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Tibetan government-in-exile works to preserve Tibetan identity

Penpa Tsering.
Penpa Tsering. Source: ERR

Last week, during his visit to Estonia, Penpa Tsering, the leader of the exiled Tibetan leadership, met with members of the Tibet Support Group of the Riigikogu. Astrid Kannel, an ERR correspondent, met with a Tibetan political leader to discuss the future and ambitions of his fellow Tibetans.

Kannel was born in occupied Estonia in 1967, and Penpa Tsering was born in a refugee camp in India the same year. In terms of recovering independence, both Estonia and Tibet faced a difficult, if not hopeless, situation in 1967. Kannel now lives in a free country, but Tsering is grateful for the opportunity to enter the Estonian parliament, as not every democratic country in Europe accepts a Tibetan government-in-exile at the parliamentary level so as to avoid Chinese hostility.

"I was born in exile. My parents are from Tibet, so to fulfill my emotional needs, I often go to the India-Tibet border to see Tibet from the Indian side. India still has the India-Tibet Border Police and the India-Tibet Border Security Force. It has not become a border between China and India. "I think it also underlines India's position," Tsering said.

For most of its history, Tibet has not been part of any other country. Today, in the face of aggressive Chinese occupation, preserving identity is more important to Tibetans than independence.

"More than a million Tibetan children between the ages of eight and 18 are in colonial-style boarding schools, away from their culture, away from their language, away from their way of life. They are taught only in Mandarin, only Chinese ideology, loyalty to the party and loyalty to the government. All of this is designed to destroy or change the mindset of young Tibetans," Tsering said.

"Based on the reality of the current situation, the most important thing now is to preserve our identity. That is why His Holiness the Dalai Lama has proposed a middle way policy, and he is thinking first and foremost of our people. We want to set an example by resolving the conflict in a non-violent way, because violence begets violence, it's not a solution, it always creates more problems for the future, so we are striving for more autonomy," Tsering said.

When Tibet's second most important religious leader, the Panchen Lama, died 35 years ago and Tibetans chose a six-year-old boy to succeed him, the youngster and his family vanished from public view. In his place, China chose to impose its own child on the Tibetans.

"When China's chosen Panchen Lama visits Tibet, people are paid money to go and meet him, or people are paid to listen to him – just to show the world that Tibetans recognize China's chosen Panchen Lama," he said.

It is clear that today's China will not tolerate greater autonomy for Tibet. But does the Tibetan government in exile get along with Taiwan?

"We didn't have good relations with Taiwan in the 1960s and 1970s because they declared themselves to be the true leaders of China, and there was also the Mongolia-Tibet commission in Taiwan, which claimed that Mongolia and Tibet were part of China. But now they have solved it. The legislators have been working for the past few sessions to get rid of this Mongolia-Tibet commission, which has now been turned into a cultural center, but they have not been able to change the Constitution. I congratulated Taiwan's new president-elect, who will take office soon. When I was elected as the political leader of Tibet, Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu sent me a congratulatory letter," Tsering said.

Today, the Tibetan government-in-exile counts the United States as its greatest ally.

"At the moment it is the US, because the US is the only country that has a law on Tibet. The US government has passed a law, the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002, now amended to the Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2020, which includes the element of His Holiness's reincarnation: that His Holiness is responsible for reincarnation, not the Chinese government or any other government. And we are now also working with Congress to pass a law to counter Chinese propaganda and falsification of Tibetan history," Tsering said.

The visit of the head of the Tibetan government-in-exile to the Riigikogu did not go unnoticed by the Chinese authorities.

"I know that the Chinese embassy here in Estonia made an angry statement towards the Estonian government," Tsering said.

Remarks by spokesperson of Chinese Embassy in Estonia on the members of Riigikogu meeting with the head of the so-called "Tibetan government-in-exile," could be read on Chinese embassy website.

"The so-called 'Tibetan government-in-exile' is an out-and-out separatist political group and an illegal organization in total violation of China's Constitution and laws. It is not recognized by any country in the world. China firmly opposes any form of contact between any country and this organization for any reason. China urges the relevant Estonian parties to respect China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, not to meddle in China's internal affairs under the pretext of Tibet-related issues, and prevent disruption to the healthy development of China-Estonia relations. China will take necessary measures to resolutely safeguard its sovereignty, security and territorial integrity."

Tsering said that, nevertheless, he is not discouraged: "It's my job. I have to do my job. Our people are suffering inside Tibet. And I have to represent them. So we were in Tallinn, yesterday we were in Helsinki. But I believe the Estonian government and people understand much better how to stand on the right side of history."


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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