Interview with Mr. Dagpo, secretary of Department of IR

Tenzin Yewong (Tibet, AC 07-09)


The middle way approach is the official policy advocated by the TGIE[1] as a means to resolve the issue of Tibet. Originally proposed by the Dalai Lama in 1979, it seeks to achieve genuine autonomy under PRC[2] rather than independence for the mutual benefit of both Han Chinese and Tibetan people.  Since the renewal of direct contacts with PRC in 2002, seven rounds of meetings were held without any fruitful result leading to doubts and debates among many Tibetans and its supporters.



Mr.Sonam Dagpo is the general secretary of Department of International Relations of CTA. He completed his schooling in India and later went to study in Harvard on a Fulbright scholarship. He has been serving the CTA (Central Tibetan Administration based in India) in different capacities for the last 18 years and has participated in all the 7 round Sino-Tibet dialogue. I took the opportunity to ask him a couple of questions.


Me: Mr. Dagpo, do you agree and support the middle way as an individual and not as a civil servant. If so, why?

SD: Yes, absolutely, I do because I know it is the best way to solve the Tibetan issue considering the world in general, situation in Tibet and future relation between Tibet and China.


Me: Though the government has written that majority of 66% of Tibetans supported the referendum, do you think it is out of faith for the Dalai Lama or out of rational thinking?

SD: It is not only those whose sympathize with the Tibetan cause who agreed to the referendum. When Tibetan people or international community supports us, they are supporting truth and justice.


Me: From your part, How has the dialogue been so far?

SD: It has not been good but for a reason. Both the Chinese and Tibetans have different positions on certain fundamental issues and our demands are sometimes misunderstood by them as a tool of separation.


Me: By officially adopting middle way, do you think we have betrayed our history and made a concession?

SD: What this dialogue concerns is the future of Tibet and China rather than the past. It certainly does not imply Tibet is a part of China. For us, we want to move forward and past is not important. As of concession, we are seeking genuine autonomy and this is not a sacrifice from our side.


Me: When you say genuine autonomy, what does it entails?

SD: It includes whole of Tibetan region free and self ruling where we can handle our own affairs in religion, language, culture, economic etc.


Me: Does the whole of Tibet includes all three provinces as we claim or is it only TAR (Tibet Autonomous Region) that you are talking about?

SD: When we say Tibet, it encompasses all three provinces but the Chinese side has been maintaining it to comprise only TAR which we don’t agree as it is only half of what Tibet is.


Me: When you go for negotiation, who do you talk to? Are they recognized in the CCP?

SD: We negotiate with officials from United Front Work Development which is a branch of CCP.( Chinese Communist party)


Me: One of the main reasons given for choosing middle way is the need to be realistic. But don’t you think it is more about conforming to Chinese demands?

SD: No. We are not conforming to them. When we talk and represent Tibet, we represent a unit; a whole of Tibetan nationality whereby asking for right to preserve our own culture, language, religion while having benefits of modern development.


Me: Don’t you think modern development contradicts with cultural preservations?

SD: no. This is not the case. You have to understand that when we talk of modern development, we are talking on how we would move towards future. We don’t want to lag behind. Simultaneously, we want our unique culture to be alive for the generations yet to come. It doesn’t contradict. Let’s take the example of Europe. Its a huge continent with different countries having different culture. In past, they have fought wars but now they are joining hands by forming EU. It is for common causes but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are not protecting their culture. It is a side by side development that can co-exist.


Me: Do you trust them?

SD: I do. I have to trust them to trust the cause I am doing. Yes, I agree, as of now, we are bounded by misunderstandings but we are working on building a relation with them.


Me: But the Dalai Lama has publicly said he doesn’t respect Chinese government but it’s the people he has faith in.[3]According to what we saw following the march unrest, we have seen youth’s nationalism. Do you think it will still work?

SD: What nationalism has to do with one’s own people is different issue. Everyone is proud of their own countries. But if their government influence them to go against us by exploiting their nationalist sentiments, for short term, it may work. But it is a bad policy for future. They are pushing us to separation, the very issue Chinese government fears of less it harms their national unity.


Me: If this is such a good policy, then why has there been no fruitful result? Why is it unpopular especially among youth?

SD: Ours is a complex issue. It needs tolerance, patience. It will take time. We have concerns and misunderstandings that needs to be clarified. But the youth are hot blooded and needs immediate and fast result. That is not possible. We need to think critically, realistically and we should be prepared cause we don’t expect it to be solved in next few years. That’s why it doesn’t appeal to youth.


Me: As on the reasons shy Tibetan government started seeking middle way, what circumstances led to it?

SD: It was not really circumstances. You understand that the world is changing, we are more than ever interdependent due to social globalization and we don’t want to be isolated. Preservation of civilization of Tibet is our goal which can be achieved within the demand of unity and stability Chinese government is asking for. It will lead to lasing peace and in a long run, both can benefit from each other so it s a win -win situation.


Me: If you look at the future of Middle way, what do you see?

SD: I see success.(laughs).China is changing, it is not the China of 1959.It is an evolving society, more open and tolerant to internationalism. I have to be optimist and hope for the best end.


Me: Any concrete plans on making it more successful within this or maybe next year?

SD: yes, we are having the 8th round of dialogue in end of October.


Me: Thank you very much for taking your time out.

SD: You are welcome.




[1] Tibetan Government in Exile. It was re-established by the Dalai Lama on April 29, 1959 in the north Indian hill station of Mussoorie.It is the continuation of the government of independent Tibet. In May 1960, the exile government was moved to Dharamsala.Though recognized by the Tibetans; it is also being recognized parliaments across the world.

Department of Information and International Relations. Dharamsala. 2001. Introduction to Central Tibetan Administration.P1

[2] People’s Republic of China

[3] Madison, WI.US. During an opening speech for Life long ceremony. July  24th, 08.


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