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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Chinese students at the University of Toronto protest over the speech by Sikyong Dr. Lobsang Sangay

November 29, 2018

Central Tibetan Administration, November 20, 2018- Toronto: “That’s a beautiful lake. I never got to see it before,” President Dr Sangay tells his entourage as they drive by Toronto’s urban waterfront towards University of Toronto’s Hart House where he is scheduled to give a talk. 

One of the organizers gets a phone call from the university campus cautioning that there are Chinese students holding a demonstration. Instantly, there is a panic in the car. The organizers are trying to figure out how to handle the situation. 

“Don’t worry, I’m used to it,” says President Sengye. The lion is as calm as the lake they are passing by. 

At the Hart House, Central Tibetan Administration’s President Dr Lobsang Sangay tells the audience the event is “a celebration of freedom of speech.” He explains that people inside in room have the right to speak their minds and the Chinese students outside are entitled to the same right. “Although those of us inside have the advantage of being in a warm, cozy room, rather than having to stand outside in the cold, gusty wind,” he jokes. 

 “In China, they cannot freely hold protests like the one outside. If they do it in China, many of them will be arrested and go to jail. So we are celebrating freedom of speech today.” 

A Chinese student in the audience asked who should be the ruler of Tibet. 

“A Tibetan should be the ruler of Tibet,” the President responded swiftly. 

In the last 60 years, he explained, the Party Secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) has never been a Tibetan. It has always been a Chinese and a Han Chinese. 

China’s White Paper says, “Tibetans are masters of their region.” However, Tibetans in the so-called TAR face systemic discrimination under the Chinese Communist Party’s rule. 

Whether it’s the regional, prefecture, or county level, a Tibetan who is equally or more qualified than a Chinese is never given a high-ranking government position, explained President Sangay. 

“If we were to hold an election in Tibet tomorrow, I’m sure I would win,” declared President Sangay. “Not because I am Lobsang Sangay, but because I am a Tibetan.” 

Another Chinese student said he went to Tibet and what he saw was, “They have Tibetan classes. Every morning they sing Tibetan traditional songs. So how you do explain that?”

President Sangay thanked the Chinese student for raising that point which is a common view among many Chinese tourists who visit Tibet. 

“When a Chinese tourist goes to Tibet and asks a Tibetan whether they are happy, obviously the Tibetan will say they are pretty happy because you are Chinese. Because the police man is a Chinese, the military, and intelligence officers are all Chinese. If you give the wrong answer, you will find yourself in the wrong place,” warned President Sangay.  

He further explained that the answer you receive from the local Tibetans also depends on the language you use to communicate. “If you ask a Tibetan in Chinese, ‘Nǐ shì zhōngguó rén ma?’ (Are you Chinese?), they will say, “Hǎo” (Yes). They will give the politically correct answer.”  

Perhaps this was the first time there was some unity in the room. Both the Tibetans and the Chinese present were astonished and impressed to hear the elected leader of the Tibetan people speaking in Chinese.  

“If you ask that question in English,” President Sangay continued, “they will say ‘I am a Tibetan from China. So, I’m a little different.'” 

“However, you can ask the same question in Tibetan, ‘Kherang gyame yen pe?’ They will say, ‘Min, nga bodpa yin'” (No, I am a Tibetan).  

It would be fair to say that the fruitful discussions between President Sangay and the Chinese university students in the audience gave a preview of what an open dialogue between Tibetans and Chinese may look like. 

At the end of the talk, a Chinese student asked if they could organize future events with Tibetans to keep the discussions and dialogues going.  

“Of course, I encourage you all to meet and have these types of events,” replied President Sangay who remains as calm as the lake he passed by earlier. 

The Hart House is conceived as a place for intellectual functions, and its debating club has hosted notable figures including John F. Kennedy, Brian Mulroney, and Noam Chomsky. 

It seems like the right place to play host to a genuine dialogue between envoys of His Holiness the Dalai and representatives of the Chinese government.

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