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Newly Elected Sikyong Open to 'New' Channels of Communication With Beijing on Tibetan Autonomy

2021-06-02 -- Penpa Tsering, Sikyong of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), said Wednesday that he is willing to forgo traditional channels of communication to revive talks with Beijing over Tibetan autonomy under Chinese rule, days after being sworn in as the head of Tibet's India-based government-in-exile.

Tsering, former speaker of Tibet's exile parliament in Dharamsala, won a closely fought April 11 election to become the Sikyong of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) held in Tibetan communities worldwide over Kelsang Dorjee Aukatsang, with the turnout the highest in the history of Tibetan elections held in exile.

Last week, at his inauguration, Tsering vowed to adhere to the Middle Way policy of the CTA and the Dalai Lama, which accepts Tibet's status as a part of China but urges greater cultural and religious freedom, including strengthened language rights, for Tibetans living under Beijing's rule.

However, on Wednesday, the Sikyong told RFA's Tibetan Service that he would not rule out exploring new avenues for dialogue with Beijing in pursuit of a resolution.

"One of the key priorities is the reviving of the Sino-Tibetan dialogue," he said, acknowledging that it is too early in his administration to provide any details, but promising "further discussion on this matter in coming days."

"We will make all efforts for further progress, whether through existing back channels of communication or new ones, if needed."

Tsering said he had met with the Dalai Lama on Wednesday morning to "address some of the pressing issues concerning our community" and discuss "recommencing the Sino-Tibet dialogue."

He said he also presented the 85-year-old Tibetan spiritual leader with the names of the CTA's new cabinet members, which he is currently unable to reveal, and plans on how the government-in-exile will engage with the international community—particularly the Indian government.

Tsering noted that the Dalai Lama stressed the importance of preserving Tibet's religious tradition and culture, and also expressed his wish to return to the region.

Divisions persist in the Tibetan exile community—about 150,000 people living in 40 countries, mainly Indian, Nepal, North America, and in Europe—over how best to advance the rights of the 6.3 million Tibetans living in China, with some calling for a restoration of the independence lost when Chinese troops marched into Tibet in 1950.

Tibet's invasion and incorporation into China by force prompted the Dalai Lama and thousands of his followers to flee into exile in India and other countries around the world.

Chinese authorities maintain a tight grip on the region, restricting Tibetans' political activities and peaceful expression of cultural and religious identity, and subjecting Tibetans to persecution, torture, imprisonment, and extrajudicial killings.

Constitutional crisis

The fifth elected CTA leader, Tsering replaced Lobsang Sangay, a Harvard-trained scholar of law, who had served two consecutive five-year terms as Sikyong, an office filled by candidates elected since 2011 by popular vote.

The inauguration of Tsering came after the resolution of a two-month constitutional crisis in Dharamsala, after the removal on March 25 of Chief Justice Sonam Norbu Dagpo and commissioners Karma Damdul and Tenzin Lungtok of the Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission by the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile, who accused the trio of interfering in the internal proceedings of the legislature.

The ouster of the justices was triggered after the justices penalized the parliament's speaker, deputy speaker, and 11-member standing committee by revoking their voting rights for six months after they cancelled the September session of the parliament.

The justices resumed office last week, after 21 members of parliament sent them a letter, admitting the sacking of the justices on March 25 had violated provisions of the Tibetan charter.

Speaker Pema Jungney of the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile, who led the sacking of the justices in March, resigned both as speaker and Member of Parliament on April 8, denying any wrongdoing.

Speaking to RFA on Wednesday, Tsering called himself "someone who has always held the constitution above oneself" and deferred questions about the recent shakeup to lawmakers.

"The parliamentarians who voted out the Chief Justice and commissioners of the Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission earlier this March should answer whether this was a constitutional crisis or not," he said.

The newly elected parliament was slated to be sworn in over the weekend, but a COVID-19- related curfew in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, where Dharamsala is located, has been extended to May 31, amid international travel restrictions, creating uncertainty about the schedule.

Reported by Kalden Lodoe for RFA's Tibetan Service. Translated by Tenzin Dickyi. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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