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  • 27 Nov, 2023
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We must continue our resistance, keep the Tibet issue alive: Tsering Passang on Tibetan Resistance Movement

Excerpts from our conversation with Tsering Passang la, Founder and Chair of Global Alliance for Tibet & Persecuted Minorities (GATPM), London, England. 

1. Could you share the most pressing challenges faced by Tibetans today, and how do you envision addressing them on an international platform?

Since the illegal occupation of Tibet by the People’s Republic of China in 1950, the political, the cultural, the traditional way of life as well as the geographical landscape of Tibet changed forever. In addition to unimaginable suffering, deaths, atrocities and destruction, Tibetans have become a minority in their own homelands. We still continue to face pressing challenges both within Tibet and in the diaspora community on multiple fronts. The meteoric rise of China’s economy means that the balance of power on the world stage has already started to shift, especially those Global South countries aligning more towards China for a range of reasons. Whilst this emerging shift in geopolitics affects the Tibetans, we must retain our patience and persevere in our just freedom struggle. Some of these key challenges include:

(i) Political Autonomy: The “Memorandum on Genuine Autonomy for the Tibetan people”, a formal document submitted to the Chinese leadership fifteen years ago, in November 2008, was aimed at securing a lasting peace and resolution to the China-Tibet conflict, seeking a genuine self-rule for the Tibetan people within the framework of the People’s Republic of China’s Constitution. Beijing flatly rejected the proposal, championed by the Dalai Lama, who truly represents both the Tibetans in China’s occupied Tibet as well as those in the diaspora community. So far, we have yet to see any counter proposal from Beijing. There is currently no dialogue between the two sides at official level.

(ii) Cultural and Religious Suppression: The Chinese authorities have been criticised for policies that undermine Tibetan culture and religious practices. This includes restrictions on language use, religious teachings, and the preservation of our cultural heritage.

(iii) Environmental Issues: The Tibetan plateau is a vital ecological region, and environmental degradation, such as deforestation and climate change, poses significant challenges to both the environment and the livelihoods of Tibetans and many others. Damming of rivers originating from Tibet, as well as redirecting natural river courses to China’s hinterlands are a matter of great concern. Such actions have huge implications, especially to those in the downstream, who depend on it, including about a billion people in India and Bangladesh. Mining of Tibet’s natural resources is another major concern which has serious environmental consequences.

(iv) Human Rights Violations: Reports of human rights abuses, including restrictions on freedom of expression, religion, and assembly, have been a longstanding concern in Tibet. Another growing concern is that Beijing continues to engage in the curtailment of free speech of Tibetans living in Western countries from taking part in political and human rights protests against China.

To address these challenges on an international platform, several strategies can be considered:

(a) Diplomacy and Advocacy: Engaging in diplomatic efforts to raise awareness and garner support for the Tibetan cause on the international stage can be effective. Advocacy groups and concerned nations can pressure the Chinese government to address human rights violations and respect cultural and religious freedoms.

(b) International Cooperation: Building alliances with other nations and international organisations to collectively address human rights issues in Tibet can amplify the impact of efforts to bring about change.

(c) Media and Information Dissemination: Utilising media and information channels to disseminate accurate information about the situation in Tibet can help raise awareness and build public support, both domestically and internationally.

(d) Environmental Conservation Initiatives: Collaborating on environmental initiatives to address the ecological challenges facing Tibet can be a common ground for international cooperation. Climate change and environmental degradation are global concerns that require collective action.

(e) Support for Tibetan Refugees: Providing support for Tibetan refugees and promoting their rights can be part of an international effort to address the challenges faced by the Tibetan population.

It's important to note that addressing these challenges requires a nuanced and diplomatic approach, as well as a commitment to dialogue and cooperation. International platforms, such as the United Nations, can play a crucial role in facilitating discussions and promoting solutions to ensure the well-being and rights of the Tibetan people. It is time the UN revisits the UNGA Resolutions on Tibet passed in 1959, 1961 and 1965 to secure justice for the Tibetan people who have been pursuing the path of nonviolence to the China-Tibet conflict.

2. How do you perceive the impact of social media and digital advocacy in raising awareness about Tibet's situation globally?

In the absence or lack of coverage by the mainstream media, social media and digital advocacy have played a significant role in raising awareness about Tibet's situation globally. It is encouraging that more and more younger generations and our friends are using social media platforms to advance the just cause of Tibet. We should do so even more! Here are some ways in which they have had an impact:

(i) Global Reach and Accessibility: Social media platforms enable information about Tibet to reach a global audience instantly. People from various parts of the world can access real-time updates, news, and personal stories, fostering a broader understanding of the challenges faced by Tibetans.

(ii) Amplification of Voices: Digital advocacy allows individuals and organisations to amplify their voices, even in the absence of traditional or mainstream media coverage. Tibetan activists, human rights organisations, and concerned individuals can share information, images, and videos to convey their messages directly to a wide audience.

(iii) Real-Time Updates: Social media provides a platform for real-time updates on events and developments in Tibet. This immediacy helps in countering misinformation and ensures that accurate information is disseminated promptly.

(iv) Engagement and Dialogue: Social media facilitates direct engagement between activists, organisations, and the general public. This creates a space for dialogue, discussion, and the exchange of ideas, fostering a sense of global community around the Tibetan cause.

(v) Awareness Campaigns: Digital platforms allow for the creation of awareness campaigns, hashtags, and movements. These campaigns can go viral, drawing attention to specific issues or events in Tibet and encouraging people to learn more, share information, and take action.

(vi) Visual Storytelling: Platforms like Instagram, X (formerly Twitter), Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube enable powerful visual storytelling. Images and videos can evoke strong emotions and provide a more visceral understanding of the situation in Tibet, making it more relatable to a global audience.

(vii) Advocacy Coordination: Social media serves as a tool for coordinating advocacy efforts on a global scale. It allows different organisations and activists to collaborate, share resources, and synchronise their efforts, creating a more unified and impactful advocacy front.

(viii) International Solidarity: Digital platforms facilitate the expression of international solidarity. People around the world can show support for Tibetans through online campaigns, petitions, and awareness initiatives, creating a sense of shared responsibility for human rights and justice.

While social media and digital advocacy have proven effective in raising awareness, it's essential to recognise the potential challenges, such as the spread of misinformation and the need for sustained, offline actions. Additionally, the impact may vary across different regions and demographics, as access to and engagement with social media can differ. Nevertheless, these platforms continue to be valuable tools for shedding light on Tibet's situation and mobilising global support for the Tibetan cause.

3. Could you provide some information on the origins and establishment of the Global Alliance for Tibet and Persecuted Minorities?

During the COVID period, in 2020, with support of my friends, I started webinars by inviting parliamentarians, scholars, rights advocates and political activists to discuss dissent of voices in China’s occupied Tibet and East Turkistan, including human rights and political freedom. A year later, with encouragement and support from friends, the Global Alliance for Tibet & Persecuted Minorities was registered as a not-for-profit entity in the UK to continue our efforts to advance the cause of Tibet as well as those facing persecutions worldwide. Due to lack of resources we have been focussing our effort on China and its occupied countries, where human rights violations are taking place on a daily basis. It is vital that we in the free country speak up for the voiceless people and highlight the heinous crimes being committed by the Chinese State.

4. In your opinion, what role does international support play in advancing the Tibetan cause, and how can individuals contribute effectively?

International support plays a crucial role in advancing the Tibetan cause by providing a platform for advocacy, increasing diplomatic pressure, and fostering a global understanding of the issues faced by Tibetans. Here are some key aspects of the role of international support:

(i) Diplomatic Pressure: When nations and international organisations express concern about human rights violations, cultural suppression, and political autonomy in Tibet, it can exert diplomatic pressure on the Chinese government. This pressure may lead to increased scrutiny, dialogue, and potentially positive changes in policies affecting Tibetans.

(ii) Awareness and Solidarity: International support helps raise awareness about the situation in Tibet on a global scale. This awareness contributes to a sense of international solidarity, where individuals and communities around the world stand in support of the Tibetan people and their rights.

(iii) Advocacy for Human Rights: Nations and advocacy groups can use their influence to advocate for the protection of human rights in Tibet. This includes efforts to end arbitrary arrests, promote religious freedom, and ensure the right to cultural expression.

(iv) Political and Economic Leverage: Countries and businesses can use their economic and political leverage to encourage the Chinese government to address concerns related to Tibet. This can include trade negotiations, diplomatic discussions, and conditions for international cooperation.

(v) International Forums: Engaging in international forums, such as the United Nations, allows for a multilateral approach to addressing the Tibetan cause. Resolutions, discussions, and statements made in these forums can contribute to shaping a global response.

Individuals can contribute effectively to advancing the Tibetan cause in several ways:

(a) Raise Awareness: Share information about Tibet on social media, engage in conversations, and raise awareness among your social circles about the challenges faced by Tibetans.

(b) Support Advocacy Groups: Contribute to or support organisations and advocacy groups dedicated to Tibetan rights. These groups often play a crucial role in lobbying, raising awareness, and providing assistance to the Tibetan community.

(c) Contact Elected Representatives: Reach out to your elected representatives (local or national level) and express your concerns about the situation in Tibet. Encourage them to take a stance on human rights issues and advocate for Tibet in national and international forums. This can be raising Tibet's National Flag at the Town Hall at the local level.

(d) Participate in Campaigns: Join or initiate campaigns that focus on specific issues affecting Tibet, such as human rights abuses, environmental concerns, or cultural preservation. Engage with online and offline campaigns to maximise impact.

(e) Educate Others: Take the time to educate yourself and others about the history, culture, and current challenges faced by Tibetans. Knowledge is a powerful tool in fostering understanding and support.

(f) Attend Events and Conferences: Participate in events, conferences, and seminars that discuss Tibet-related issues. These platforms provide opportunities to learn, connect with activists, and contribute to the global dialogue on Tibet.

Effective change often comes from a combination of individual actions and collective efforts. By staying informed, raising awareness, and advocating for positive change, individuals can play a meaningful role in advancing the Tibetan cause on the international stage.

5. In what ways can the UK actively engage in promoting awareness, advocating for human rights, and supporting the Tibetan cause to bring about positive change for Tibet?

With its unique position and past historical relation with the independent Tibet, the United Kingdom can play a vital role and actively engage in promoting awareness, advocating for human rights, and supporting the Tibetan cause through various diplomatic, political, and civil society channels. Here are several ways in which the UK can contribute to positive change for Tibet:

(i) Diplomatic Engagement:

  • Use diplomatic channels to express concerns about human rights violations and restrictions in Tibet. Consistently raise these issues in bilateral discussions with Chinese officials.
  • Advocate for international investigations into reported human rights abuses and restrictions on religious and cultural practices in Tibet.
  • Great Britain and Tibet had signed multiple treaties and agreements which can be a useful tool to reignite Tibet’s past historical facts.

(ii) International Forums and Alliances:

  • Engage in international forums, such as the United Nations, and support resolutions that address human rights issues in Tibet. Work collaboratively with like-minded nations to build a collective voice on Tibet-related concerns.
  • Strengthen alliances with countries that share similar values on human rights and democratic principles to amplify diplomatic efforts.
  • Invest in building alliances in the Global South, such as the African Union, Latin America, Arab and Middle East.

(iii) Human Rights Dialogues: Establish or participate in human rights dialogues with China, addressing specific concerns related to Tibet. Use these dialogues to press for concrete actions to improve the human rights situation and address cultural and religious suppression.

(iv) Support for Civil Society and Advocacy Groups: Provide support to Tibetan advocacy groups and civil society organisations that work to promote human rights, cultural preservation, and political autonomy. This support can include funding, diplomatic recognition, and platforms for advocacy.

(v) Educational Initiatives: Integrate Tibet-related content into educational curricula to raise awareness among the general public and future leaders. This can include information on Tibetan history, culture, and the current challenges faced by Tibetans.

(vi) Media Engagement: Encourage responsible media coverage of Tibet-related issues and facilitate access for journalists to report independently from Tibet. Provide accurate and unbiased information to counteract misinformation.

(vii) Promote Religious Freedom: Advocate for the protection of religious freedom in Tibet. Highlight cases of religious persecution and restrictions on the practice of Tibetan Buddhism, encouraging the Chinese government to respect the right to religious expression.

(viii) Public Statements and Position Papers: Issue public statements condemning human rights abuses in Tibet and articulating the UK's stance on key issues. Develop position papers outlining the UK's policy objectives and expectations regarding Tibet.

(ix) Consular Support for Tibetans: Provide consular support to Tibetans living in the UK or their relatives in Tibet or in the Indian subcontinent, including those who may have sought asylum or face challenges related to their status. This demonstrates solidarity with the Tibetan community.

(x) Promote Environmental Sustainability: Advocate for sustainable environmental policies in Tibet, given its strategic ecological importance. Collaborate with international partners to address environmental challenges and promote responsible development practices.

By taking a multifaceted approach that combines diplomatic efforts, support for civil society, educational initiatives, and public advocacy, the UK can contribute significantly to promoting positive change for Tibet and raising awareness about the challenges faced by the Tibetan people.

6. How do you view the geopolitical implications and potential challenges arising from the issue of the Dalai Lama's succession, especially considering the active involvement of Beijing in attempting to control the reincarnation process and the concerns raised about human rights violations and cultural suppression in Tibet?

The issue of the Dalai Lama's succession carries significant geopolitical implications and potential challenges, particularly due to the historical and ongoing tensions between the Tibetan leadership, represented by the Dalai Lama, and the Chinese government. Here are some key aspects to consider:

(i) Spiritual and Cultural Significance: The Dalai Lama holds immense spiritual and cultural significance for Tibetan Buddhists, and his succession is a critical event with deep implications for Tibetan identity and autonomy. The Chinese government's attempts to control the reincarnation process raise concerns about interference in Tibetan religious affairs and the suppression of cultural and religious practices.

(ii) Strategic Importance: The Dalai Lama is not only a religious figure but also a symbol of Tibetan political aspirations. The manner in which his successor is identified and recognised can have broader geopolitical implications, impacting Tibet's quest for self-rule and international support for Tibetan rights.

(iii) Human Rights Concerns: The Chinese government's control over the reincarnation process and its interference in religious affairs raise human rights concerns. Restrictions on the selection of religious leaders and interference in spiritual practices infringe upon the fundamental rights of Tibetans to freedom of religion and belief.

(iv) International Response: The Dalai Lama's succession is likely to draw international attention, with many countries and human rights organisations closely monitoring the issue. The international community may express concern if there are indications of interference in the selection process or if the rights of Tibetans to practise their religion freely are compromised.

(v) Potential for Unrest: The handling of the Dalai Lama's succession could impact stability in Tibet. If there is a perception of interference or if the chosen successor lacks legitimacy in the eyes of the Tibetan people, it may lead to social and political unrest.

(vi) Diplomatic Relations: The issue of the Dalai Lama's succession has the potential to strain diplomatic relations between China and other nations. Countries may face difficult decisions regarding whether to acknowledge and support the Chinese-appointed successor or express solidarity with the Tibetan religious leadership.

(vii) Tibetan Diaspora: The Tibetan diaspora, particularly in countries like India, where the Central Tibetan Administration (aka Tibetan Government-in-exile) is based, plays a role in shaping international perspectives on the Dalai Lama's succession. The response of the diaspora and their host countries can influence global opinions and actions on this matter.

(viii) Cultural Preservation: The Dalai Lama is a key figure in the preservation of Tibetan culture and identity. Any attempt to control the succession in a way that undermines Tibetan cultural values and practices may intensify concerns about cultural suppression.

In light of these implications, it is essential for the international community to closely monitor developments related to the Dalai Lama's succession, advocate for the protection of religious and cultural rights in Tibet, and address any human rights violations that may arise in the process. A diplomatic and principled approach will be crucial in navigating the geopolitical challenges associated with this issue.

7. How can the international community address and effectively respond to China's occupation of Tibet, especially considering the ongoing human rights violations, curtailment of freedoms, and cultural assimilation policies being imposed on the Tibetan people?

Addressing China's occupation of Tibet and responding to the ongoing human rights violations, curtailment of freedoms, and cultural assimilation policies require a comprehensive and coordinated approach from the international community. Here are some strategies that can be considered:

(i) Diplomatic Engagement: Diplomatic pressure is crucial. Governments, particularly those with diplomatic relations with China, should consistently raise concerns about human rights violations and religious and cultural suppression in Tibet. This can be done through bilateral discussions, public statements, and resolutions in international forums.

(ii) Multilateral Forums: Encourage discussions on Tibet in multilateral forums such as the United Nations and provide Observer’s seat to the Tibetan Government-in-exile. Advocate for resolutions and initiatives that address the human rights situation and promote cultural and religious freedoms. Coordinate efforts with like-minded nations to build a unified approach.

(iii) Human Rights Monitoring: Support and facilitate international human rights monitoring mechanisms in Tibet. This can involve independent investigations, fact-finding missions, and regular reporting on the human rights situation.

(iv) Sanctions and Accountability Measures: Consider targeted sanctions against individuals or entities responsible for human rights violations in Tibet. This may include travel bans, asset freezes, or other measures to hold accountable those involved in repressive policies.

(v) Cultural Preservation Initiatives: Support initiatives that promote the preservation of Tibetan culture and language. This can include funding cultural programmes, educational initiatives, and projects aimed at safeguarding Tibetan heritage.

(vi) Raise Public Awareness: Engage in public awareness campaigns to inform the global public about the situation in Tibet. Social media, documentaries, and other forms of communication can be powerful tools to raise awareness and mobilise public support.

(vii) Humanitarian Assistance: Provide humanitarian assistance to Tibetans affected by displacement, environmental challenges, or other consequences of China’s policies. Support Tibetan refugee communities and address their basic needs.

(viii) Capacity Building of Diaspora Communities: Nearly half of the exiled Tibetan population are now scattered across some 20 countries outside the Indian subcontinent. Providing all necessary support and strengthening their capacity to advance their cause will make a significant difference.

(ix) Dialogue and Negotiation: Advocate for a peaceful and negotiated resolution to the Tibet issue through dialogue between the Chinese government and Tibetan representatives. Encourage both sides to engage in meaningful and constructive discussions.

(x) International Solidarity: Encourage international solidarity by fostering partnerships between governments, non-governmental organisations, and individuals committed to supporting the Tibetan cause. A united front can amplify the impact of efforts to address the situation in Tibet.

(xii) Corporate Responsibility: Encourage businesses and corporations to uphold ethical practices in their dealings with China and ensure they are not inadvertently supporting policies that contribute to human rights abuses in Tibet.

(xiii) Legal Initiatives: Explore legal avenues, such as international courts or independent tribunals, to address human rights violations. Advocate for accountability and justice for victims of abuses in Tibet.

It is important to note that addressing the situation in Tibet is a complex and sensitive matter. A multifaceted approach that combines diplomatic efforts, human rights advocacy, cultural preservation, and international cooperation is more likely to yield positive results. Additionally, sustained and coordinated action from the international community is essential to bring about meaningful change for the Tibetan people.

8. How do you think the protests in San Francisco against the Chinese President Xi Jinping during the recent APEC Summit contribute to the broader discourse on Sino-U.S. relations and issues such as human rights and geopolitical tensions?

The United States has a long history of providing its vital support to the Tibetan people whether it is political or in financial terms. Many in the US and beyond did their best to impress upon President Biden to raise Tibet and human rights violations by China with his Chinese counterpart at the APEC Summit. For the US, it is vital to engage with the Chinese side on a range of other major global issues, including tension in the Taiwan Straits. It appears that the meeting of these two leaders at the recent APEC Summit has helped to de-escalate some tensions and revive top level communications to avoid any misunderstanding that can have serious consequences, including international security.

Tibetans and supporters used the important event and visit by Xi Jinping to send direct messages to the concerned leaders that Tibet is still under China’s illegal occupation and it requires global attention and support to resolve the conflict. Some ‘thugs’, possibly linked to the CCP, who thrashed the peaceful protesters, including Chinese and Tibetans on American soil is a matter of serious concern. In October 2022, at least one official from the Chinese Consulate in Manchester was involved in beating peaceful protesters on British soil. Such thuggery actions, imported from China, in western countries will actually help to raise the situation of human rights in China and its occupied countries.

(i) Highlighting Human Rights Concerns: Protests against Xi Jinping have helped to draw attention to human rights issues, including concerns about political freedoms, freedom of expression, and religious rights of the Tibetan people. Such protests can bring these concerns to the forefront of international discourse, prompting discussions about the human rights situation in China.

(ii) Impact on Diplomacy: Protests can influence diplomatic relations between the United States and China. They may lead to increased scrutiny of human rights policies and could impact the tone and substance of bilateral discussions. The Chinese government might respond defensively, potentially leading to increased tension between the two nations.

(iii) Global Solidarity: Protests against a leader at an international event can signify solidarity with people facing human rights challenges in China. They send a message that there is global concern about certain policies and practices, encouraging international leaders to address these issues in their engagements with China.

(iv) Media Coverage and Public Opinion: Protests often attract media attention, both domestically and internationally. This coverage can shape public opinion and influence how people perceive China's government and its actions. It contributes to the broader narrative on the state of democracy, human rights, and political freedoms in China.

(v) Influence on Policy Decisions: Public demonstrations can impact political decision-making. Elected officials may feel pressure to take a stance on human rights issues or adjust their policies based on public sentiment. Protests contribute to the overall public discourse that informs policymaking.

(vi) Complexity of Sino-US Relations: Sino-US relations are multifaceted, involving economic, political, and security considerations. While protests may bring attention to human rights concerns, they are just one element in the complex web of issues that characterise the relationship between the two nations.

It's important to note that the impact of protests depends on various factors, including the scale of the demonstrations, the international context, and the responses from both the protesting parties and the government being protested against. Public demonstrations can contribute to shaping the broader discourse on Sino-US relations, but their overall impact is part of a larger and ongoing diplomatic, economic, and geopolitical dynamic.

9. Can you highlight specific achievements or milestones in your activism that you are particularly proud of?

My father was a member of the Tibetan Resistance Movement based in Mustang, near the Nepal-Tibet border, in the 1960s until its closure in the early ‘70s. I was born and raised in refugee camps in western Nepal, relocating from one camp to another for basic food, shelter, and education, until I came to the UK to pursue further education through a scholarship scheme in 1996.

Established by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Government-in-exile ensures all Tibetan refugee children receive decent education from an early age on. Despite so many personal challenges, I successfully completed my schooling in Nepal and India, and later in England. As a child I have lots of memories growing up in our refugee camp and schools, including my interaction with those elders, who were part of the armed resistance movement against the incoming Chinese forces in Tibet, before escorting His Holiness the Dalai Lama to safety into exile in India. They then trekked to Nepal and joined the covert operation - the Tibetan resistance movement based in Mustang with the CIA’s backing.

Personally, I have chosen the path shown by our leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, over armed resistance or violence means to secure freedom and justice for our people though this might become necessary to some extent in the future 6as a part of our freedom struggle campaign. From my student days in India, and the subsequent years in England, to the present day, I have always been pro-actively engaging in highlighting the wrongs and atrocities committed by the Chinese State against our people. In addition to my blog and social media postings, an increasing number of independent publishers, including The Independent and The Guardian have published my writings, in challenge of China’s wrongs in Tibet and their narratives. We continue working with like-minded causes and groups and organise joint protests and events whilst fostering new alliances.

My experience over the past two decades of direct interaction with foreign governments’ officials and diplomats, lawmakers, lawyers, journalists as well as Chinese dissidents and rights activists has convinced me that we are on the right course to achieving a big milestone. Regaining our political freedom and justice - the aspiration of all Tibetans - from Communist China may take some more years, but as Buddhists, we learn patience. With perseverance and renewed efforts, I am convinced that we will achieve the ultimate milestone of securing our freedom from China, and Tibet to be ruled by the Tibetans just like we did before CCP’s illegal occupation of our homelands. Until then we must continue our resistance, keep the Tibet issue alive and expose the heinous crimes and atrocities committed by the Chinese State to the whole world. For this, we need to pursue our efforts whilst seeking continued assistance from our friends and allies.