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Lobsang Sangay is sworn in as new prime minister of Tibetan exiles

Harvard-trained academic Lobsang Sangay vows to fight Chinese 'colonialism' at his swearing-in as the new political head of Tibetan exiles. But will he have clout?

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In a brief interview with The Christian Science Monitor ahead of his swearing in, Sangay said he would negotiate with China even though Beijing does not recognize his exile government.

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Pointing to his 16 years of experience reaching out to Chinese people, scholars, and students, Sangay says he believes in dialogue. “I have a track record,” he says, “and if Beijing is interested and wishing to negotiate and resolve the issue of Tibet, I am willing to extend my hands, which I have always done.”

Beijing on the other hand, has made a series of allegations against Sangay and even ruled out any talks with him as a new representative of the Tibetan exiles.

A top priority, says Sangay, is to form a team of capable and dedicated professionals to serve as ministers to his new cabinet. Together they will focus on professional changes in the system, improving the education system, and hopefully implementation of new policies.

Still, experts worry that Sangay’s name, which is obviously less familiar than the Dalai Lama’s, could affect how much he can actually influence international policy.

“It's unlikely that Lobsang Sangay can take up the political role of the Dalai Lama, as much of the world views the latter as both a religious and political figure and many Tibetans view him as akin to a god, even if he doesn't see himself that way,” said Barry Sautman, an expert on Tibet and an associate professor at Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, in an e-mail.

He said that, at least at first, the Dalai Lama’s role won’t actually be reduced as much as he claims. “In fact, the Dalai Lama continues to travel to meet important national leaders, where he inevitably discusses political matters and it would be very surprising if he doesn't continue to do so within the Tibetan exile community and administration," says Dr. Sautman.

With a special nod to Chinese tradition, Sangay was sworn in on a significant day at a significant time: Aug. 8, at 9:09 (and 9 seconds). In Chinese numerology, the number nine symbolizes longevity. China held the Beijing Olympics on Aug. 8, 2008, at 8:08 p.m., (and 8 seconds), because the number eight symbolizes prosperity. With such attention to detail, “how could the Chinese be bad to me?” asked Sangay.

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