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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Tibet's Development through Personal Progress

April 24, 2009

by Tsewang Namgyal
Central Tibetan Administration
April 22, 2009


The world is currently in one of its worst
recession in the last 50 years. International
trade is forecast to fall by more than 13% in
2009 and the world’s economy is expected to
reduce by 2.7%. All this means loss of millions
of jobs. The key questions in world leaders minds
(if not many of ours) are how deep is this
recession, how long will it last and what is
going to be the changed political economic
landscape once normalcy returns? History has
shown that every downturn opens up opportunities.
This period opens up a unique window for every
Tibetan to empower ourselves both intellectually and financially.

This is important because it would increase our
chance of success to come to a political
agreement but more importantly will allow us to
have the strength to implement it. This is
ultimately both to Tibet and Peoples’ Republic of
China’s (“China”) benefit. If not, the subsequent
violations of the agreement we are working hard
to finalize will be the cause of the next phase
of our conflict. We should be mindful that an
important lesson of the Seventeen Article
Agreement that our government officials were
forced to sign on May 23, 1951, was that it was
violated. Here I would like to humbly share some
thoughts on how we can empower ourselves in case
aspects of it would be of some use.

(i) Anticipated Hyperinflation

There is a school of thought that indicates high
probability of inflation (if not hyper) with the
United States $787 billion stimulus package. The
reason is with the printing of billions of
dollars it would depreciate the US dollar. This
in turn would lead to other exporting countries
like China to weaken their own currency to make
their exports more competitive. All this would
lead to inflation. This in turn would mean
increase of commodity prices such as food. The
pain of inflation will in particular be felt by
people on fixed and low income. I note at the
time I write this article the United States is
facing a deflationary period and the stock market has been on the rise.

It is speculated that one of the reasons for the
recent large purchase of copper by China is to
act as an inflation hedge. A friend of mine, who
is in the commodity business, mentioned that
their strategy is to buy food growing land around
the world. The logic is when inflation comes into
effect; the cost of commodities will increase.
With food growing land they will have a natural
hedge and will be able to profit from it. In
other words, as cost of food and other
commodities goes up, their revenues will also increase.

How does this apply to our community? Many
Tibetans depend on their livelihood on fixed
income and small time trades. We also have a
sizeable farming community but this is quickly
decreasing both in Tibet and India. Many Tibetans
prefer to lease their land out and look for other
career opportunities. It is critical to let our
family and relatives who are in farming to
reconsider before they sell or lease their land
since they may under value these assets. At least
in the near term, farming appears to be a more
reliable source of income than other trades.

This diversification of having agricultural as an
important component of our economy is beneficial
both at an individual and at a macro level.
Besides the economic factor, a strong agriculture
sector will promote the health of our population.
History has shown that equal (if not more)
indigenous populations under occupation have died
due to starvation and disease than guns. Farming
is not only a healthy out door occupation and
food is something that one can eat unlike most other produce.

(ii) Mining in Tibet

According to an article in Fortune (February 21
2007), "In 1999 more than 1,000 researchers
divided into 24 separate regiments and fanned out
across the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, geologically
mapping an area the size of California, Texas and
Montana for the first time ever. Their findings:
16 major new deposits of copper, iron, lead, zinc
and other minerals worth an estimated $128
billion, according to articles published last
week on the website of the China Tibet
Information Center, a government-run portal.” It
is now argued by many that one of the Chinese
government’s key objectives of building the $4
billion railway project to Lhasa was aimed in
tapping Tibet’s natural resources.

Past demonstrations by Tibetan organizations on
investments in this sector may have delayed
large-scale investments in the region and bought
valuable time for Tibetans to understand this
sector. The current financial crises and
reduction in demand has greatly put pressure on
metal prices compared to early part of 2008. This
decrease in price may also have some effect in
slowing developments. However, as China gains
more experience in the mining sector and is more
capitalized it would be difficult to have much effect in the future.

What can we do? I believe there is not much we
can do to stop the large size natural resource
developments in Tibet. It is true mining has its
problem in particular water pollution if not
developed properly. However, the political and
economic factors appear to be too strong even if
instead of Tibet we were dealing with any other
Chinese province. Metal analysts anticipate that
the world will require about 200,000 tons of
copper each year for the next ten years. Even in
developed countries such as the United States
that are sensitive about the environment are
forced to open up for development
Besides I believe since we ourselves are users of
metals it would be little hypocritical to call
for a total boycott of the sector. The realistic
goal I believe should be on how the extraction
would have (i) minimal negative impact on Tibet’s
environment and (ii) how Tibetans can benefit from it.

Having said the above, this is not an
encouragement of large scale resource extraction.
I believe unless we discuss what is already
happening it would not allow us to think of
proactively and find practical solutions to the
problem. In addition, I believe at a practical
level and to hedge our bets activist organization
should continue to remain engaged. I believe in
the event of large scale investments protests
could give more leverage to Tibetans and make
investors more mindful of local impact. However,
I believe it is important that we slowly change
this debate from less of a Tibet and China issue
but into a good versus bad project. If we
politicize it or have an extreme goals this will
give more leverage to shady business investors
who are able to use the Tibet political card to
stamp out criticism. If we are able to make this
into a human issue, I believe we will be better
able to form strategic alliances with Chinese
environmental organizations, get better media
sympathy especially within China, mitigate
environmental risks and bring more real benefits
to the local Tibetan population.

There is currently an extraordinary opportunity
for young Tibetans who want to become wealthy and
also do good to study, get experience in the
mining sector (through work and buying shares in
it) and join reputable mining companies. Not all
mining companies are the same. There are many
reputable mining firms that abide and meet
stringent regulatory standards. There are also
many reputable International Banks who abide by
the Equator Principle guidelines (

As Tibetans, our value addition is our knowledge
of the land and people. Once the projects are
developed we will lose this competitive angle and
will have less ability to change the nature of
the developments. I am not aware of even one
Tibetan who has worked or experience in a large
natural resource company while we sit on reserves
worth billions. I do understand there are few
Tibetans in Tibet who work in mom and pop mining
firms. Mining is a very complicated business and
unless one has experience in it, this would be
difficult to give real concrete suggestions on
project structure that would bring benefit to the effected people.

For those Tibetans who have interest in the
mining sector, there is a number of mining
consulting firms whose sites share information
related to the trends in the sector and offer
industry training programs. Here I would like to
recommend two: and for those who may have interest.

(iii) Hydropower in Tibet

In November 2008, China’s State Council announced
a stimulus package of $586 billion. Much of this
is planned to be spent on infrastructure
developments. It is likely that large portions of
this would be used toward financing “China’s
Western Development” strategy including exploiting Tibet’s hydro potential.

As we know, many of the major rivers in Asia flow
from the Tibetan cultural areas including the
Brahmaputra, Mekong, Yangtze and Mekong. This has
been viewed by China as a way to meet its power
requirements and fresh water source for the
interior. To put things into perspective the size
of this potential one only needs to look at
Tibet’s southern neighbor – Bhutan. The country’s
largest revenue earner is its sale of electricity

The size of the projects considered under
development in Tibet is even larger than those in
Bhutan. Bhutan’s largest hydro plant is the 1020
MW Tala Hydroelectric Project Authority. The
biggest of the planned projects in Tibet is the
Yarlung Tsangpo Hydroelectric and Water Diversion
Project that is expected to generate 40,000 MW
According to Wikipedia, “The size of the dam in
the Tsangpo gorge would exceed that of Three
Gorges Dam …It is feared that there will be
displacement of local populations, destruction of
ecosystems, and an impact for downstream people
in India and Bangladesh… Analysts think that the
livelihood of up to 100 million people could be
at stake and therefore voice fears that the
completion of the water diversion component of
the project could spark an Indo-Chinese water war
if no proper management is taking place.”

Independent studies have shown that large dams
are in particularly harmful to downstream
communities with rivers running dry, hurt fish
population and could be catastrophic in the event
of earthquakes ( However,
run of the river dams have proven to be a good renewable source of electricity.

As projects continue to be developed in Tibet,
here again it would be important while we protest
the negative aspects of the developments we
should also consider the opportunities this opens
in particular for young Tibetans. The reason why
I believe young Tibetans should look at this as a
career opportunity is that this would allow one
to have a deeper understanding of it and
potentially shape the direction of the
development. The alternative is that we will have
no control of it at all and in the future it will
be even more difficult to penetrate in the
sector. Probably more than mining, hydro
electricity development has the potential to have
the largest impact on the Tibetan population and generating regional tension.

(iv) Retrain

In this modern globalized economy one needs to
continuously learn new skills or update otherwise
one will lose one’s competitive edge. Many
Tibetans in Tibet are currently in professions
like subsistence agriculture and nomadism.
Occasionally we equate this as part of our
cultural preservation. I believe this attitude
needs to change just as we do not consider
sticking to selling sweaters in exile. Of course
this is not to endorse the Chinese government’s
policies to force Tibetan farmers to grow certain
types of crops or use this pretext to forcefully
resettle Tibetan nomads. However, I believe if
there are NGOs who are qualified and sensitive to
our community we should support their efforts to
help our people adapt to the changing economy. I
believe it is in particular important to teach
our subsistence farmers and nomads on occupations
where they can best leverage their skills sets or
do better in what they are currently doing.

For example with the degradation of Tibetan
grasslands and increase in population there is
much pressure on grazing land. Friends who live
in the region mentioned that Tibetan nomads even
kill each other in disputes over grasslands.
There maybe opportunities for NGOs and socially
conscious entrepreneurs to develop sectors such
as eco-tourism which would be a natural fit for
Tibetan nomads who know the land and will be
great guides to tourists. Such shifts in
occupations for interested nomads should be
welcomed or at least different options should be
offered. Similarly our farmers can be given sales
advice to get a higher premium for their products
in the towns, improved farming technique to
increase produce or make value added products for exports.

In the early 1900s if one was a skilled maker of
carriages probably if one stuck to ones
forefather profession one will be having a
difficult time making a living. With the
recession and globalization it is becoming even
more important to adapt and retool oneself.
Adaptation will prevent us from becoming
marginalized and give more confidence in dealing with immigrants.

(v) TGIE

TGIE is the backbone of our freedom movement.
Future success of Tibet’s freedom struggle will
depend much on the organization’s ability to
continue to attract the best minds. Through my
father, I have seen the personal challenges that
our officials have to endure. Even though my
father had a relative senior position in TGIE and
relatives/friends abroad that supported him, I
remember he was very frugal of his personal
expenses. My mother helped supplement the family
income through spending parts of some years
selling sweaters in the streets of India. She
mentioned that my father was very mindful of what
he ate to make sure that when we came for our
vacations we had a good time. From here it is
easy for me to imagine the material difficulties
of families those who are relatively junior to
him and do not have the family support network.

As a community, there is a subtle glorification
of poverty for those who serve as symbol of
dedication. I believe we slowly need to change
that culture. This effort of ours is not a
religious exercise where we necessarily need to
sacrifice or feel the pain. If our public
servants (including all our activists and
supporters), without abusing their power or
corrupt means, is trying to take care of
themselves or their family we should assist them.
Less our public servants are worried about their
personal needs or their obligations to their
family the better they will be able to serve the Tibetan people.

In short, if we can create a culture where our
entire public servants serve out of appreciation
for the opportunity and our community genuinely
honors them for their service this would create a
very healthy environment. If we drive them all to
poverty this would both reduce their
effectiveness and in the future make it more difficult to attract new talents.

Related to this I believe in order to maximize
the returns of our efforts it is important to
constantly think how we can minimize our cost.
One way I believe this can be done by each
individual focusing on where they can bring most
value in terms of (i) expertise (ii) time (iii)
money or (iv) a combination. Many a times our
focus tends to be on time and money contribution.
However, we should be mindful that without
expertise it could be a fruitless effort. The
reason why I mention this is that I feel
occasionally young Tibetans who have experience
maybe overlooked or they may not volunteer due to
lack of time. It would be important to think of
ways we can still benefit from their knowledge
and value their contribution. Many a times
experts lack of time and money is because they
have spent much of it in order to become experts.
In sum, I believe if we all focus on our
respective areas and our leadership tactically
leverages them we will be able to maximize our returns.

(vi) Development of the Private Sector

In the area of economic development in Tibet or
exile I believe this can best be achieved through
private efforts with support from NGOs and the
government. Private Sector must be encouraged to
take the lead. I am aware that we do not have
much control over Chinese government policies.
However, we or NGOs need to reward and help
successful ethical Tibetan entrepreneurs or
social conscious investors to become successful
profitable ventures. I understand from my
contacts in Tibet that during this period of
recession China is trying to develop/win goodwill in the Tibet areas.

In addition, we also need to facilitate healthy
competition among our entrepreneurs so that they
will continue to improve on products, price and
community benefits. Most important we must
empower the private sector to create jobs and
bring up the rest of the community. I believe
only through this we will be able to create an
economically sustainable Tibetan society. If we
become an economy that is dependent on government
subsidies and non profit type run businesses this
would hinder our entrepreneurial spirit,
discourage innovation and reduce hardwork.

I am mindful that I propose a capitalistic
economic model. This is a model which creates an
instinctive apprehension in our community due to
our influence of Buddhism and socialist ideology.
Personally, although I propose a regulated
capitalistic model for our community, probably I
would not be considered a capitalist myself. For
me there is no monetary gain to spend much time
thinking, analyzing, sharing my thoughts and
occasionally sticking out my neck (both in the
Tibet and China world) in my opinion pieces.
However, I believe one must focus on results.

Capitalism through the development of the private
sector has proved most effective in the world to
bring people out of poverty by creation of jobs.
Through the focus on profits it has also brought
efficiency. Yes it has also created social and
environmental problems. Communism and socialism
has proven to be equally disastrous. Having said
that I believe in education and healthcare sector
results appear to indicate that the public sector is more efficient and fair.

(vii) Understanding China

Tibet and China are linked both in fate and our
geographic proximity. We do not have much of a
choice. There are many in our community who view
the economic and political rise of China as a
threat but I feel we should view it positively.
Firstly as our teachers remind us it is good for
our minds to rejoice at the success of others.
Secondly, China’s difficult period during the Mao
era did not give Tibetans any more freedom (if
not less) than the current situation. Thirdly,
there is much opportunity for us to leverage on
the rise of China’s economy. If we view this
pessimistically we will not see the opportunities.

TGIE has made and continues to encourage our
community to reach out to the Chinese population.
In order to benefit from China and execute TGIE’s
objective it is critical we understand China
better. Having said that I believe SFT and other
organizations tactical actions to target China’s
brand image for their occupation is a smart move.
This dualistic approach of wishing China well but
also criticizing her mistakes is an important
tactic. True friendships can only be built on
honesty otherwise it is not friendship.

I know within our community there are many China
experts who have a much better appreciation for
the region than me. For those who are not,
personally I found besides reading books (in
particular China, A New History by Fairbank, John
K. and Merle Goldman) and traveling to the
region, listening to personal stories of Chinese friends very helpful.

One story in particular sticks out in my mind is
a friend I met at school. His father-in-law
happened to be one of the PLA Officers who was
part of one of the first groups that entered
Tibet. My friend said that unlike his wife’s
family his father was more critical of the
Chinese government policies. He mentioned that
his father had once jokingly mentioned to his
friends when USSR and China was close that the
Russians had really not much to give the Chinese
people except ice. One of these putative friends
reported this comment to the authorities, and my
friend’s father was arrested. Shortly after his
release he died. My friend’s aunt quickly adopted
my friend, and changed his family name. If she
had not done so, he would not have had the
opportunity complete his education in China.

Through my Chinese friends I have been mindful
that besides Mao’s leadership in the brutal
occupation of Tibet, he was also involved in the
(i) the Great Leap Forward launched in 1958
through formation of large communes, (ii) the
Anti-Rightist Movement launched at the end of the
Hundred Flowers movement in July 1957 and (iii)
the Cultural Revolution launched in 1966.

To expand a little further the Great Leap Forward
is reported to have created the world’s largest
famine in human history killing tens of millions
of people through starvation. In the Anti
Rightist Movement it is believed over 500,000
Chinese people were persecuted. The Cultural
Revolution destroyed much of China and Tibet
priceless monuments, destroyed a number of
important texts and killed thousand of living
national treasures. Until I heard the stories of
my Chinese friends it was difficult to truly
comprehend the suffering they endured because the
numbers by itself after sometime does not appear to carry much weight.

(viii) Closing the gap

In the spirit of intellectual empowerment, I
believe one area we tend to overlook is learning
from each other (even among relatives). A casual
conversation, with a cousin who spent his early
life in Tibet helped drive this most into me. My
cousin had moved to India in the 1980s and then
left for the United States around the same time
as myself. Soon after he got his US citizenship
he decided to go back and see his immediate
family members who are based around Lhasa. Since
he had not been back for a number of years he
bought many presents to take back. I asked him
out of all the presents what he felt his younger
relatives would appreciate the most. He responded
by saying binoculars. I was surprised by his
answer because I assumed the response would be
more thick jackets or brand name sneakers.

On further inquiring my cousin mentioned that
when he lived in Tibet he herded yaks. He said he
used to take the animals out into the hills and
it was common practice of the villagers to let
the animals loose in the hills. He said in the
evenings they herded the animals and took them
back home. My cousin recalled that many a times
his animals roamed into distant hills. He
remembers looking for the stray yak and sometimes
climbing hills to find that this was not his
animal. He said now with the binoculars they will
not have to waste their energy.

Similarly, there are a number of Tibetans in
Tibet who appear to have a misunderstanding on
Tibetans in exile. There is one intellectual
Tibetan lady who confided in me that she believed
the Chinese government propaganda that TGIE
officials were living large due to the generosity
of the West. When I explained to her the
dedication of the TGIE officials she expressed
much surprise. She later suggested to me that we
need to bring awareness about this especially to young Tibetans in Tibet.

When I travel to Tibet, many recognize my accent
as someone from exile. Tibetans in Tibet and
those in exile share many things in common like
our respect for His Holiness but our different
experiences have naturally shaped our viewpoints.
Through simple talking and listening I believe
there is much we can learn from each other.
Reducing the gap in our knowledge would better
allow us to serve Tibet and benefit from the
region. If not in the future this could create
future misunderstanding and problems.


His Holiness and our teachers often remind us on
the preciousness of human life. Karma bought us
together and will soon separate us all. We are
aware that the possibility in our next life that
we will be fortunate to be reborn a human being
is very slim. The chance that we will be born a
Tibetan, exposed to our teachings, is even more
unlikely. It is clear from the ephemeral nature
of our existence the importance to lead a
meaningful life. As Tibetans, we all have a moral
obligation to help protect our rich cultural heritage.

Our elders and teachers have also given us the
opportunity and resources to learn from the
outside world. They would not have done this if
they felt our culture provided all the answers.
Their goal, I believe, is that we can get the
best of both worlds and contribute further to our
community’s development and enrich the world at
large. History has shown that indigenous
communities that were not able to adapt when
applicable, organize and take calculated risks
perished. An empowered Tibetan population
grounded in one’s culture I believe will allow us
to gain the respect of China and the world at
large. Through mutual respect, I believe one day
we will be not only able to negotiate a just
agreement with the Chinese government but more importantly execute it.

--The above piece is reproduced from Phayul
website.The author is an MBA graduate (Beta Gamma
Sigma Honor Society member) from the Thunderbird
School of Global Management and currently works
in the Investment Banking field in New York City.
Besides his regular work, Tsewang has traveled
extensively throughout the three provinces of
Tibet and provided consulting and voluntary
services to a number of Tibetan organizations. He
can be reached at

This column is an open discussion forum for Tibet
related issues and the views expressed here does
not reflect those of the Central Tibetan Administration.
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