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Hironobu Ishikawa

【#351(Special)】Political Leadership Needed to Aid Tibetan Exiles

Hironobu Ishikawa / 2016.01.22 (Fri)

January 20, 2016

     Lobsang Sangay (47), the prime minister of Tibet’s government in exile, visited Japan from January 8th through the 13th, meeting with JINF officials, Diet members, university faculty and staff, and Buddhists affiliated with Sōtō Zen and other Buddhist sects. He also gave lectures and engaged in exchanges of views. While the media coverage for Prime Minister Sangay’s recent visit was lighter than it was when he made his first trip to Japan four years ago shortly after being elected for the top political post, substantive developments were nevertheless made on cooperative efforts in the educational field. For example, the Chiba Institute of Technology (located in Narashino, Chiba Prefecture) agreed, in principle, to accept five Tibetan exiles as foreign exchange students. While the specific details of the plan remain to be hammered out by both sides, the agreement marks the first time since Prime Minister Sangay took office that a Japanese university has accepted exchange students from the Tibetan government in exile, and is also a step toward developing Tibeto-Japanese ties.

Education the key to ethnic survival
     Faced with the suppression of Buddhist activities and the deprivation of freedom and human rights under intense Chinese surveillance in the Tibet Autonomous Region of the PRC, the fate of the Tibetan people now rests on the actions of the Tibetan government in exile, located in Dharamsala in northern India. The religious leader, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, and the political leader, Prime Minister Sangay, together form the two wheels to a cart, and together also appeal to Japan, the United States, and other advanced liberal democracies for understanding and support. But the most important task for the government in exile is educating the children who will carry on the coming generations of Tibetans.
     There are approximately 200,000 Tibetan refugees worldwide, mostly Tibetans who fled China as well as Tibetans born in exile (according to the Liaison Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama for Japan and East Asia). Of that number, 90,000 reside in India, including the 17,000 Tibetans living in Dharamsala. However, there are just thirteen boarding schools—designed for Tibetan refugee children and known as Tibetan Children Villages (TCV)—to care for the 25 to 26,000 Tibetan elementary-, middle-, and high school-aged boys and girls in India. Not only that, but 85% of the teachers at these schools have no training in educational leadership. The expansion and improvement of these TCV schools are of the utmost urgency.

Indirect aid from the American government
     Prime Minister Sangay emphasizes that “what is important for us is to preserve the Tibetan spirit and Tibetan culture, rooted in Buddhism. Through school education, we will cultivate a ‘Tibetan awareness’ and pass that awareness along to future generations.” Last year, Prime Minister Sangay for the first time gathered together 220 parents in order to explain to them, among other topics, the government in exile’s policy plans for education.
     The government in exile also trains and re-educates monks who have fled from China (reported to number some 200 annually in recent years) and then sends them back into the PRC. There is a perpetual shortage of funds because, in addition to paying for the monks to be taught, the government in exile also rebuilds monasteries in the Tibet Autonomous Region that have been destroyed by the Communist Party administration.
     Last year, the US government, through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), provided $10 million (approximately 1.2 billion JPY) in developmental assistance, with no stipulations as to how the money was to be used. Because payments were disbursed via several organizations, such as American NGOs and Indian NPOs, it was difficult for outside observers to tell that the monies ultimately came from the American government. Let me suggest that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which tends to be daunted by pressure from China, learn from this American way. If not, shouldn’t political leaders undertake a similar aid initiative at the very least?

Hironobu Ishikawa is Director and Planning Committee Member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals.