Elected Tibetan leader Lobsang Sangay permitted to speak at trade fair, despite objections from Chinese delegation
Organisers of a Madrid-based trade fair have withstood Chinese pressure by refusing to bar high-ranking Tibetan political leaders from attending the event.
Chinese firms were scheduled to participate in Expotural 2018, the Mountain and Sustainable Tourism Fair, on 1 November. Exportural, which is part of the International Trade Fair of Madrid (IFEMA), draws inspiration from the legacy of Edmund Hillary, who reached the sumit of Mount Everest in 1953. The event highlights climate change and sutainable tourism.
When the Chinese delegation learned that Lobsang Sangay, the democratically-elected head of the Central Tibetan Administration, or Tibetan government in exile, would be joining the forum, along with Tibetan Member of Parliament Thupten Wangchen, they immediately objected. They demanded that Expotural and IFEMA disinvite the Tibetan representatives. The organisers refused, prompting the Chinese delegation to withdraw.
Lobsang Sangay, who was visiting the city on Thursday as part of an official six-nation trip to Spain, Switzerland, Germany, US, Canada and Netherlands, delivered a speech at the event’s opening ceremony. During the speech, he addressed Tibet’s imperilled environment and its global significance. He also explained that the ancient relationship between the Tibetan people and their environment is being fundamentally disrupted by the twin threats of global warming and Chinese commercial activity.
“According to the 2007 UNDP report,” he stated, “Tibet’s grasslands are turning into deserts at a rate of 2,330 sq km per year. Despite the widespread resentment it has caused, China is vested in gaining access to the nomadic lands for the extraction of resources. This brings us to the question of why China invaded Tibet. It is not a coincidence that in Chinese, Tibet is called Xizang, which literally means ‘Western Treasure.’ One of the precise reason for China invading Tibet.”
Sangay also praised his Spanish hosts, including several Spanish legislators and as well as the Mayor of Madrid, for providing him with a public platform:
“At a time when many world leaders shy away from meeting me due to Chinese pressure, you have so courageously invited me to speak here at this event. I thank you for having me here. Tibetans all over the world salute your moral standing.”
Beijing routinely puts pressure on governments and companies that host Tibetan leaders, or that even hint at recognising Tibet as a distinct country from China.
In the last few years several firms, including Marriott International and Mercedes, have caved in to criticism from Beijing. The pair issued apologies for including Tibet as a country on a drop down menu on its website and quoting the Dalai Lama in an advert respectively.
Governments including Mongolia and Slovakia have also been forced to apologise for holding meetings with the Dalai Lama or even permitting him to visit. There is ongoing debate around the extent to which punishments from Beijing harm long-term trade. A 2013 study entitled Paying a Visit: The Dalai Lama Effect on International Trade found that not all countries that have angered Beijing by hosting Tibetan leaders have seen a decline in trade with China