Tiibetin pakolaishallituksen (Central Tibetan Administration) presidentin Lobsang Sangayn koko haastattelu Helsingissä 13.10.2018.
Matti Puranen | 10.03.2019
Tiibetin pakolaishallituksen (Central Tibetan Administration) presidentin Lobsang Sangayn koko haastattelu Helsingissä 13.10.2018. Lue varsinainen juttu täältä.
Full transcript of the interview with Lobsang Sangay, president of the Central Tibetan Administration, in Helsinki 13.10.2018. Full story here (in Finnish)
Haastattelu ja litterointi (Interview and transcript): Matti Puranen, The Ulkopolitist
The Ulkopolitist: Is this your first time in Finland? When did you arrive?
Lobsang Sangay: Yes. I arrived day before, midnight. Almost midnight. Yesteday, I spoke at Helsinki University. Then I kept a talk on environment later at an NGO. Then morning, I had a meeting with the Left Alliance, two members. Member of the Green party. And the CDU, one member. Meeting some, two Tibetans, and a Tibet support group. I had a lunch meeting with some academics today.
The Ulkopolitist: What did you discuss with the parliamentarians?
Lobsang Sangay: About the rise of China and China’s influence in Europe. Also what’s happening in Tibet, and Xinjiang and all of China.
Lobsang Sangay: I’m coming from Prague, Forum 2000. The Czech parliament just launched the largest parliamentary Tibet support group, 51 members. First and the largest in Europe.
The Ulkopolitist: Interesting. The Czech republic is known to lean in China…
Lobsang Sangay: A lot of support in the parliament and the people.
The Ulkopolitist: How did they express the support?
Lobsang Sangay: The group is very important. It is a public statement of support. Secondly, they will obviously raise the issue in the parliament and ask government for reaction. So, definitely there will be debate and Tibet will be in the discourse. So that’s important.
Then I went to Slovakia and gave talk for the Pan European University, the hall was packed! With 200-300 students and faculty members. So I was also pleasantly surprised! Such a huge turnout.
The Ulkopolitist: But information on your visit to Finland was very hard to find.
Lobsang Sangay: I know, it is my first time. I have very small Tibet support group. There were only nine Tibetans here. When we come second time, it will be much more. (The Ulkopolitist: When will you come second time?) I can never say when! But maybe next year, why not? it takes a year or two for me to come back.
The Ulkopolitist: You can travel freely, you have a US passport.
Lobsang Sangay: That’s true. Nobody can prevent me.
On Chinese ”Sharp power” and pressure on Europe
The Ulkopolitist: So, what kind of pressure is China building in Europe?
Lobsang Sangay: Oh yeah, a lot! Nowadays, initially people thought it would be just economic pressure. But to get economic contracts you need political support. And hence political influence and interference is obvious.
So, that you see in all the capitals. For example I’ve had scheduled meetings cancelled at the last moment. Not that the speaker of the parliament doesn’t want to meet with me, but, the foreign office told her not to meet. And then, the foreign office was told so by the Chinese embassy. I’m not talking about Finland, but other european countries. It happens.
The Ulkopolitist: Which countries?
Lobsang Sangay: Oh, I think… I will not… I just say, Scandinavian, one of the Scandinavian countries. It’s amazing. They… Actully the embassy called the foreign office, the prime minister’s office, president’s office and they in turn called the parliamentarians, for not to meet.
The Ulkopolitist: Also in the United States I heard, a Chinese Tibetan delegation arranged a meeting at the same time with you to block you.
Lobsang Sangay: Yes, in Ottawa, Canada! Also in the US. You might not see it in Finland, but they are very busy making sure, you know, as you say, my visit is not known in the Finnish media. But I’m pretty sure the Chinese embassy knew about it and they are going to president’s office, and prime minister’s office and foreign office and all the media and all the parliamentaries, they have made more rounds than me! [laughter] I keep them busy!
The Ulkopolitist: Lately, the term ”sharp power” has emerged to describe such Chinese methods.
Lobsang Sangay: Yeah. Sharp power, elite grab! One classic case is Norway. You know, the Norway Nobel peace committee gave the Nobel peace prize to Liu Xiaobo. They immediately… Norway was shut down. Chinese government cut its relations with Norway and it took them eight, nine years to renegotiate. And finally they normalized the relationship, but it is essentially that Norway has agreed, you know, not to raise sensitive issues like Tibet. And that’s unfortunate.
When Liu Xiaobo was released from prison because because he had terminal cancer, all the leaders around the world, including Dalai Lama and Nobel laureates, all were urging the Chinese government to give him medical treatment, and the German doctors we’re willing to give him medical treatment, right. And Norwegian government didn’t say a word. Nobel peace committee gave him the Nobel pece prize, right, and it’s a humanitarian… It is… He is dying! And he died. Because he wasn’t allowed to get medical treatment. And, when you notice that, my goodness! Norwegian government didn’t say a single word about this. And after he died, there was one line, one paragraph: condolences for his death. I mean…
The Ulkopolitist: It’s working.
Lobsang Sangay: That’s sad. It’s working! And that thing that, Norway of all countries, they have a considerable budget surplus, they have almost a trillion dollars sovereign fund. They don’t need Chinese money. Right? Why would you do that? Why would you compromise the image of Norway and the moral standing of Norway for nothing? For nothing!
The Ulkopolitist: I think it’s some kind of an overall pressure. I mean, it’s working even though we’re talking about little things, stuff like who’s going to interview you.
Lobsang Sangay: And what’s sad part about of it, the academics, the journalists, the businesses, the politicians – everybody compromises their morals, and then what happens is that ultimately you are reduced to a commodity, you know. You’re reduced to money and you’re reduced to a market, and you just have a number. We are no more human beings, we are no more people with conscience and morals and values, we are just reduced to a number and a commodity, you know. Ok! We get this money, we do this much business, and the rest, we keep quiet.
Now what about Finnish values and Finnish principles? You fought for something, under czar, under Russia and all that, you know! And then, you fought for those principles and you got them, and then you forget.
The Ulkopolitist: Finland has… Maybe you have heard of the term ”finlandization”? After the Second world war, we managed to keep our independence, but the pressure from Soviet Union was really hard. It is somehow in our political DNA to know how to please the great powers. We are never the first to criticize China or any other great power. And When Xi Jinping came here, we were allowed these two pandas as a token of our good relations. I’m not surprised that the official Finland is silent, except these two brave parliamentaries.
Lobsang Sangay: I told them they are very brave to meet and represent your principles. And you know, the funny thing is that pandas, you know, they are a Tibetan bear. If you go to the Wulong, and the lab, the biggest one, 70 % of it is surrounded by Tibetan villages, it’s not of Sichuan. Historically it has been always in Tibet. So now the Chinese presidents and prime ministers come and give pandas as a gift, but it’s a Tibetan bear, that’s why it’s lovely, cuddly and friendly you know. [grin]
So, the Chinese propaganda is so strong, so powerful, they have made panda a symbol of diplomatic gesture of China. But actually it’s a Tibetan bear. They have monopolized it, they have rebranded the whole panda into a Chinese panda. Because if you watch the movie Kongfu panda, it’s all Buddhism you know. Panda was searching his inner self. Once you find the inner self, then you find the strenght – it’s a teaching of the Buddha! So buddhism and panda, a Tibetan bear, are combined and the movie is made, but then people see China. They don’t see anything Tibetan or anything Buddhist about it. It’s so powerful.
That’s why the movie Doctor Strange. (The Ulkopolitist: ?) I mean, you remember the doctor who is a surgeon and he goes to Nepal and gets this mystical treatment. You should see it! I give you the name of the movie! But in the novel, in the book, the surgeon goes to Tibet and the Tibetan mystical monk teaches him the meditation that overcomes his physical capacity with mystical power. But in that movie, that Tibetan monk is no more there. It’s a lady with Celtic background. So even the Hollywood is changing!
On Tibet and the ”middle way approach”
The Ulkopolitist: If we now move to Tibet. Can you shortly explain the middle way approach for the Finnish readers.
Lobsang Sangay: Yes, the Finnish government should be supporting middle way approach, because what we seek is the middle of two views. One view is, we say Tibet is under occupation and the repression of the Tibetan people is unacceptable. But the Chinese government says, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China cannot be compromised.
So then what we say: Ok then! Let us find a middle ground. We will not seek separation or independce from China. What we seek is autonomy as for Chinese constitution and as per Chinese laws. You end repression of the Tibetan people. Give us autonomy and we will not seek independence or sepration from China. So what we seek is genuine auotonomy as per Chinese laws. So that’s a very moderate, reasonable aspiration.
So here in Finland you have the case of Åland island, where autonomy is granted and it’s working to some extent. And Finland can say, hey, if you grant autonomy to a minority based on culture, language, education, administration, it works!
The Ulkopolitist: Do you have any other examples of existing autonomous systems?
Lobsang Sangay: Yeah, there are many autonomous arrangements, you cannot compare with everything because each have a different background, you know, but if you look at China, Hong kong has one country two systems -system, Macao has one country two systems-system system. Shenzhen and Shanghai have economic autonomy, you know, they are quite autonomous. And hence, you know, Chinese government does give autonomy to other regions, righ, but when it comes to Tibet and Tibetan people they say, we cannot give you.
The Ulkopolitist: Do you know why it is such an impossible idea?
Lobsang Sangay: One is race! They give autonomy to Chinese in Hong kong and Macao and Shenzhen and Shanghai because they are Chinese. They don’t give it to Tibetans because we are not Chinese, essentially that. And underlying that reason is mistrust. They don’t trust us. And hence there’s the element of fear. You know, Xi Jinping has said: stability and security of China is dependent on stability and security of Tibet. So they really think they have to secure and stabilize Tibet to have a stable China. So from security point of view, military point of view. They see Tibet as vital.
The Ulkopolitist: Which I also don’t completely understand. Why do you see Tibet is so impoirtant for China?
Lobsang Sangay: You know, Tibet touches whole of South Asia. Almost all Asean countries and all the way to Central Asia. So geographically…
The Ulkopolitist: Geographically there are also huge geographical barriers.
Lobsang Sangay: Mountains, yeah.
The Ulkopolitist: If Tibet would be autonomous I don’t see how it would endanger China…
Lobsang Sangay: Yes! That’s what we say. You can keep your military. What we say is also, Chinese government can keep the military and guard the border, secure the border. Give us the autonomy within. Even that they don’t accept.
The Ulkopolitist: When is the last time that you’ve had any kind of official talks with Chinese counterparts?
Lobsang Sangay: 2010. The envoys of the Dalai lama met with the Chinese government in 2010.
The Ulkopolitist: Is there any possibility for future talks?
Lobsang Sangay: We hope so! It makes sense, the middle way makes sense. Because what we ask is genuine autonomy as per Chinese laws. And it should be granted because it’s all written in Chinese constitution and in the minority act. ”Tibet should have language rights, cultural rights, Tibet should have administrative rights, they are the masters of their own region.” All that is written, so what we say is: implement those laws. And they refuse to implement.
The era of Xi Jinping, Xinijang, and the Orwellian state
The Ulkopolitist: Now is the era of Xi Jinping. How do you see the era of Xi compared to the past?
Lobsang Sangay: Yeah, at the grassroot level nothing has changed. In fact the situation has gone worse, because, you know, 152 Tibetans have burned themselves, committed self-immolation. We discourage self immolation, you know, we say: don’t burn yourself! You should live and continue activies and protest. As human beings, life is very precious. But still Tibetans continue to protest that way. And Freedom house, as you know, there was one self-immolation in prague, (The Ulkopolitist: When?), 1970’s, 1960’s? But in Tibet, 152. The Freedom house comes with the Freedom index every year and lists Tibet as second less free region in the whole world, after Syria. Everyone knows about Syria, no-one knows about Tibet because journalists are not allowed to go there.
Now Reportes Without Borders has a quotation of journalists in Beijing, what they say is, for them it is more difficult to go to Tibet than to North Korea. So that is why it’s not suprising that the media also doesn’t cover. Because journalists arent allowed to go to Tibet. So while journalists don’t cover news about Tibet, they are not allowed to go there, they cannot cover. There’s less evidence. It has a domino effect right here in Finland, the news media doesn’t know. They don’t cover because they don’t know. Right?
And even if they know, some of the, I don’t know about Finland, but I’ve been to some countries. including Europe, where the shareholders of news media groups have Chinese investors or China friendly, Chinese government/business friendly investors, right, and they will tell the editors: don’t write this, don’t write that, don’t publish this don’t publish that. Yeah.
That’s how the sharp power works.
The Ulkopolitist: Do you have any examples? Which countries? I haven’t heard of such a thing happening in Finland…
Lobsang Sangay: Oh yeah, investment is like this, ok I give you one example. Italy! One news media was covering my visit and a shareholder of that news media came to me and told me: I have to put your story at midnight, even online. Normally you put the online first, then you print the hard copy. He said now we have your story, I have to put it online only at midnight, you know, right after the hard print is on. Because, he said, if I put your story online now, let’s say the evening, the other shareholder who has business in China will call the managing editor and tell them to not to put the story on hard print. On print copy. Right. So he said, then the managing editor, even though it has gone online, won’t put it on hard print for 12 hours or 48 hours, then the news will be old and not publishable. Right.
It could be in Finland too. That’s how the system works. So you know, I’m sure that a European businessman, having a stake in China also has a lot of shares and businesses all over.
The Ulkopolitist: Now, during Xi Jinping era, Chen Quanguo was moved to the post of the party secretary of Xinjiang. But he was in Tibet first. Do you fear something similar that is happening in Xinjiang will be happening in Tibet?
Lobsang Sangay: Oh yeah, it already happened in Tibet. What happened was that he came and he developed the software, the algorithm. The surveillance system, what we call the grid system. So what happened was, in that grid system, it’s like a neighbourhood watch during Soviet Union times, where you have 1000 people and one neighbourhood watch tracking all the 1000 people. Now in Tibet, under his rule, what he did was, he further broke it down and made it 100 people and a neighbourhood watch.
So what happened was that each neighbour and family has to inform on each other. The policy was, ”get subsidies, keep security”. Meaning you have to infrom on your neigbours, give information, then we give you subsidies. You want your child to a school, you want a ration card, you want your bank account, you want a job? Right. Anything you need from the government, you have to give information. That’s the policy.
And then in addition to the neighbourhood watch, now they have surveillance cameras everywhere. And then most scary thing was, he issued a very sophisticated id card, with second generation biometric chip in it to nomads and farmers everywhere. Well, to give a very good id card, it is a good thing, right? In the sense that if it is to provide subsidies, it is very good. But if it is used for security, it is very dangerous.
What happens is that, nomads and farmers are are travelling all over for pilgrimiages, to meet relatives. Now, they have put so many chekposts, in which you have to swipe your card all the time. When you swipe your card the software and the algoritghm will track all the data. They have security cameras all over, they’ll take photographs of you all the time. And there are spies and moles everywhere, and they will gather and track information all the time.
Now this algorithm is developed. See, who is a potential troublemaker? Because the more you travel, more potential trouble. More nomads travelling to one area, more farmers travelling to one area, that nomadic area is potential trouble, that village is potential trouble. So, more cameras, more spies, more checkposts. Now, he has developed it so well, that, this year is the 10th annivesary of nationwade protests of 2008. And then, now they said: this software can predict where the trouble will be. So they identified the year, 2018 tenth anniversary, and the place: Jokhang temple, which is the holy shrine. The event is lantern festival, you know when we light candles.
So Tibetans also felt, we have to do something about this very repressive system. So as a form of resistance they all went to Jokhang temple to celebrate the lantern festival. It is a very auspicious day. But what they found was, like 500-600 policemen with helmets, guns and batons ready. So there is a Youtube picture of several thousand Tibetans going round – they have to go around like that the buddhist temple – and there are 500-600 army, police. How did they get 500-600 policemen there on that day? Because the algorithm, the software did that. Now they arrested all these people and sent them to education through labour.
The Ulkopolitist: You have those kinds of education camps also in Tibet?
Lobsang Sangay: Yeah, yeah, yeah! It was there since 1980’s. Now what he [Chen] has done is, he has taken it to Xinjiang and he is implementing it in massive scale. 10 % of the people are in camps. So it was all developed in Tibet. Now how does the system track one millon uighurs to go to correction camps? He took that algoritghm and the software and the system of Tibet, implemented in Xinjiang and said: ”these are the potential villages, these are the potential farms, nomadic areas, potential towns. Collect all the data and send them.” See, he’s been there only a few years and suddenly he’s evolved to… Why? Becuse he had developed all these.
Now what is developed in Tibet and Xinjiang, the Chinese government is implementing it in China. Now they are developing this social credit score. Same thing, same surveillance that we have in Tibet. Face reading, data collection, checkposts, right? And accordingly your bank account may be cancelled, your school admission will be delayed or your subsidies will be delayed, based on your action. Right.
Now, social credit score in China is the softer version of what was in Tibet. In Tibet and Xinjiang, you’re a troublemaker, go to correction camp. But the Chinese people, they are punished more lightly. They just, suspend your bank account for one week, and the housing rent and all that. More gently. But in Tibet, they arrest you and put you in a camp immediately. Yeah. So now what is happened is, it is implemented in all over China, and now it is being exported to African countries and Central Asian countries. They like the software.
So the Orwellian system, the technology they have developed, they are exporting it all over the world. So what happens in Tibet, happens in China and happens all over the world. The dictators and the authoritarian rulers, they want to get this software and algorithm, don’t you think so? It is so sophisticated, you relly don’t have to send the policemen. All it needs is a highly advanced technology and an id-card. Issue id-cards to public and control them.
The Ulkopolitist: So, the era of Xi Jinping doesn’t look really that promising…
Lobsang Sangay: At the ground level, nothing has changed. But I hope, you know, his father [Xi Zhongxun] knew about Tibet very well. He was very close to Panchen lama. He talks about Buddhism from time to time. And we hope that he will have the wisdom and the courage to address the issue of Tibet peacefully, because what we seek is dialogue. Solve the issue peacefully.
Dalai Lama and the Sikyong
The Ulkopolitist: I think we are running out of time but I’d like to ask you about the Dalai lama. He has given all the political power to you, but he still has globally great soft power value. A lot of people everywhere respect him and his words. So how do you feel as a president, how can you have similar influence?
Lobsang Sangay: Very difficult. The shoes of the Dalai Lama are very big. He’s a nobel laureate, he’s a spiritual leader and a learned person. Very difficult! Nonetheless one should try to fill in the shoes of the political side of the Tibetan cause. So all you need to do is to keep travelling, keep meeting. So my first time to Finland, it is a small support. Next time when I will come, maybe bigger and bigger. Prague, I went there three times, so third time we had the largest parliamentary Tibetan support group. So you know, you develop. You go from there.
The Ulkopolitist: You travel a lot, how many days of a year?
Lobsang Sangay: 50 % of the time I am outside of India. I travel quite a lot and last year I had only three days of vacation. Those three days were hard days, as I arrived at the morning. At home, I sleep at morning becuse I was flying from America and I needed some rest. So half days. No vacation. If you consider weekends, today is a weekend but I’m still working. If we did up all those weekends, I didn’t get any holiday.
The Ulkopolitist: It has to be brought forth, but the thing is that Dalai Lama gets older and one day he will eventually pass away. So after that, do you think that China will find a new one?
Lobsang Sangay: They will try. They will always try. First of all, his holiness the Dalai Lama is very healthy. And we do belive he will live very long. And they will try to find their Dalai Lama, but it will not work. Because you know, look at their track record: they destroyed 98 % of monasteries and nunneries, 99,9 % of monks and nuns were disrupted in 1950’s and 1960’s. And one million Tibetans perished before, during and after the invasion and occupation of Tibet, and even now there’s a crackdown in monasteries and nunneries.
With that kind of track record, how can you say that “I am the Communist party and I believe in atheism and I believe that religion is poision but I will appoint your religious leader and you will accept it!” It is almost like Rahoul Castro appointing a pope and expecting catholics to follow. Or Bashar Al-assad appointing an imam or an ayatollah and expecting all the Iranians to follow. When you have that background, you can’t.
The Ulkopolitist: How well do you think you are known whithin the Tibetan community in Tibet?
Lobsang Sangay: I think pretty much well known. Many will know.
The Ulkopolitist: How easy it is for the Tibetans to get information from the outside?
Lobsang Sangay: Pretty easy. There’s lot of security cameras but there’s lot of firewall [?]. For example sometimes it happens that I am giving a talk. If there are a lot of Tibetans, they take a video of me giving a speech. If I give a speech in Europe, it goes to America, it goes to India, it goes to Tibet and it goes back. By the time I’ve finished that two hours engagement, when I come out I have several messages including video from Tibet of me giving a speech in Switzerland!
The Ulkopolitist: How do you think the idea has been received that instead of Dalai Lama the Tibetans should have a democratically elected leader?
Lobsang Sangay: It was his decision. Because for four hundred years, Dalai Lamas were always in charge of both political and spiritual affairs. And in 2011 his holiness decided to separate the church and the state. He said that he will remain the spiritual leader, and political matters should be handled by the democratically elected leader. So I got elected in 2011 and so I handle all the political matters.
The Ulkopolitist: I have heard that the Tibetan people may find it hard to accept a politically elected leader compared to Dalai Lama because it’s an old institution
Lobsang Sangay: Yeah, in 2011 initially there was some hesitations. Now it’s being embraced. Transition has gone on.
The Ulkopolitist: Well, our time is almost up and I think you are a busy man. Thanks a lot for doing this interview!
Lobsang Sangay: Well, I meet some academics and things like that. Thank you so much for coming, it was very kind from you. And when are you going to finish your dissertation. (The Ulkopolitist: Hope next year) Oh, I wish you all the best. Now, it’s a challenge, it’s a big challenge. I do feel it. Chinese influence, the tentacles are verywhehre. Unless, I always say it, unless you transform China, China will transform you.
The Ulkopolitist: The Chinese government doesn’t like you and the official rhetoric on you is very angry, but what do you think about the ordinary Chinese person? They don’t necessarily agree. I’ve spoken with a lot of Chinese people who say that they dont care or have so strong feelings about the Tibetan issue…
Lobsang Sangay: I’ve spent 16 years in America, and 16 years at Harvard law scool. I did my masters’ and doctoral degrees threre, in that 16 years I’ve met hundreds and thousands of Chinese.
When I explain the middle way approach they say, they come at ”hey that’s very reasonable. Tibetans should get it, Tibetans should have it”. I have had one meeting in a major think tank in US. A group of Chinese academics was in there. His holiness the Dalai lama gave a talk and after he left I gave a talk. And then, after a one hour discussion the senior professors said: ”Oh my god! When we listened to you, you sounded so reasonable. But when we heard about you in China, they projected you as someone so scary that, you know, you might jump at them if you saw any Chinese!”
Yeah, I’ve met hundreds and thousands of Chinese people in person. Those who I meet they all regard me as reasonable. But Chinese propaganda is such that the people wouldn’t know. So the Chinese government propaganda prevails. And they are not pleased with me. Their rhetoric against me is pretty hard.
So what can I do. I’m speaking the thruth. We always say we have nothing against China as a country and the Chinese people. As the hardline policies of the present CPC, that’s what we are against and we will complain and we will keep complaining, you know. Yeah!