President of the Central Tibetan Administration Lobsang Sangay discussed issues such as the current state of Tibet, Tibet-China relations, China’s growing influence in global politics and the future of Tibetan independence to an audience of 50 attendees at a Yale Political Union talk on Thursday afternoon.

“Tibet is one of the least free regions in the world,” Sangay said. “Even when 153 Tibetans burned themselves in protest to the Chinese government, there was hardly any media coverage because China severely restricts access.”

Sangay, who has been president of the Tibetan Government in Exile since 2012, stressed that it was important for people in the West to understand Tibet due to its high impact in global environmental issues, geopolitics and culture. As examples, Sangay highlighted Tibet’s possession of the third largest ice glacier reserve in the world, its role as one of the centers of Buddhist faith, the abundance of natural resources in the region and its geographical significance as a buffer zone between China and India.

Sangay then described many of his personal experiences as the president of a government in exile. He said that when he gives public talks, he is often met by protests from students who support the Chinese side of the conflict. He also said that the Chinese government often tries to prevent him from meeting political leaders as he travels around the world to advocate for Tibet’s cause.

“I keep the Chinese embassy very busy,” Sangay joked.

Yet, while he stressed the severity of Chinese “oppression” of the Tibetan people, Sangay maintained an optimistic tone. He said that the Tibetan government was seeking a “middle ground” where they would have “genuine autonomy within China” but would still accept Chinese law.

He concluded the event by reiterating the importance of using peaceful means to win independence and described that it was his responsibility to continue to “engage and be active.” He also called on the participants to continue raising awareness about the issue of Tibet.

Elliot Setzer ’20, the president of the Yale Political Union, called the talk “phenomenal.”

“He was willing to speak about this issue in a big-picture way that engaged with the experiences of the students,” Setzer said. “The issue of Tibetan independence has gained more focus as China has gained a larger role in international politics, and it raises many questions about how Americans should respond to the actions of the Chinese government.”

Setzer said that Kelsang Dolma ’19, who previously interned for the Tibetan government, played a central role in planning the event.

Dolma told the News that as a Tibetan-American, president and founder of the Himalayan Students Association at Yale and “unapologetic human rights advocate,” she thought it was important for Yale to host leaders such as Sangay, “given Tibet’s geopolitical stake in the world.”

“With two Tibetan first years at Yale, I am hopeful that we’ll be able to host more Tibet-related events on campus to raise awareness,” Dolma said.

In 2004, Sangay became the first ever Tibetan to receive a Doctor of Juridical Science degree from the Harvard Law School.

Ayumi Sudo | ayumi.sudo@yale.edu