After 60 years of dashed hopes, the Tibetan world was recently set ablaze with news of Samdhong Rinpoche’s supposed visit to China. Word first broke in The Wire, in a report titled “The Dalai Lama wants to return home” authored by former Indian ambassador Phunchok Stobdan. This was swiftly followed by supporting reports in the Tibetan Journal, titled “Dalai Lama’s envoy Samdhong Rinpoche discreetly visited China”, published on 6th December 2017.
Since the exciting news of Samdhong Rinpoche’s trip was first released however, the Tibetans and their supporters have descended into an ever-deepening chasm of confusion. This is thanks to multiple reports by the likes of Sikyong Lobsang Sangay confirming the visit, followed by denials from none other than the man himself, Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche.
Sikyong Lobsang Sangay is the current Tibetan Prime Minister, having succeeded Samdhong Rinpoche as the head of the Tibetan leadership. Both were recently appointed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama as the Dalai Lama’s personal envoys so it is safe to say these two men are the top leaders of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA; Tibetan leadership in Dharamsala, India). Yet, the apparent lack of coordination between the top leaders means speculation now runs rife as to the transparency of the Tibetan leadership when dealing with matters relating to the Dalai Lama and Tibetan people’s return to Tibet. To clarify matters:
Timeline of the Debacle
- 4th December 2017 – The Wire first breaks the story about Samdhong Rinpoche visiting China, in an article titled “The Dalai Lama wants to return home”.
- 6th December 2017 – Tibetan Journal publishes “Dalai Lama’s envoy Samdhong Rinpoche discreetly visited China”, confirming Samdhong Rinpoche’s visit.
- 15th December 2017 – Phayul publishes “Cautious Sangay says Samdhong Rinpoche made a private visit to China”, with Sikyong Lobsang Sangay confirming that Samdhong Rinpoche has paid a private visit to China. He even adds the caveat that people should not read too much into the visit. Yet, the fact of the matter is, Lobsang Sangay is confirming that a trip was made and no trip to China that involves the Dalai Lama’s envoy can ever be ‘just’ a private visit.
- 15th December 2017 – The Tribune publishes “Dalai Lama headed to China on pvt [private] visit?” Authored by Ajay Banerjee, The Tribune later amends the title of the story to “Former Tibetan government head visited China recently”, based on advice from the CTA. This correction is, in essence, another confirmation by the CTA that Samdhong Rinpoche did visit China.
- 19th December 2017 – The Diplomat publishes “A Secret Visit and Sino-Tibetan Dialogue” confirming Samdhong Rinpoche’s visit to China, claiming it to be a private trip.
- 19th December 2017 – two weeks after the first reports of his trip, Phayul finally publishes Samdhong Rinpoche’s denial that he visited China recently, in an article titled “Samdhong Rinpoche denies visiting China, says no plans for Dalai Lama as well”.
- 20th December 2017 – Tibetan Journal publishes an op-ed piece “Did President Sangay Misinform That Samdhong Rinpoche Visited China?” that questions whether Lobsang Sangay misinformed the world about Samdhong Rinpoche’s visit.
An earlier picture of Lobsang Sangay (left) and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Lobsang Sangay was quoted in Phayul on 15th December 2017, confirming Samdhong Rinpoche’s visit. Four days later, Samdhong Rinpoche denied visiting China. Was Lobsang Sangay lying when he confirmed Samdhong Rinpoche’s visit? Or was it just plain incompetence? Or was Samdhong Rinpoche lying when he denied his visit? Either way, one of the Dalai Lama’s two personal envoys is lying to the Tibetan public.
So who is right, and who is wrong? Who is lying? Was Lobsang Sangay lying when he corrected the media on December 15th, telling them in his correction that Samdhong Rinpoche had gone to China? Or was Samdhong Rinpoche lying on December 19th when he said he did not go? Either way, one of the Dalai Lama’s trusted envoys is lying to the Tibetan people. And when presented in this manner, a number of things become clear.
- There is no coordination between Sikyong Lobsang Sangay and Samdhong Rinpoche. As a result, the CTA changed their story so many times regarding the news of Samdhong Rinpoche’s visit to China. After 60 years of living in exile, Tibetans are hypervigilant, looking for any sign of a potential return to Tibet. The CTA should have known that a visit to China by someone as senior as Samdhong Rinpoche would have given Tibetans hope for the potential of dialogue between the Chinese and Tibetan leaderships. Yet, on such an important topic, the most senior members of the Tibetan government presented very confusing information about the trip. In the end, it was obnoxious of them to fight back and forth on vital information that has the potential to give hope to the Tibetans.
- Someone is inefficient, lying and not doing their job, and this reflects the whole government that they represent. Samdhong and Lobsang Sangay are the most senior officials in the Tibetan exile government. In fact, next to the Dalai Lama, these two people would be amongst the most formidable people in the Tibetan power structure. So how can two of the highest Tibetan officials get such an important piece of news wrong? Who is lying?
- If the Tibetan leadership can create so much confusion when dealing with an issue of such high public interest, what else have they ruined or disrupted over the years that the public does not know about?
- The news was first released by a former ambassador of India, Phunchok Stobdan. For such significant news, it is highly unlikely that Stobdan, whose sensitive diplomatic work required meticulousness, would have made the announcement without double or triple-checking first. Similarly, one would also expect Stobdan to have access to information not ordinarily available to the public i.e. the confirmed movements of the Dalai Lama’s envoy, especially when he is heading for China.
- Samdhong Rinpoche’s denial came a full two weeks after it was first reported that he had visited China. The delayed response has fuelled suspicions and can only mean one thing – Samdhong Rinpoche was in China, behind their Internet firewall. As a result, he was unable to find out what was being said about his trip in the media, and therefore unable to issue a retraction until he was out of China.
- Samdhong Rinpoche’s sudden denial of his China visit two weeks after the initial news was published raises more than a few eyebrows and has had many people asking what else the Tibetan leadership might be hiding now?
Questions have previously been already raised about the CTA’s lack of transparency and accountability, and this latest debacle only adds fuel to the fire.
- More interestingly, Samdhong Rinpoche’s denunciation of the said news is a slap to the face of Sangay. Sangay had confirmed to Phayul on 15th December 2017 that Samdhong did in fact made such a historic trip but cautioned that readers should not read too much into it. Bear in mind that Phayul is in effect the CTA’s mouthpiece and the source of the story is none other than the CTA. Therefore there cannot be a miscommunication or misunderstanding from Sangay’s side.
- This debacle simply demonstrates how disorganized the Tibetan leadership truly are, and the total lack of communication between the top members of this small exiled government. And as small as they are now, they are already so confused and inefficient, and unable to communicate clearly to their people on such an important matter. Should the Tibetan leadership ever be able to return to Tibet, how will they ever get to run their country properly when Tibet is huge and so much bigger than Dharamsala?
His Holiness the Dalai Lama recently announced that he would be indefinitely postponing his travels, and appointed Lobsang Sangay and Samdhong Rinpoche to represent him as his personal envoys. How come Sangay and Samdhong are so uncoordinated in their announcements and work? Are these men the most capable representatives of the Dalai Lama? If these two are the best that the Tibetan leadership has to offer, the Tibetan public should be extremely concerned for their own futures at a time when the Dalai Lama is no longer around to lead and coordinate the community.
There are also a number of questions that need to be raised, primarily:
- How was Samdhong Rinpoche, who has criticized the Chinese government for decades, granted a visa so easily, regardless of whether his visit was private or not? The Chinese leadership would be understandably paranoid about Samdhong Rinpoche; as the Dalai Lama’s envoy, his visit would invariably draw a crowd and he would therefore have the potential to encourage unrest. So how can someone who is the Dalai Lama’s envoy make it into China so easily?
- Non-politically involved Rinpoches and lamas are stopped at Beijing’s international airport even if they are dressed in lay clothes and despite having all the necessary visas. It would be almost impossible for someone as recognizable as Samdhong Rinpoche to go into China without the Beijing government’s knowledge and, by inference, approval. The fact he was able to receive a visa without issue, let alone enter the country without issue, and in spite of his role in actively encouraging anti-China activities, must mean that he has connections with the Chinese leadership. Alternatively, it could also mean that the Chinese leadership had a higher, political motivation for allowing Samdhong Rinpoche into the country. After all, why would an old, senior monk of his age go all the way to China just to visit his family?
- The Tibetan leadership act with the assumption of the stupidity of their subjects, to think that they would not be able to see the Tibetan leadership for what it is – inefficient, confused and uncoordinated. It is obvious, when Lobsang Sangay says Samdhong Rinpoche went and then Samdhong Rinpoche himself says he did not go, and the two men tussle back and forth in the media spotlight.
The Tibetan people and supporters of the Tibetan struggle should take this discrepancy seriously. All matters pertaining to the Tibetan leadership’s dealing with China directly impacts on the future of the Tibetan people and the pulse of the Tibetan struggle. So how come there is such secrecy, confusion and what seems like opposing agendas on such an important matter?
Possible Reasons for a Cover-up
(1) The visit was a failure and negotiations yielded nothing
Since 1959, the Tibetan leadership has made countless promises to return Tibetans to their homeland, all to no avail. Even the State Oracle Nechung, whom the Dalai Lama and CTA rely on, has made inaccurate prophecies about the success of the Tibetan struggle.
In addition, nothing became of the nine rounds of talks between the Tibetan and Chinese leaderships. All this time, the CTA blamed their failures on scapegoats such as Dorje Shugden practice. And all this while, they allowed China to grow stronger as the CTA and the Dalai Lama’s popularity in the world waned. It is possible that during this exploratory trip, Samdhong Rinpoche realized how the CTA’s best opportunities have slipped by, and the ‘Tibetan cause’ is now at best a pipe dream. It is possible that on this trip, he realized that Tibetans are no longer in possession of the moral authority to use global pressure to get what they (the CTA) want, because everyone is willing to overlook that in favour of a better relationship with China.
This would be something very difficult for the Tibetans to accept and would likely trigger heightened rejection of the leadership by the Tibetan people, at a time when the people are already more vocal about their disappointments with the CTA. Hence, it is best not to call attention how hopeless the Tibetan cause has become.
(2) Samdhong Rinpoche was negotiating an unpopular deal
The Tibetan leadership is known for harbouring interests that contradict their own people’s. For instance, in 1988 the Dalai Lama gave up the Tibetan independence fight in what was known as the Strasbourg Proposal, opting instead for autonomy (umaylam) or what he labelled the Middle Way Approach. The Tibetan people were not consulted and were not given a say in the matter.
On another occasion in 2013 when being interviewed by Jerome Cohen at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, Sangay said pointedly, “democracy is what we practice in exile. We are not asking that democracy be implemented or be allowed inside Tibet…[but]that’s not part of what we’re asking to the Chinese government”.
The Sikyong stated clearly that under umaylam, he would do away with democracy. In that flippant statement, it may not have occurred to Sangay that he had traded away the freedom of the Tibetans. Worse still, he may not have cared, a characteristic that is common of Tibetan leaders. In any case, the Tibetans were again not consulted on this change in policy.
So if Samdhong Rinpoche was exploring a deal with the Chinese that may be at odds with general Tibetan interests, then it would be better to deny that no such visit took place.
The Dalai Lama with his two personal envoys who are currently in the midst of a petty public squabble over one of their whereabouts.
(3) To sidestep the hypocrisy after falsely accusing detractors of being Chinese agents.
It is common for the Tibetan leadership to accuse critics and detractors of being Chinese spies and agents. By accusing people they wish to target of having Chinese connections, the CTA has successfully marginalized many people who refuse to toe the official CTA party line, and conform with the CTA’s edicts. A very good example is Dorje Shugden practitioners whom the CTA claim to be working for the Chinese government, and therefore should be violently opposed and ostracized.
Samdhong Rinpoche’s visit to China, which seems to have taken place without much obstacles, hints that he does have contacts in China which he has maintained. If Samdhong Rinpoche were to be treated in the same way the CTA treats Dorje Shugden lamas, then Samdhong Rinpoche should also be considered an anti-Tibetan traitor for having Chinese contacts and visiting China.
After all, Lama Gangchen was so labelled and pictures of Lama Gangchen with Chinese officials were offered as proof of his ‘treachery’ against the Tibetan people. This is in spite of the well-known fact that Lama Gangchen’s World Peace Foundation was working on conjunction with the United Nations to spread peace and goodwill around the world, including China.
Realizing this, perhaps Samdhong Rinpoche felt it was necessary to outrightly deny that such a visit took place.
Whatever the case may be, what began as a piece of uplifting news now ends with deception and double talk and again the Tibetan people’s dreams of going home fade. The bickering and squabbling that has come to characterise the Tibetan leadership’s dealings reflects nothing more than a deep disrespect for the people; after 60 years in exile, even in the face of such monumental news which might give the people hope of a return to their homeland, the two most senior leaders in the Tibetan government cannot even coordinate themselves to give clear facts and information to their people.
And so when witnessing the tragedy that has become the CTA and their methods of governance, why would China ever cede greater levels of autonomy to such an inefficient and disorganised administration? Lobsang Sangay’s confirmation that Samdhong Rinpoche visited China and Samdhong’s subsequent and late denial again shows how murky all the CTA’s dealings are, from whether a USD 1.5 Million taken from a Tibet Fund was a loan or a gift to whether the Dalai Lama’s emissary visited China. Ultimately it is all smoke and mirrors and the ordinary Tibetan person’s future becomes lost in the confusion.
The Dalai Lama Wants to Return Home
An article published by “The Wire” on 4th December 2017. Click to enlarge. (Source: https://thewire.in/201726/dalai-lama-india-china-tibet/)
Comments left by various people on “The Wire”. Click to enlarge. (Source: https://thewire.in/201726/dalai-lama-india-china-tibet/)
Comments left by various people on “The Wire”. Click to enlarge. (Source: https://thewire.in/201726/dalai-lama-india-china-tibet/)
Dalai Lama’s Envoy Samdhong Rinpoche Discreetly Visited China
Published 5th December 2017. The Dalai Lama’s personal envoy Samdhong Rinpoche went on a private visit to China. It was suggested in “The Wire” that while Samdhong Rinpoche was in China, it is more likely that he met up with You Quan – the newly-appointed head of the United Front Work Department that oversees Tibetan affairs. It is also said that You Quan is a close associate of President Xi. Click to enlarge. (Source: http://www.tibetanjournal.com/index.php/2017/12/05/dalai-lamas-envoy-samdhong-rinpoche-visited-china/)
Cautious Sangay says Samdhong Rinpoche made a “private visit” to China
Published on 15th December 2017. Phayul.com is the mouthpiece of the Tibetan government in exile otherwise known as Central Tibetan Administration (CTA). Phayul.com also picked up the news of Samdhong Rinpoche’s visit to China. The news has spread throughout the Tibetan communities throughout the world giving some sort of hope to the Tibetans. The Tibet issue will not be resolved with the current policies of the CTA regime in Dharamsala. It has been nearly six decades of failure. So they will have to change their tactic to appease China. Tibet is within China and no other nation will be able to ‘rescue’ Tibet or assist in any way. Tibetans must help themselves by negotiating with China. Click to enlarge. (Source: http://www.phayul.com/news/article.aspx?id=39926)
Dalai Lama headed to China on a pvt visit?
On 15th December 2017, “The Tribune” published an article titled “Dalai Lama headed to China on pvt visit?”. But not long after that, Tibet.net had asked them to change the title to “Former Tibetan government head visited China recently”. Former head would refer to Samdhong Rinpoche of course. The title can be changed but the fact remain the same that the envoy Samdhong Rinpoche was sent to negotiate with China. The negotiations must be regarding the status of Tibet and a possible visit in the future by the Dalai Lama. For the envoy Samdhong Rinpoche to visit China he would have needed India’s permission, China’s approval and of course sent by Dalai Lama himself. After all, Samdhong Rinpoche holds a refugee passport issued by India and he will need a visa to enter China. A high profile person like him cannot just simply enter China’s immigration undetected. It would be safe to assume Samdhong Rinpoche didn’t visit China, whom he has criticized for decades, to just simply visit a Buddhist site, holiday or meet up with friends. China would not easily grant him a visa for any other purpose as he is considered a dissident. He would have a purpose and a prior agreement with the Chinese government. The fact that Samdhong Rinpoche went to China to have dialogue with the Chinese government still gives hope to an eventual positive development for both sides. Lobsang Sangay has failed miserably during his two terms as head of CTA to secure talks with China and most probably out of desperation the Dalai Lama has sent a fellow monk Samdhong Rinpoche to negotiate with China. The Dalai Lama is ageing and resolution must come about soon. The main purpose of the CTA is to resolve the Tibet issue which is now entering into nearly 60 years unresolved issue. Click to enlarge. (Source: http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/nation/dalai-lama-headed-to-china-on-pvt-visit/513541.html.)
A Secret Visit and Sino-Tibetan Dialogue
Published on 19th December 2017. The Diplomat is a reputable online news magazine that covers political and cultural issues, focusing on the Asia-Pacific region. Their report opens with a strong confirmation that Samdhong Rinpoche was indeed in China. Why would The Diplomat stake their reputation on publishing false news that could be so easily disproved by Samdhong Rinpoche showing proof he was somewhere else during the time he is alleged to have been in China? They would not risk their reputation in this way so the message is clear – Samdhong Rinpoche was in China, contrary to his denials. Click to enlarge (Source: https://thediplomat.com/2017/12/a-secret-visit-and-sino-tibetan-dialogue/)
A continuation of The Diplomat article (published 19th December 2017). Click to enlarge (Source: https://thediplomat.com/2017/12/a-secret-visit-and-sino-tibetan-dialogue/)
Samdhong Rinpoche denies visiting China, says no plans for Dalai Lama as well
Published on 19th December 2017. A full 15 days after news first breaks that he went to China, Samdhong Rinpoche finally issues a rebuttal. How come it took him more than two weeks to say anything? Where was he during this time that he could not be informed about the news that was spreading like wildfire all around the world? Click to enlarge (Source: http://www.phayul.com/news/article.aspx?id=39941&article=Samdhong+Rinpoche+denies+visiting+China%2c+says+no+plans+for+Dalai+Lama+as+well)
Did President Sangay Misinform That Samdhong Rinpoche Visited China?
Published on 20th December 2017. Another article in the Tibetan Journal highlights the confusion that all Tibetans feel about this issue. This type of confusion, animosity, lack of clarity, misinformation and poor coordination is the result of dealing with the Tibetan leadership. Click to enlarge (Source: http://www.tibetanjournal.com/index.php/2017/12/20/president-sangay-misinform-samdhong-rinpoche-visited-china/)
India Always Stood With Tibetans, Tibet Will Also Stay With India: Dalai Lama
Published on 20th December 2017. Again the Tibetan leadership adds to the confusion in Tibetan society. The Dalai Lama recently said that Tibet should be autonomous under Chinese leadership, and that Tibetan development will come from the Chinese. So how does it make sense to say that Tibetans will always stay with India? This actually reflects the lack of a clear strategy regarding the Tibetan situation. And such statements will only upset the Chinese leadership who will wonder what kind of games the Tibetan leadership is playing, when they continue to pledge support for their regional competitor, India. No wonder the Tibetan leadership has not made much progress with regards to the Tibetan situation over the last 60 years. There is no clear direction or message, or strategy. Click to enlarge (Source: http://www.tibetanjournal.com/index.php/2017/12/20/india-always-stood-tibetans-tibet-stay-india/)
Tibet Developments May Put Pressure on India
Published on 7th January 2018. Another article calls attention to Samdhong Rinpoche’s visit to meet with Chinese officials in Kunming. China’s plans to securitize Tibet by building ‘well-off border villages’ along Tibet’s borders and expanding the road network are building pressure on India. Click to enlarge (Source: http://m.rediff.com/news/column/tibet-developments-may-put-pressure-on-india/20180107.htm/)
MORE NEWS LIKE THIS