Reviewing the accomplishments of his first year in office, Tibetan exile prime minister Lobsang Sangay said Wednesday that his frequent travels and meetings with foreign leaders have raised international awareness of the plight of Tibet under Chinese rule.
But some analysts say that despite the greater profile for Tibet, foreign powers may be reluctant to push Beijing on the prickly issue, considering it a big risk to their own interests with China.
“My travels have taken me to seventeen different cities on four continents,” Sangay said in a statement, released by Tibet’s India-based government in exile, the Central Tibetan Administration.
“I have met with senior government officials, prominent lawmakers, including the Speaker of the U.S. Congress, well-known media organizations, and other notable world citizens like Nobel Peace Laureates with whom I have highlighted the dire situation in Tibet and sought their support.”
“International media appear to be giving more attention to the Tibetan situation,” said Sangay, a graduate of Harvard Law School who took office as Kalon Tripa, or elected head of the Tibetan people, on Aug. 8, 2011.
At the same time, Sangay took over the political duties of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who had announced he would hand over these responsibilities in a move to strengthen democracy in the Tibetan exile community.
“This is a responsibility we have handled reasonably well so far, thanks to the unity, solidarity and support from Tibetans in and outside Tibet, and our friends,” Sangay wrote.
Calls for talks
Noting that 46 Tibetans have recently set themselves on fire in protests calling for freedom in Tibetan regions, Sangay called again on China to meet with Tibetan exile representatives in a “dialogue process to resolve the Tibet issue on the basis of mutual benefit.”
“We are committed to the Middle Way Approach,” he added, referring to the policy proposed by the Dalai Lama that surrenders Tibetan claims of independence in favor of a fuller autonomy for Tibet as a part of China.
Chinese leaders have characterized the policy as a disguised ploy for independence, though, and Tibetan envoys to talks with China resigned in June after a ninth round of discussions broke down.
Calls on China from foreign governments and international bodies to resume negotiations have been rebuffed.
The greatest obstacle to progress on Tibet remains the Chinese government itself, “both in terms of their own internal views and calculus on this issue,” a former State Department official and expert on Tibet affairs said, speaking in an interview.
“[There is a] perception globally that countries are taking a big risk to their own interests with China to raise the issue of Tibet,” the official said.
“By reacting very harshly to external criticisms, even in private diplomatic settings, the Chinese have very effectively cowed many countries from even raising the situation in Tibet.”
But though negotiations are now stalled, future talks might bring results, said Robbie Barnett, director of the Modern Tibetan Studies program at Columbia University.
“I think that these things can never be ruled out,” Barnett said. “There’s a lot we don’t know about Chinese thinking, but it would depend on their thinking and their internal politics.”
“It would be easier to imagine if the Dalai Lama were more directly involved,” he said.
Reported by Richard Finney.