of the Parliament to Cabinet Minister. At the age of 30, Mr. Gyari was the youngest elected Speaker of the Parliament. He was also one of the youngest people to be appointed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the Kashag (Cabinet), to serve in the Tibetan administration.
As the Special Envoy of His Holiness the Dalai Lama based in Washington D.C. from 1990 onwards, Mr. Gyari was able to continue making profound political, economic, and social contributions to the Tibetan cause. For more than twenty years Mr. Gyari earned and has enjoyed access to the highest levels of leadership within both the United States Congress and the Administration. During his tenure as Special Envoy, Mr. Gyari, against huge odds, was able to successfully institutionalize the Tibetan issue within the United States government.
Appointed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to initiate and lead a dialogue process with the government of the People’s Republic of China, Lodi Gyari not only conducted nine rounds of high level talks in China and elsewhere, but also led an extensive behind the scenes diplomatic effort to sustain the process, expand the channels of communication, build trust with the Chinese leadership and maintain a broad international interest in the dialogue process.
Heads of State, Heads of Government and policy makers consult Mr. Gyari on global and regional issues such as Indo-US relations, Sino-US and Sino-Indian relations because of his expertise, his deep knowledge of the region and his close personal connections with people in those countries.
Mr. Gyari was born into an influential family in Nyarong, Eastern Tibet and recognized as a ‘reincarnate’ Buddhist lama (a ‘Rinpoche’.) His early education was in the traditional Tibetan monastic system, where incarnate lamas are offered a unique kind of training, an intensive and closely supervised curriculum somewhat akin to the tutorial system of universities like Oxford or Cambridge, except that in the Tibetan context, the student is taught one on one by an outstanding master scholar and practitioner.
When he was still young, Mr. Gyari’s monastic education and the life his family had known for generations were disrupted by the tragic events that befell his homeland. Nevertheless Mr. Gyari has continued ever since to cultivate and sustain his deep devotion to Buddhist traditions, and to this day he maintains close relationships with many eminent Tibetan Buddhist masters and lineage heads. Over the years, he has found himself uniquely placed to deepen his study of the rich wisdom of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition with its most revered and senior living exponents. As an acknowledgement of his religious background Tibetans refer to Lodi Gyari as ‘Gyari Rinpoche’.
When forced into exile by the Chinese occupation of Tibet, Mr. Gyari was drawn into the ongoing struggle for Tibetan freedom. In this effort he reached out beyond the confines of his community to seek guidance and wisdom from eminent Indian leaders and thinkers, some of who were the giants of the Indian freedom movement. Later in life, Mr. Gyari was able to continue this quest to learn from prominent world leaders and opinion makers in the United States and Europe. Mr. Gyari cultivated his relationship with these political mentors in the same way a devout Buddhist student will learn from his teacher, and thus he has had the unique opportunity to learn from both the world’s greatest Buddhist thinkers and political leaders of our time.
As a young man, deeply affected by what he had seen of the brutal occupation of Tibet, Mr. Gyari longed to take up active resistance in order to help free his fellow Tibetans. He was selected to be educated as a translator for the resistance fighters being trained in the United States. However fate and circumstances intervened, and instead he became a journalist, first as the editor of the Tibetan Freedom Press and then starting the Voice of Tibet (Tibetan Review), the first ever English language publication by a Tibetan.
Mr. Gyari continued to believe in the need for armed resistance in Tibet, but also saw the need for a strong grassroots political movement among the younger generation of Tibetans. To pursue this, in 1970 Mr. Gyari, together with three close associates, established the Tibetan Youth Congress with the goal of motivating the younger generation of the Tibetan community to unify and pursue the political struggle for Tibet’s future. The establishment of the Tibetan Youth Congress created a strong political force in the exiled community, and is credited with introducing democratic principles and practices that have had a profound influence on the democratic evolution of the exiled government. Today the Tibetan Youth Congress is the largest Tibetan political organization in exile.
Mr. Gyari himself is now regarded as a pioneering figure in introducing and establishing a culture of democracy and modernity into the exiled Tibetan community. While the urgency of the time and the pace of events prevented Mr. Gyari from taking a degree or pursue higher academic studies, this was to prove no disadvantage to his emerging role as a very effective and respected statesman.
As he matured, Mr. Gyari went through a profound change of heart, from dreaming of resistance to becoming a committed believer in non-violence and the pursuit of a peaceful solution, as advocated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. This transformation was a gradual one that began when Mr. Gyari rose through the ranks of the Tibetan leadership, first as the Speaker of the Parliament and then later as a member of the Kashag (Cabinet). Mr. Gyari is today one of the most dedicated and articulate proponents of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way approach, which Mr. Gyari calls the most farsighted and brilliant strategy for the Tibetan people. The Middle Way approach seeks genuine autonomy for all Tibetans living in the traditional provinces of Tibet within the framework of the People’s Republic of China.
Advocacy in the United States
Whilst in his role as Special Envoy to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Mr. Gyari also served as President of the International Campaign for Tibet in Washington DC from 1991 to 1999. During that time the organization grew from less than one thousand members to more than 75,000, and from an organization with little funding to one with a multi-million dollar budget. Today, the International Campaign for Tibet is the largest and most influential non-governmental organization in the West working on behalf of the Tibetan people with offices in Amsterdam, Berlin and Brussels. Following his term as President of the International Campaign for Tibet, Mr. Gyari joined the organization’s Board of Directors as Executive Chairman, a position he still holds.
Mr. Gyari has advocated for key legislation in the United States Congress benefitting the Tibetan people. From 1991-2011, more than $185 million in funding was set aside by Congress specifically for the Tibetans in Tibet and in exile. His efforts have contributed directly to the institutionalization of U.S. support for Tibet in the form of the Tibet Policy Act (2002), comprehensive legislation that details policy and material support to the Tibetan people and His Holiness the Dalai Lama for a negotiated solution to the Tibetan problem.
The Tibet Policy Act also codifies the establishment of the position of Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues within the U.S. Department of State. The Special Coordinator’s central objective is to promote substantive dialogue between the government of the People’s Republic of China and the Dalai Lama or his representatives as well as assist in preserving the distinct religious, cultural and linguistic heritage of the Tibetan people.
In the 1980’s and 1990’s Mr. Gyari had also served as the head of the Tibet-UN initiative. He and his team successfully reintroduced the Tibet issue into the UN system when the UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities passed the first United Nations resolution on Tibet in August 1991, ending 25 years of silence on the situation in Tibet.
Negotiations with the People’s Republic of China
Mr. Gyari’s life-long diplomatic experience, his firm belief in His Holiness’ Middle Way approach and his passionate desire to help his fellow Tibetans led to the most important mission of his life, when His Holiness the Dalai Lama formally entrusted him with the task of leading negotiations with the government of the People’s Republic of China.
Mr. Gyari had first visited China in 1982 and again in 1984 as one of the three members of a high level delegation for exploratory talks. Beginning in 2002, he led the Tibetan team that conducted negotiations with the Chinese government for nine separate rounds of talks. During this period his team presented a comprehensive proposal to the Chinese government for the implementation of genuine autonomy in Tibet as a mutually beneficial solution to the conflict.
While the Chinese leadership bluntly accuses Mr. Gyari of spearheading the internationalization of the Tibet issue on behalf of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, it also acknowledges that during Mr. Gyari’s stewardship the relationship between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Beijing was the most stable and long lasting.
With the transfer of political power from His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the democratically elected Tibetan leadership in 2011, Mr. Gyari decided to resign as Special Envoy. He remained in this position for another year as he hoped to maintain the fragile relationship with the government of the People’s Republic of China which he had worked hard to establish and sustain during his tenure as the Special Envoy. However, due to the utter lack of progress in the talks and the increased repression inside Tibet, he resigned in May, 2012.
Mr. Gyari continues to be actively involved in projects and programs to promote dialogue between Tibetans and Chinese. He is also committed to initiatives to promote right livelihood and socially responsible investments and business to reduce poverty in the Himalayas and Southeast Asia.
Mr. Gyari is the Chairman of the Board of the Conservancy for Tibetan Art and Culture, a U.S. based non-profit organization that works to preserve Tibet’s living cultural heritage in Tibetan cultural areas and communities around the world, working with leading institutions, scholars, and religious leaders.
Additionally, Mr. Gyari both formally and informally supports and promotes numerous civil society, cultural and Buddhist organizations and projects dedicated to maintaining Tibet’s cultural heritage, protecting the Tibetan environment, improving livelihoods, health and education for Tibetan communities, protecting sacred sites in Asia and preserving Tibetan texts, language and art. Through his involvement with non-profit programs and civil society, Mr. Gyari has been instrumental in mobilizing over $100 million in support for more than twenty organizations and programs.
Mr. Gyari has not limited his activities to Tibet issues; he is a citizen of the world. Lodi Gyari’s international activities also have, and continue to include, active engagement in peace making and conflict resolution through Kreddha, the International Peace Council for States, Peoples and Minorities which he co-founded with the late Don Rodrigo Carazo, former President of Costa Rica, and others. Through his involvement with the Sanithirakoses-Nagapateepa Foundation and as founding member of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists, based in Bangkok, Mr. Gyari is engaged in the promotion of responsible environmental stewardship and development and social justice in different parts of the world.
He is actively involved in alleviating the plight of other nations and peoples. He is one of the founders of the Allied Committee, an organization formed to advance the common issues faced by the Tibetans, Uyghurs and Mongolians under Chinese rule. This initiative inspired the founding of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, a world-wide organization established before the break-up of the Soviet Union to promote the rights of peoples and minorities through democracy and non-violence. As a founder of UNPO, Mr. Gyari travelled extensively to the Baltic States and other East European nations, working with the democratic movements in those countries. UNPO became very active in promoting equitable solutions to the conflicts in East Timor, Burma, Aceh in Indonesia, Ogoni in Nigeria and Zanzibar, and in supporting the Taiwanese democratic movement. UNPO effectively lobbied at the UN on a wide range of human rights issues and succeeded in placing the issue of population transfer on the agenda of the Commission on Human Rights, who appointed a special rapporteur, passed a resolution on the subject and approved a draft declaration, all of which represented an important milestone. Over the years membership in UNPO has grown steadily and now the organization has almost 70 diverse member nations and ethnic groups worldwide.
Mr. Gyari was also a cofounder with Michele Bohana, Joel McCleary and Lavinia Currier of the Institute for Asian Democracy (IAD), which became one of the first, most enduring and effective organizations working for human rights and democratic reform in Burma. In the early 1990’s IAD worked closely with human rights leaders such as the former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and published for concerned international leaders, comprehensive reports on the situation in Burma and recommendations for action.
Mr. Gyari is regularly invited to share his thoughts at academic institutions and universities in the United States, Europe and Asia. He has contributed to numerous publications and spoken at the Council on Foreign Relations, The Kennedy School of Government, The Brookings Institution, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Asia Society, Asia Centre in Paris, The Institute of South Asian Studies in Singapore, India International Center, The Heritage Foundation, The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, Chatham House, Australian National University and others. Mr. Gyari travels extensively, and has visited more than 50 countries. He has been invited numerous times to testify before the US Congress, European Parliament and other government bodies and institutions on the Tibet issue and the threats confronting Tibet’s cultural and spiritual heritage.
Lodi Gyari has published editorials in many publications including The South China Morning Post, Asian Wall St. Journal, The Washington Post, The Harvard Asia Quarterly and The Far Eastern Economic Review. Mr. Gyari has also contributed chapters in several published works including ‘Challenges faced by Tibetans in Reaching a lasting Agreement with China’ in Implementing Negotiated Agreements: The Real Challenge to Intrastate Peace (M. Boltjes, ed., The Hague 2007, Asser Press).
A US citizen, Mr. Gyari lives in McLean, Virginia with his wife, Dawa Chokyi. They divide their time between India and the U.S. They have six children and an increasing number of grandchildren.
Thubten Samdup, the Outgoing Dalai Lama’s Representative for Northern Europe based at The Office of Tibet, London speaks about his lifelong commitment for Tibet and the Tibetan people’s non-violent freedom struggle and their challenges. He is a recipient of the 2005 ‘Unsung Heroes of Compassion’ award.
Thubten Samdup (also known as ‘Sam’ among his western friends) was born in Lhasa in central Tibet; both his parents are from Kham. His father was a trader of tea, barley and wool, his mother a farmer. In 1959, Samdup fled the Chinese occupation when he was only 7 years old with his parents and younger brother. They escaped to India, where the family sought refuge in Kalimpong. Later, he was placed in a government reception centre for Tibetan refugee children (Bhuso Khang) in Dharamsala. A year later, he and sixteen other youths were selected and enrolled in the Tibetan Music, Dance and Drama Society, now known as the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA), the first exile organisation established by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
At TIPA, Samdup studied traditional Tibetan music and dance, and later was awarded a John D. Rockefeller III Fund schola
rship, under which he studied ethnomusicology at Brown University in Rhode Island. A second JDR III scholarship enabled Samdup to document the oral traditions of Tibetan music.
After returning from America in 1976, Samdup was appointed as Director of TIPA. Whilst in Dharamsala, he became involved with the Regional Tibetan Youth Congress (RTYC) and later served as its President for three years from 1978.
In 1980, Samdup moved to Montreal, Canada where he settled with his Canadian wife and two children. In Montreal, he served in the local
Tibetan association and became its president and served for eight years. He was later elected as the first member of the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile representing Tibetans living in North America (1991–1996).
Samdup co-founded the Canada Tibet Committee and for seventeen years, he served as its National President (1987–2004). He also created Canadian Parliamentary Friends of Tibet in 1991 – a non-partisan group of Parliament members and Senators working in support of Tibet. In 1992, Samdup started the World Tibet Network News along with three other editors – an electronic news service that publishes daily news on Tibet to global audience to create awareness on the Tibetan situation. In the same year, he also started TSG Email List – an online communication tool which enables enhanced communication and better co-ordination amongst the core Tibet support groups around the world. For the non-English speaking support groups he created separate German, French & Spanish email group lists.
In 2006, Samdup established Drelwa (Online China Outreach) – enabling virtual interactions between Tibetans in exile and Chinese Netizens. In addition to reaching out to the Chinese, the initiative also created employments to Tibetans. He assumed the Chairman’s role of the Dalai Lama Foundation in Canada in 2007.
In Canada, Samdup organised five visits by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, as well as key meetings between His Holiness and leading Canadian political parties and religious leaders, including the then Canadian Prime Minister, Paul Martin. The 2004 meeting between His Holiness and Prime Minister Paul Martin was regarded as ‘strategic’ from the Tibetan side. This followed after securing almost two-thirds of the Canadian parliamentarians’ support, calling upon the Prime Minister to serve as an honest broker between the leaders of China and the Dalai Lama’s representatives.
Thubten Samdup’s prominence in the Tibetan community rose after launching his personal initiative – Kalon Tripa Candidate’s Campaign, which sparked an unprecedented level of interest from the Tibetan populace on the 2011 Kalon Tripa Election.
In 2009, Samdup was headhunted by Dharamsala (despite not being a CTA public servant) from Canada for his dedicated service and pioneering initiatives for Tibet and the Tibetan cause. He was appointed as His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Representative for Northern Europe (Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Sweden and the UK). Samdup started his diplomatic mission exactly five years ago in August 2009 based at The Office of Tibet in London.
(Canada Tibet Committee)
Q1: Thubten la, you moved to Canada in 1980 with your Canadian wife, Carol Samdup. I hear that your wife is also a very dedicated Tibet supporter. I understand that with your wife, you founded the Canada Tibet Committee in 1987, and served as its President until 2004. Please share with us your roles – for example, how you started this major Canada-based Tibet NGO and its activities. This includes outreach with the Canadian Government and Parliament that has affected Tibetan people’s freedom struggle.
Thubten Samdup (TS): Yes my wife has played a very important role in everything I have done in my life. Without her unconditional support, I could not have carried on with all my crazy initiatives and ideas.
Canada Tibet Committee was established in 1987 right after the major uprising in Lhasa. Group of teen age Tibetans and some non-Tibetan friends from Montreal started a long March from Montreal to Canada’s national capital Ottawa. It took us five days to get there and we received national coverage since the Chinese soldiers firing on innocent and peaceful Tibetans became international news.
Many Canadian friends came forth and offered to do what they can to support our cause. I felt that we needed to establish a formal organisation and this is how CTC was created. Within two years, we had 11 branches across Canada and the interesting thing about CTC is that almost all branches were headed by Tibetans. I can say this with great pride that we were successful in our mission mainly because the Tibetan communities across Canada supported us.
Q2: I hear that the ongoing Tibetan Re-settlement Project (1000 Tibetan refugees from Tezu, Miao, Bomdilla and Tuting) from Arunachal Pradesh, north-east India to Canada was the result of a humble request made by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to some Canadian authorities. I wonder whether there is any link or role that you and/or the Canada Tibet Committee might have played in facilitating this re-settlement project?(a project that will continue to change the lives of thousands of Tibetan refugees, who are from a poorer sections of our community in India). If so, will you please share with us the background?
TS: We had been discussing about the possibility of perhaps trying to bring in more Tibetans into Canada for some years but the final breakthrough came about during His Holiness’ visit to Montreal in September of 2009. Last day of His Holiness’ visit to Montreal, he met with the former Hon. Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism and the Chair of the Canadian Parliamentary Friends of Tibet, Senator Con Di Nino, in a hotel near the airport. This is where His Holiness made the appeal to Minister Jason Kenney and to his credit, he saw it through.
Once the announcement was made, CTC’s former Director Mr. Dermod Travis and Mr. Nima Dorjee la from Calgary started Project Tibet Society and they have been doing amazing work so far.
(Democracy & Youth Engagement)
Q3:After the launch of the Kalon Tripa Candidate’s Campaign website, almost three years before the Tibetan General Election, this initiative eventually brought forward over 20 candidates (both men and women) to the Tibetan electorates. Many public and private discussions on the 2011 Kalon Tripa election were held in Tibetan communities around the world, along with the need for choosing a strong Kalon Tripa candidate to lead the Tibetan Movement forward. Finally, Harvard legal scholar Dr Lobsang Sangay was elected as the Kalon Tripa (now Sikyong). Did you ever anticipate this level of interest from the Tibetans in Exile particularly amongst the younger generation when you first came up with the notion of this campaign? Are you pleased with the way it rolled out eventually?
TS: I am extremely pleased and proud that I was able to make a small difference in our “Journey to Democracy”. My motivation from the start was to make sure that we find the best possible candidate who can lead us in these difficult times and the only way we will find such a person is if we all start searching for such a person. The way our current system goes, by the time a call for nomination in announcement from Dharamsala, it does not allow a new person who does not have the name recognition in the general public to become a serious contender. That is why I launched the initiative almost 3 years before the election on September 2nd of 2008. Even Sikyong himself today jokingly admits had it not been for the initiative, he may not have been the Sikyong today.
(International Tibet Support Network)
Q4:Whilst serving at the Canada Tibet Committee, I believe you co-founded the International Tibet Network (formerly known as International Tibet Support Network). Please tell us why you saw the need for this global network and how it all began? What are the challenges the Tibet Support Groups today face in their pursuit of supporting the Tibet Movement?
TS: Because I had started the listserv for Tibet Support Groups around the world, I used to receive many queries on Tibet and help for more information. Since I had a full time day job in a major Canadian engineering firm and all the work I did on Tibet are done from my basement on weekends and week night, I felt that we needed to establish an umbrella organisation that can oversee and coordinate the works of TSGs around the globe, I propose the establishment of International Tibet Network in Berlin, Germany and it received unanimous support from all delegation including former Kalon Tripa Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche.
(The Office of Tibet – Mission, Roles and Responsibilities)
Q5: Your official position is Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama for Northern Europe. Do you simply represent His Holiness the Dalai Lama and support with facilitating his visits to the countries of your jurisdiction? Or do you also represent the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) in its pursuit of political, cultural and diplomatic relations with those countries? How many people are currently working at The Office of Tibet? There is also an affiliated charitable wing – the Tibet House Trust. Please explain what you as Representative and The Office of Tibet do for Tibet and Tibetan people?
TS: In this role, we do both. His Holiness’ overseas trips are very important part of our job and we all take this responsibility very seriously. We also represent CTA. We meet regularly with officials from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and members of parliament from the countries under our jurisdictions.
In London office, there are only three people working in the office including the Representative. With our limited resources, we have tried to be strategic and with innovative ideas to further the cause of Tibet. I have always felt as a Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, opportunities are limitless.
Q6: What level of recognition (diplomatic status) does the British Government (and also in other countries of your jurisdiction) give to the Central Tibetan Administration and The Office of Tibet? During His Holiness’ visit to the UK and other countries, what level of security protection and reception do the governments provide through your good offices?
TS: Of course no countries in the world recognize Tibet as an independent country and therefore the Office of Tibet and the Representative do not receive the diplomatic status. However, some of the smaller countries particularly the Baltics States treat us with more respect and they are more sympathetic.
I have found that most countries in Northern Europe provide reasonable security during His Holiness’ visit. For instance, Poland and some of Baltic States provide high level security. Whatever the reason the UK government’s security arrangement is minimal.
Q7: I learned that the Tibet House Trust has recently secured 1.5 million Euros for some capacity-building related programmes in the exiled Tibetan community. Can you please explain more about this grant and how it will be best utilised?
TS: Yes we have managed to raise 1.5 million Euros and it is being used for capacity building for human rights defenders.
Q8: In the past whenever His Holiness paid visits to the Houses of Parliament, The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet were involved to organise interaction with the British MPs, who are sympathetic to Tibet and the Tibetan people. However, in the case of the 2012 UK visit by His Holiness, I noted that, unlike your predecessors, you handled it differently. You involved The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Food & Security for His Holiness’s meeting with British MPs. This new approach has attracted the largest numbers of British MPs ever attending His Holiness’s event in parliament. Could you please share with us why you have done it this way?
TS: Yes this is true. It was handled differently in 2012 and the reason for this is simple. Most of the visits of His Holiness abroad, he meets politicians who are already supporters of Tibet and people knowledgeable about Tibet. I felt it is very important to be more strategic to invite and facilitate His Holiness to meet with new audience. For instance, many parliamentarians find it difficult to attend meeting with His Holiness when the invitation is extended from a Tibet friendly parliamentarian group like the APPG for Tibet for instance. That is why I decided to go with All Party Parliamentarian Group for Food & Security. There are 650 members of parliament in the British parliament, we must try and get those parliamentarians who may not necessarily have an interest in Tibet but interested in seeing His Holiness. This is the only opportunity when we can attract these politicians and diplomats alike.
Q9: In August 2009, you said that your London appointment was four-year term but you stayed on for five! What extra things have you achieved in the fifth year that you did not achieve during the original four-year mission?
TS: The reason we extended one more year is to finish off some of the work I had started for next year (2015) when His Holiness turns 80. I wanted to make sure all loose ends are tied and my successor can follow up.
Q10: I hear that after leaving The Office of Tibet next month, you have plans to work on a youth employment initiative in the Tibetan settlements. Is this true? If so, please tell us what is this all about? Do you have funds available to kick-off your initiative?
TS: Yes it is true. I find it very important that we must come up with a strategic plan to help those young Tibetans who may choose to live in the community and raise their children in the Tibetan culture and also look after their aged parents. We must provide them with an option. Of course I have no magical solution but I am positive we can come up with something interesting to provide decent paying employment opportunities.
I had visited all the major Tibetan settlements in Karnataka State in 2006. During the visit, I felt something had to be done. Unfortunately, I had no time to devote to this project in the last 5 years in London. Now with little more time on hand and with cooperation with CTA, I want to try something innovative and sustainable project to help achieve this stated goal.
Q11: There has been no dialogue between Beijing and Dharamsala since 2010. What do you think should be done to convince the Chinese side that dialogue is necessary for mutually benefit? Dharamsala has yet to appoint new Tibetan Envoys, following the resignation of Special Envoy, Lodi Gyari, and Envoy, Kelsang Gyaltsen, who were responsible for holding talks with the Chinese representatives. Would you be interested if Dharamsala appoints you as one of the interlocutors to conduct talks with the Chinese counterparts?
TS: It is true that there has been no official dialogue between Beijing and Dharamsala since 2010. However, His Holiness regularly meets with prominent Chinese business and intellectuals and during his foreign visits, His Holiness always make an effort to reach out to Chinese. Sikyong also believes China outreach is very important.
In private capacity, there is nothing stopping anyone of us from doing the outreach work. In fact, all Tibetans and supporters must do the outreach especially in the West. There are over 100,000 Chinese students studying in the UK alone and what an opportunity to do the outreach work. These students when they return, most of them will be holding very important positions in the government and corporate world.
Me as an interlocutor is laughable. I know my limits. This is something beyond me and I know I don’t have what it takes to be an effective envoy. Of course, I can always do China outreach myself and also assist in perhaps facilitating meetings between Dharamsala and people I come into contact with.
Q12: Is there anything else you would like to add in relation to your personal commitment for Tibet and the Tibetan people’s non-violent freedom struggle before I move onto the theme of arts & music?
TS: Well the time has come for me to slow down a bit but I still do have some things in the pipeline. I will never completely give up my work for Tibet. It has become very much part of my life and I believe we can all make contributions in our own private capacity.
(Tibetan Arts & Music)
Q13: You spent your early years at TIPA, learning Tibetan performing arts. Your debut song, ‘Rinzin Wangmo’ is probably the best solo Tibetan love-song to this day, which has been sung by so many Tibetan singers, not only in exile but even inside Tibet, including the well-known singer, Yadong. Even the native singers from the Himalayan region of Nepal (Raju Lama) and Ladakh (Phuntsok) have sung your song! Who composed the lyrics and the melody? Who was Rinzin Wangmo in the song? Was she yours sweet-heart at the time or just a dream girl?
TS: Yes this song was written many years ago and today more Tibetans know me from this song than anything else I have done in my life. I am very flattered and humbled by so many great singers to day have sung this song both inside and outside Tibet. To me, it seems like another lifetime! No there was no sweet heart or a dream girl by that name.
Q14: It is said that music has no boundaries and it brings people together. In the case of the Tibetan situation, musicians and artistes from Tibet cannot visit Tibetan settlements in India and perform. Similarly, the exiled Tibetan musicians and artistes cannot visit and perform in Tibet. How do you feel about that? Do you have any advice and words of encouragement to share with Tibetan musicians and artists who could play important roles to bring Tibetans together through music?
TS: I have always believed that every single person can make a difference. I am thrilled that so many young Tibetans today are using the medium of music for advocacy and awareness raising. This is fantastic. One can never tell how this current gridlock can break.
Briton Radio Broadcaster Remembered for Service in Tibet
(28 September 2013, London)
Sir Robert Ford, who was serving the Tibetan Government when Communist Chinese forces began their invasion, died in London on 20th September 2013 at the age of 90. The Englishman was working as a radio officer in Kham for the government of Tibet in the 1940s, in charge of setting up Tibet’s first broadcasting station and training Tibetan radio operators.
On hearing the sad news, members of Tibetan Community in Britain organised a special prayer service led by Geshe Tashi Tsering, Spiritual Teacher at Jamyang Buddhist Centre in London on Thursday 26th September. A few members of Robert Ford’s family attended the Tibetan prayer service.
Whilst conveying condolences, Thubten Samdup, Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama paid a fitting tribute to the Briton by saying, “Sir Robert Ford had a special relationship with Tibet and the Tibetan people. He had extensively engaged in raising the plight of Tibetan people after his retirement from the British civil service through public lectures. He was the last living Westerner who witnessed Tibet before she was invaded by China.” Samdup then delivered messages from His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay, Tibetan Political Leader.
In his personal message to Sir Robert Ford’s family, The Dalai Lama wrote, “On this sad occasion, I join Robert Ford’s many other friends and well-wishers in paying affectionate respect to a man who lived a long and meaningful life.
“Robert Ford occupies a special place in the history of Tibet. Not only was he the first Englishman employed as an official by the Tibetan Government then, but he later became the only European to be captured by Chinese forces. He was imprisoned for his service to Tibet and held for nearly five years until his expulsion in 1955.
“His memoir ‘Captured in Tibet’ gave its readers a clear understanding of the tragedy that befell Tibet. This record of his time in the Land of Snow had the great value of being a realistic eye-witness account in which he revealed not only the Tibetan qualities he admired, but also the short comings that contributed to our vulnerability.”
Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay wrote, “Tibet has lost one of its truest and oldest friends. He was one among the very few Westerners who witnessed a free and independent Tibet, having worked for the Government of Tibet as a radio broadcaster in 1947. He will be remembered by Tibetans for being a tireless advocate for the Tibetan cause for over half a century.”
Appreciating the special Tibetan prayer service, Giles Ford, one of the two sons of Robert, said, “My father spent some of the happiest days of his life in Tibet … a free and independent Tibet. The Tibetan people were very close to my father’s heart. I know that he would be so honoured and touched by this wonderful ceremony tonight and I am sure he is smiling down on us.
“My father leaves a huge gap in our lives … but thankfully we have so many special memories to cherish. One of those is the wonderful 90th birthday celebration the Tibetan community gave my father. He was so very, very moved by the occasion and the affection shown to him.”
Acknowledging the Briton’s contribution, Tenzin Samphel, Chairman of Tibetan Community in Britain, said, “We cannot forget our dedicated supporter. We pay tribute and recognise Robert Ford’s contribution to the Tibetan cause”. Earlier this year, The Office of Tibet hosted a reception in celebration of Robert Ford’s 90th birthday in London.
In April, Sir Robert Ford received International Campaign for Tibet’s (ICT) Light of Truth award from the Dalai Lama in acknowledgment of his tireless advocacy on behalf of Tibet for more than half a century. After accepting the award, Mr. Ford said: “I am a member of a rather exclusive club of Westerners who have the privilege and good fortune to see, know and witness a free Tibet before 1950. I spent some of the happiest days of my life in Tibet. The Tibet that I found when I first went there in 1945 was vastly different to the Tibet of today. It was an independent country with its own government, its own language, culture, customs and way of life. … To me as an outsider, the most remarkable feature of Tibetans was their devotion to their religion and their unswerving support for His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Another striking feature was their remarkable self-reliance both in the material and the spiritual sense. Tibet valued its self-imposed isolation and independence. Its simple wish was to be left alone to run its own affairs in the way that it thought best.”
Ford is survived by his two sons, Martin and Giles, and three grandchildren, Emma, Candice and Nicholas.
Robert Ford was born on 27 March 1923, in Staffordshire, England. He served in the Royal Air Force as a radio technician during World War II in England and in India, and in 1945 he joined the British Mission in Lhasa as a Radio Officer. There is a unique historical relationship between Britain and Tibet because Britain signed treaties and conducted diplomatic and military relations with an independent Tibet, and so had an influence that no other Western country enjoyed. At the time, British influence across the Himalayas was an important counterweight to China’s for Tibet.
In late 1945, Mr. Ford transferred to the Political Office in Gangtok, Sikkim and remained there until 1947, when India became independent. It was then that he was able to fulfil an ambition to return to Tibet. He was asked by the Government of Tibet to join its service, to start Tibet’s first broadcasting station, train Tibetan radio operators and set up a radio communications network throughout Tibet. He was the first Westerner to be employed by the Government of Tibet and given an official rank. In Britain, newspapers at the time dubbed Ford “the loneliest Briton in the world” because of his remote posting.
He was captured by advancing PLA troops in 1950 after an earthquake cut off a planned escape route. During nearly five years of imprisonment, Ford was subjected to interrogation and ‘thought reform’ and was in constant fear of execution. He spent four years in jail before the Chinese allowed him to write a letter home to his mother telling her he was alive. After being sentenced in 1954 to a 10-year term for “espionage,” he was released in 1955 and expelled.
Following his release, in 1957 Ford joined the British Diplomatic Service. During his career he served in the Foreign Office in London and at various posts around the world; in Vietnam, Indonesia, the USA, Morocco, Angola, France, Sweden, and finally as UK Consul-General in Geneva, Switzerland, from where he retired in 1983. In 1982 Mr Ford was awarded a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire).
Ford married Monica Tebbett, a childhood friend from a nearby village in Staffordshire who was at the time working for the United Nations in New York, in 1956. “We met again and fell in love,” said Ford, according to a local village website. They were married for 55 years.
Ford remained active in retirement, enjoying hiking and travel, and only stopped skiing at the age of 86. His retirement also allowed him more time for active support to the Tibetan cause. He was a council member of the Tibet Society and remained a Vice President for the rest of his life. He wrote extensively and lectured on all aspects of Tibetan and Chinese affairs in the UK, the rest of Europe, Australia, and the United States.
In 1996, Ford organised the first meeting between the Dalai Lama and a member of the British Royal family. His Holiness met the late Queen Mother together with Ford at Clarence House.
The only Inji to serve as an employee of an independent Tibetan government, we Tibetans owe an immense sense of gratitude to Robert Ford (or “Phodo” as he was called in Tibet) who died on Friday morning, the 20th of September, at the age of 90.
He was of course the famous radio operator in Chamdo responsible for connecting the town to the capital, Lhasa. But Ford was much more than that. Ford loved the Tibetan people and wanted to help the country with his skills. He forged strong friendships with progressive Tibetan minds like Jigme Taring and Dzasa Tsarong to usher Tibet into 20th century. The Tibetan Government wanted him to set up a radio network throughout Tibet.
Indeed, had his advice been heeded about installing a forward radio post closer to the border at Riwoche, it is possible that Chamdo would not have fallen so quickly. One only wishes it was the more open Lhalu, rather than Ngaboe who had to face the invading Chinese as Governor General of Kham, because Lhalu and Ford had a more open working relationship. Ngaboe, on the other hand, according to Ford, was distant and formal. As a Tibetan, one can only feel ashamed by the way Ford was abandoned by Ngaboe at Chamdo to the advancing Chinese army.
A grammar school boy brought up in Burton-on-Trent in England, Ford worked as a radio technician during World War II and in 1945 joined the British Mission in Lhasa as a radio operator, having his first audience with a 11 year old Kundun. Thanks to India gaining independence, Ford returned to Tibet in 1947 to be employed by the Tibetan Government.
Like the other injis in Tibet at the same time, such as Heinrich Harrer and Peter Aufschnaiter, Ford was lured by the ‘mystique and adventure’ of Tibet – although he did introduce the tango to Lhasa! These injis – although from very different backgrounds – were united in their love for the land and the people and had a common desire to modernise Tibet whilst retaining her unique culture. Indeed, while receiving the Light of Truth Award from the Dalai Lama in April 2013, Ford said that his time in Tibet had been “the happiest years” of his life.
Newspapers at the time described him as “the loneliest Briton in the world”. Of course, Ford disputed that, saying he was having the “adventure” of his life – until, of course, China’s invasion. Unlike other Injis who socialised with the upper echelons of Tibetan society (mainly in the capital), Ford’s posting in Chamdo meant that he mingled with ordinary Tibetans and could keenly observe their customs and manners.
He was a true friend of Tibet who stood shoulder to shoulder with the Tibetan people in their hour of need. Although Ford was offered the chance to leave for England before the 1950 Chinese invasion, he stayed – out of loyalty to Tibet – a decision which subsequently cost him nearly five years in jail in China. He suffered repeated interrogation and thought reform, living in constant fear of death, until his release and expulsion in 1955. He had been accused of being a spy for the British and causing the death of a pro-Chinese Tibetan Lama. His imprisonment would have perhaps been reduced had he revealed his ‘suspicions’ about the real perpetrator but Ford – true to his character – endured the suffering rather than betray a Tibetan. Unsurprisingly, he has taken the secret to his grave.
He wrote about this experience in “Captured in Tibet” published in 1957 (and republished in the USA in 1990).
After the Tibet phase of his life, Ford served as a diplomat in various posts around the world ending his career as Consul–General in Geneva, Switzerland before retiring in 1983. In 1982 he had been awarded a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire). During his retirement he resumed his active campaign for Tibetan freedom: Ford was visibly moved when the Tibetan community in the UK celebrated his 90th birthday earlier in the year at Tibet House (London) in honour of all the work he had done for Tibet.