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Dr Lobsang Sangay, a Harvard University educated International Law and Democracy expert is Tibet’s first democratically elected political leader.
The Dalai Lama remarked upon Dr Sangay’s election “When I was young, an elderly regent Takdrag Rinpoche handed over Sikyong (political leadership) to me, and today I am handing over Sikyong to young Lobsang Sangay… In doing this I have fulfilled my long-cherished goal.”
In March 2011, the Dalai Lama devolved his political power to the office of ‘Sikyong’ or President. The much revered and iconic figure had led his people for over 60 years and for believers, nearly 400 years since his fifth incarnation in the 17th century. After a campaign trail that traversed the globe Dr Sangay was elected as Sikyong by Tibetan-exiles in April 2011 in a landslide result and reelected in a hotly contested race in 2016.
Dr Sangay’s 1995 Harvard doctoral thesis, ‘Democracy in Distress: Is Exile Polity a Remedy? A Case Study of Tibet’s Government-in-exile’ discussed an experiment with democracy he would lead two short decades later. At Harvard, Dr Sangay organized seven major conferences among Chinese, Tibetan, Indian and Western scholars including two unprecedented meetings between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Chinese scholars in 2003 and 2009. As leader of the exile-government he is invested with the responsibility to continue the Dalai Lama’s efforts to find a negotiated outcome with the Chinese Government to secure genuine autonomy for Tibet, known as the ‘Middle way approach’.
Dr Sangay’s visit comes as Australia grapples with issues of national security and political interference in its pursuit of stronger trade and diplomatic relations with China. Dr Sangay will discuss if Australia, one of the world’s longest and most stable democracies, is ready for leadership in the Asia-Pacific region with a more assertive and powerful China. Tibet’s experiences with China will provide Australian leaders an important insight into the rising superpower.