Geopolitics

The Dalai Lama’s (Political) Successor Speaks Out

Lobsang Sangay will soon replace the Dalai Lama as the head of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile. In an exclusive interview with Le Temps, the Harvard-educated legal scholar talks about China, Tibet, the Internet and the power of trust.

By August, the Dalai Lama will stick to a strictly spiritual role (Wonderlane)
By August, the Dalai Lama will stick to a strictly spiritual role (Wonderlane)
Frédéric Koller

Although he will continue to serve as Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama is done with politics. He announced his retirement earlier this year. An international icon, the Dalai Lama no doubt leaves some very big shoes to fill.

Who exactly will take on that tall task? Meet Lobsang Sangay, a former Tibetan Youth Congress leader who has spent 16 years in the United States. Just 42, Sangay was elected last month as the Kalon Tripa, or prime minister of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile. Observers say he represents a new generation of Tibetan people who want more action to be taken to free Tibet. He'll have a chance to prove that starting Aug. 14, when he is scheduled to join the exile government in Dharamsala, India. He spoke with Le Temps from Dharamsala.

Le Temps: What kind of program did you present to be elected prime minister?
Lobsang Sangay
: The two key points are: freeing Tibet and helping His Holiness the Dalai Lama return to Lhasa, Tibet's capital city.

You are the first Kalon Tripa to be elected democratically, and the first who has real influence. Will you be independent from the Dalai Lama, who remains Tibet's spiritual leader?
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been an excellent leader. He has governed us very well and we are all indebted to him. There is no way I am going to replace him. Instead, I am going to try to make his vision of a secular democratic society come true. I will do my best to act as the new image and the new political spokesman for the Tibetan movement.

You also represent the new Tibetan generation born in exile. Apparently, it has more fighting spirit than the generation that fled Tibet in 1959. Is there a generational conflict?
I was elected with the support of both the older and new generations. The older Tibetans have said they have faith in the young generation. They have passed responsibility for continuing the movement down to us. As I represent this young generation, I want to respect this legacy. This election has sent a clear message to China: the movement is not going to be less influential just because it is led by the new generation. We will fight as long as necessary to free Tibet. Emotionally speaking, we feel as much attached to Tibet as does the older generation. We are still one single family. The majority of young people also voted for me. They want a more active leader.

What do you mean by active?
Anyone who takes action for Tibet must follow three principles: unity, innovation and autonomy. No matter what ideology he or she advocates, I will support their freedom initiatives – as long as they also push for unity, innovation and self governance. For instance, the Tibetan Youth Congress organized a 25-day hunger strike in Delhi to protest a violent crackdown on a group of monastery monks. I went there and told them: "I'm on your side because you are fighting for Tibet, even if I don't fully agree with your ideology."

But you asked them to stop that hunger strike.
Yes. I told them they needed to think long-term. Putting the lives of the movement's leaders in danger will not bring about immediate results.

Will you use the Internet more often?
One of the first things I'm going to do will be to optimize our government's websites. We are going to use Facebook and Twitter and encourage the use of 21st century new technology.

Have the Arab revolutions inspired you?
Absolutely. Chinese hard power, its army, is strong. We are weak. But we are going to have an advantage in terms of virtual power. In terms of soft power, we are also strong because we are advocating non-violence. We are pacifists, and we are doing the Chinese no harm.

How can you develop this virtual power in Tibet?
Thousands of Tibetan people use their mobile phones everyday and communicate with people living abroad.

But the Chinese police have tapped their phones.
That means we use another language, a secret one. We never say: "I'm working for the Tibetan government. I'm calling from Dharamsala." Instead we say "I'm calling from the mountains. I'm from the place."

What do you think of the Chinese? Have you met a lot of Chinese people while living in the United States?
From a Buddhist point of view, nothing is permanent, everything changes. China is changing with the world. Everybody is talking about China's economic development. But there are also new social networks that have been created. More and more people say what's on their mind. The taste of liberty is universal, and it is particular to man. I have Chinese friends from Harvard University I've known for 16 years. I organized seven conferences and some of them brought the Dalai Lama together with Chinese researchers. As a researcher, I went to Beijing and to Shanghai in 2005. But I was denied access to Tibet.

How are you going to negotiate with China? China does not recognize your government.
Negotiations, which have been suspended, will continue with the Dalai Lama's special envoys. They are recognized by the Chinese government, so there's no problem there. No matter how negotiations restart, what really matters is the result, which is that we convey to China that we want real autonomy that respects the Chinese Constitution.

Have you ever managed to convince a single Chinese person that your cause is noble?
Yes, but in private. Many recognize that there is something wrong. The problem is that the harshest members of the Chinese government think they must continue quelling every protest movement. That can work in the short term. But in the long term, that won't be possible. If China wants to become the next superpower, it cannot just be an economic and military power. It will also have to show moral leadership. As long as China oppresses the Tibetan people, that will be impossible.

China questions the Dalai Lama's sincerity. The Communist Party thinks the Tibetan people are hiding something and that their true goal continues to be independence. And this is actually what many young people want. Do you think that autonomy is only the first step towards something else?
Real autonomy is the official policy and I support it. People can either believe it, or choose to be suspicious. But if you are over suspicious, that's endless. It means you can't trust anybody. Trust is a rational human feeling. When we are willing to take a step forward, we learn to trust each other. I have met with hundreds of Chinese people. It wasn't something I needed to do. And it was certainly risky. Some people criticized me for that. Some Tibetans thought I was mad to talk to them. Politically speaking, I lost votes. But when I say we need to talk with the Chinese authorities, I'm sincere.

Where does your family come from?
From Lithang, in eastern Tibet.

Do you know people living there?
Yes, and I'm always asking about what is going on there.

China says you're telling lies, that the Tibetan people are happy.
All you have to do is to allow international media, NGOs and tourists to enter Tibet to discover the truth. If it turns out that we are wrong that Tibetans are happy as the Chinese insist, we'll be glad to admit it. But the facts are that Tibet is occupied, oppressed and that there is no freedom there.

Read the original article in French.

Photo - Wonderlane

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Future

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.


But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

commons.wikimedia.org

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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