The United States has congratulated Tibetan exile political leader Penpa Tsering on his election as Sikyong, or head of Tibet’s India-based government-in-exile, the Central Tibetan Administration, following the official announcement of Tsering’s win on May 14.
“The United States congratulates Penpa Tsering on his election as the Central Tibetan Administration’s (CTA) next Sikyong,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Twitter on May 14, after Tsering’s win was announced.
“We look forward to working with him and the CTA to support the global Tibetan diaspora,” Price said.
Formerly an independent nation, Tibet was invaded and incorporated into China by force 70 years ago, following which Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and thousands of his followers fled into exile in India and other countries around the world.
The Tibetan diaspora is now estimated to include about 150,000 people living in 40 countries, mainly Indian, Nepal, North America, and in Europe.
In an unprecedented move, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Taiwan—a self-governing island claimed by China as a renegade province—also congratulated Tsering on his electoral win in a message sent to the CTA’s representative in Taiwan and a letter sent to the new exile leader.
Speaking to RFA’s Mandarin Service on May 17, Kelsang Gyaltsen Bawa—representative of the Tibet Religious Foundation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the de facto embassy of Tibet’s exile government in Tapei—welcomed the CTA’s growing ties with Washington and Taipei.
“In 2020, the United States passed the U.S. Support for Tibet Act, which acknowledges the legality of the [exile] Tibetan administration,” Bawa said. “Our democratically elected chief executive can also be officially invited to visit the U.S. State Department and the White House as a result of the new U.S. policy on Tibet,” he said.
“Now the most important test for Penpa Tsering will be whether peace talks [with Beijing] can be opened through the Middle Way. He is well-known for his faithful adherence to the Middle Way policy of the Dalai Lama,” Bawa said.
“Will the Chinese government respond positively? This will need to be observed and tested [over time],” he said.
Divisions persist in the Tibetan exile community over how best to advance the rights and freedoms of Tibetans living in China, with some calling for a restoration of the independence lost when Chinese troops marched into Tibet in 1950.
The CTA and the Dalai Lama have instead adopted a policy approach called the Middle Way, 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.
Also speaking to RFA, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council—which manages the democratic island’s relations with China—congratulated Tibet’s exile community on the success of their election for a new leader.
“Democracy, freedom, and human rights are universal values,” the Council said. “We express our respect for the Tibetans around the world who braved the [COVID-19] pandemic and showed the true power of public opinion.”
In a May 16 article, China’s official Global Times newspaper predicted that Penpa Tsering as head of the CTA will now continue what the Times called a policy marked by repeated failures.
“The so-called ‘middle way approach’ is to realize a Tibetan ‘high degree of autonomy’ and then independence,” Zhu Weiqun—former head of the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Consultative Conference—told the Times in an interview.
“This is impossible, and the essence of the approach has been seen through,” Zhu said.
Call to boycott Olympics
In a statement this week, a coalition of rights groups representing Tibetans, Hong Kong people, and ethnic Southern Mongolians and Muslim Uyghurs called on world governments to boycott the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games, pointing to China’s “campaign of repression in East Turkestan, Tibet and Southern Mongolia, as well as an all-out assault on democracy in Hong Kong.”
“Participating in the Beijing Olympic Games at this time would be tantamount to endorsing China’s genocide against the Uyghur people,” the rights group said, referring to China’s suppression of Uyghur culture and internment of more than a million Uyghurs in a vast network of political reeducation camps in northwest China’s region of Xinjiang.
“It is now up to the international community to take action,” the rights groups said.
Reported and translated by RFA’s Mandarin Service and Tibetan Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.
This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by Radio Free Asia.