A new leader for Tibetans everywhere

  • Article by: MARK MAGNIER , Los Angeles Times
  • Updated: August 9, 2011 - 6:09 PM

Lobsang Sangay took his oath of office in India, assuming political duties handled by the Dalai Lama.

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Lobsang Sangay, left, the new prime minister of Tibet's government in exile, speaks with outgoing Prime Minister Samdhong Rinpoche during his swearing-in ceremony in Dharmsala, India, Monday.

Photo: Ashwini Bhatia, Associated Press - Ap

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NEW DELHI - Harvard-trained Lobsang Sangay, the Tibetan prime minister-in-exile, vowed Monday to fight China's uncompromising approach toward Tibet as he prepared to assume many of the political duties previously handled by the Dalai Lama.

Speaking at his swearing-in ceremony at the Tsuglakhang temple in Dharamsala, in northern India, Sangay vowed to fight Beijing's "colonialism," and said his election sent "a clear message to the hardliners in the Chinese government that Tibetan leadership is far from fizzling out."

After offerings of tea and sweetened rice, Sangay, 43, took up his new post at exactly nine seconds after 09:09 a.m. Nine is considered by some Tibetans an auspicious number associated with longevity.

The Dalai Lama, 76, who stepped down voluntarily, also addressed the crowd of several thousand people. "Today is the most important day in the last 2,000 years," he said. He will remain the movement's spiritual leader.

As Sangay's profile has risen, the academic has displayed a more confrontational approach toward China than the Dalai Lama, including calls for the Tibetan flag to fly above the Potala Palace in Lhasa, the traditional seat of the Tibetan government.

China has made no secret of its bid to wait out the Dalai Lama, hoping that when he dies, the Tibetan movement will suffer from divisions and lack of focus. Beijing is also trying to groom a parallel Tibetan religious leadership and significantly increase the population of Han Chinese on the Tibetan plateau.

Monday's inauguration could further complicate relations between China and India, where the exile community is based, said K. Shankar Bajpai, a former Indian ambassador to China, especially given their very different forms of government.

"There's no doubt whatsoever of Beijing's sensitivity on anything concerning Tibetan autonomy," Bajpai said. "And they just go by results and say 'you can stop this if you want to.'"

Analysts said Sangay's election, which was announced after canvassing in Tibet and among exiled Tibetans in dozens of countries, is an impressive display of the community's cohesion and commitment to democracy.

But in choosing a Harvard academic with deep American roots who has never lived in Tibet, some said, the movement has underrepresented Tibetans living in Tibet.

Sangay, born in exile in Darjeeling, India, attended Delhi University and earned a doctorate in law at Harvard before accepting a teaching fellowship at Harvard's East Asian Legal Studies Program.

In his new job, he has pledged to improve education for young Tibetans, upgrade the skills of the Tibetan administration, its de facto bureaucracy, and introduce a Tibet Corps of people willing to contribute globally to the Tibetan cause.

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