Speaking in Sydney last night (June 29th), Dr. Sangay said he had engaged in ‘robust discussions' with Australian members of parliament, four of whom had also made public statements in parliament on Tibet in the last two days.
The trip had also brought controversy however, with both embattled Prime Minister Julia Gillard and new Foreign Minister Bob Carr declining to officially meet with him. When asked if this was at all daunting or embarrassing, he smiled and said "no, as the Australian says ‘no worries', we meet those who want to meet and don't complain about those who don't want to meet. That's where I think Buddhism comes in; given a choice we'd like to meet and discuss things. It's only fair that you hear from both sides".
Dr. Sangay thanked the audience for coming to listen to a ‘boring speech' on a Friday night and warned them not to expect to laugh at any of his jokes, however it soon became clear that his witty anecdotes and pieces of advice would be getting plenty of laughs throughout the evening. His talk, entitled ‘Democracy, Buddhism and the Future of Asia' also dealt with a great many issues related to his leadership, Tibetan society and the relationship between Tibet and Beijing. Questions were put to him from the audience, and he also responded to others sent in through Twitter. A live feed on the internet enabled Tibetans around Australia to listen or watch, ensuring everyone had the chance to hear his message.
A young Australian man summed up the general feeling in the room when handed the microphone, by saying: "Prime Minister firstly I would like to thank you for coming to talk to us here in Sydney, this is something that I'll remember for the rest of my life", then going on to talk of his visit to Tibet where he witnessed shocking scenes of cultural assimilation. An older man also expressed his admiration by suggesting: "I hope that you will become a Tibetan image of Barack Obama", at which several audience members cheered.
Here are some of the highlights from the Sydney talk:
...About his knowledge of Buddhism
Under no illusions about his strengths, Dr. Sangay said he had been ‘certified by His Holiness not to know about Buddhism', but wanted to share what he considered the ‘Buddhist element' in Tibetan politics. This was perhaps what drew the most attention to the key differences between Australian and Tibetan politics, as he suggested that perhaps Australian politicians should share taxi rides, as he had done with another candidate during his election campaign in India. The crowd laughed at the thought of its bickering ministers being able to sit in the same car together, and no doubt there was reflection on the different nature of democracy in the two countries.
On Tibetan Democracy
In giving an account of his experience of the election process, Dr. Sangay claimed he had only ever intended to serve as a ‘dummy candidate' until the ‘real candidates' came along, but the idea grew on him until he believed he could do it. His strategy was "to win even if I lose, meaning, I will remain a Tibetan with humility, Buddhism, respectful of elders, even if I lose the election". He said he later realised that "this is my karma, this is my destiny" and to not go forward would be to send a message to China that he couldn't stand up to their rule.
The Kalon Tripa also spoke about how democracy in the Tibetan community had ‘matured and grown' over the past fifty years, explaining that right from 1963 when the Constitution of Tibet was drafted there was a provision for the eventual impeachment of the Dalai Lama, causing scandal in the community. Says Sangay, "We had just lost our country, and he was 26 years old but he had the vision of our secular democratic society and he wanted a provision in the constitution".
There were many Tibetans nodding in agreement when he stated that: "For 60 years His Holiness led us by holding our hand, and now he wants to see whether you can walk or not, whether you can stand up or not, whether you can move forward or not. That was the test".
On the Movement
Dr. Sangay described to the audience his humble beginnings in a refugee family in Darjeeling, living on an acre of land, with a few cows and chickens, and attending a refugee school where the food was less than appetising. He spoke of his later time abroad as a student and scholar, and how he left his comfortable life in America and his job as a senior fellow at Harvard University to pursue the Tibetan election. He says it became a big responsibility to have to make decisions without the cover of His Holiness' signing off with his endorsement, but says he has gladly swapped the Starbucks for Indian cha and relocated to Dharamshala. After giving up the material comforts of life in the West, he insisted that "All this is not sacrifice, all this is contribution".
Dr. Sangay said the movement was about sending a message of hope, and that it was now more than ever "for all those who have died and continue to sacrifice in Tibet. In that sense we are sending a clear message to the Chinese government and the Tibetans in Tibet. We will be here as long as it takes for His Holiness the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet, for Tibetans to have our basic freedom".
For his Australian audience the Kalon Tripa had a thorough explanation of the nature of Tibetan democracy in exile: "Tibet issue is part movement, in the exile movement, part democratic governance. Now, ideologically or theoretically they are contradictory, meaning if it's an exile movement what you emphasise is unity, single leadership; [but in democratic governance there is] Instead of unity, diversity; instead of single leadership, opposition parties; instead of single voice, freedom of speech. So there are fundamental contradictions between the two. How can you find a Middle Way for everything? The Tibetan model is in fact a lab test for democracy-in-exile. So Tibet is a very important model for many marginalised groups and many refugee groups around the world. If we succeed, this model can be adopted and adapted to other marginalised groups, to other refugee groups around the world".
On the Immolations
On the topic of the 42 tragic self-immolations that have taken place and then 35 resulting deaths, Dr. Sangay expressed disbelief that still the Chinese government could refuse to recognise that there is a problem in Tibet. On their sacrifice he added: "Life is precious, very precious. Given the choice, we all would want to live, with our family members, with our parents, with our siblings. But Tibetans inside Tibet have decided to give up their lives so that other Tibetans could have better lives. (...) As a Tibetan, as a human being, you really don't want to see such tragic deaths, that is why the Tibetan Administration has appealed to Tibetans not to resort to drastic actions, including self-immolation". Sangay claimed the immolations were a reflection of the unbearable situation in Tibet, and that "that form of protest is happening because the Chinese government refuses to enter into dialogue to resolve the issue of Tibet peacefully".
On the Importance of Gender Equality
According to Dr. Sangay, one of the key focuses of his government will be gender equality in the Tibetan community. Responding to a question from the audience, he proudly stated that of the six kalons in the cabinet, 2 are women, which shows that they are well represented. The Home and Foreign departments, the two largest, are also headed by women. He affirmed: "I do agree that gender equality is very important, and I try to make the point, by appointing two women in the Kashag of six members, in a way that's a demonstration, and then in the Tibetan Administration itself in Dharamshala, at the central level, the women's representation is around 33-4%, not that bad. But in the settlement level the women's representation is still less, so we have our work cut out for us, and we will keep doing it".
On the Future of Asia and Australia
According to Dr. Sangay, Australia has a large role to play in the future of Asia, and its values are key to that contribution. Explained Sangay: "Australia is a land of opportunity. Australians have values like democracy, human rights and freedom; these are the same values Tibetans aspire to, these are the same values enshrined in the Australian Constitution, these are the same values enshrined in the Chinese Constitution but not implemented. These are the values enshrined in our Charter which we aspire to". He went on to say that the issue of Tibet and success in resolving it were central to the future of Asia, asking "Who would have thought a year and a half ago they would have democracy [before the Arab Spring]? Now they have democracy. And who would have thought just months ago Aung San Suu Kyi would be free? (...) It's good news that it happened and it will happen to the Tibetan people".
One audience member posed the question of the possibility of democracy in China, to which DR. Sangay responded: "I do think actually democracy not just in China but generally in the world will prevail, because the universality of democracy is being established now [since the Arab Spring which showed the world that like Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism, Islam is also compatible with democracy]. Now the question is whether Confucianism is compatible with democracy or not, if China is a Confucius State". He then went on to point out optimistically that, given the examples of Confucian South Korea and Taiwan, both of which are democratic, this can be the case.
The Kalon Tripa's advice to Australians who wanted to help the Tibetan cause was that Australians should join up to Tibetan groups such as the Australia Tibet Council (ATC) or the Tibet Info Office, and write to their politicians because "Unless the politicians hear from their constituents, they don't act. You need to say ‘I vote for you, I would like you to support Tibet'. (...) When His Holiness comes in June next year be there, and continue to be our friends if you want to, if not it's alright, as you say in Australia ‘no worries'".
What Tibet Wants From China:
The Tibetan leader has a refreshing outlook to share when asked about his feelings regarding the Chinese people, and reaffirmed the legitimacy and non-threatening nature of Tibet's bid for genuine autonomy: "They have invaded us several times and one or two times we have invaded them also. We live side by side and we know pretty well what kind of people they are, given the choice they are really pretty nice people, we can get along with them. Sometimes they're not so nice, and in this part of history they're not so nice, at least the Chinese leadership, so we want to change that".
"All Tibetans ask for is genuine autonomy in China, within the framework of the Chinese Constitution. We are not challenging China's sovereignty; we are not challenging China's territorial integrity. Still, Beijing responds with hostility, unfortunately. (...) Because there is no space for any kind of protest, Tibetans start taking extreme measures. There is no space for Freedom of Speech".
The reason, he says, that Beijing doesn't want to grant Tibet autonomy is because Tibetans are not Chinese and can't be trusted. They are not part of the middle kingdom of ‘Zhongguo' and by definition are barbarians. Hence the Chinese idea: "Tibetans were liberated and civilised in the 1950s, they were dirty filthy slaves and we cleaned them up, now they're civilised". The crowd laughed as he made the joke that because we are also outside of Zhongguo, Australians are also considered barbarians. He noted that Tibet could be a catalyst to developments in Chinese diplomacy, because "When China grants autonomy to Tibet, it is the beginning of acceptance of diversity, it is the beginning of the acceptance that yes, we can cross someone different than us, we can grant autonomy to someone different than us". It is in this way he believes China will begin to deal with others with more respect, including Australia.
On the topic of restarting negotiations with China, Sangay said: "We have to reengage, to find a mutually acceptable solution, through a peaceful way. We have invested in democracy and non-violence, we will continue to invest in democracy and non-violence, if you believe in non-violence then dialogue is the way forward so we remain ready to engage in dialogue with the Chinese government to solve the issue of Tibet".
Ending on a light note that brought smiles to the faces of those in the audience, Dr. Sangay concluded with an anecdote: "On August 8th, the day of my inauguration, His Holiness came and gave a very moving speech, that is still remembered by Tibetans all around the world. When he was young, the political authority was handed over to him, and [to hand power to a democratically elected leader], this has been his long cherished goal. He often says this: ‘Oh, on August 8, that night, I had a very unusual sleep. Nine hours of sleep! And no dreams'. That means his long wish was fulfilled. And since that day it seems he sleeps very well. But my sleep pattern has changed!".
His final message before launching into the crowd to shake hands with members of his audience, amid a long round of applause, was this: "So be with Tibet and Tibetan people, and the more I hear good news from Australia I'll sleep better and better, and then I'll have a more normal life. So ‘til then, goodbye, good luck, and be with us, and if not, no worries. Thank you".