New Delhi: ‘‘China’s cover-up allowed the coronavirus to spread exponentially in just weeks, causing a global pandemic. Chinese leaders deliberately suppressed crucial information and reprimanded key voices. Now, China is proceeding at full throttle with disinformation campaigns to deflect the blames. World must act now to check China’s repression in Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong as the renewed Chinese aggression in South China Sea, Taiwan, Hong Kong is a case of exploiting the COVID crisis,’’ said Dr Lobsang Sangay, president, Tibetan government-in-exile in an exclusive interview with Asianet Newsable.

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Here are the excerpts

Many theories came up as to the cause of the COVID-19 situation, including China’s insidious conspiracy to disrupt the world order and to take the helm of world power at any cost. Whatever the theories, one undeniable fact is that the virus originated from Wuhan, and China deliberately suppressed the information at the cost of a global pandemic. Your say...

It is a fact that the coronavirus originated in Wuhan in China. The Chinese leaders deliberately suppressed crucial information and reprimanded key voices which could have enabled other countries to adequately prepare for the outbreak and effectively prevent the global crisis. However, on the other hand, China’s denials of its own created crisis and suppression of information is nothing new. For decades, the Chinese government has been doing the same with the Tibetan people, Uyghurs and anyone who spoke against the regime. The government censored and silenced dissents. And when nations questioned China on the human rights crisis, China does what it does best —denial.

The global pandemic has claimed more than 4 lakh lives across the world. Who is responsible for these pathetic deaths? Isn’t it that Chinese leadership mishandled the outbreak and is accountable to the devastation it wrecked around the world?

This is not the first time that the Chinese government mishandled outbreaks for political and economic gains. We may as well recall China’s cover-up of another coronavirus, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which also originated from China. China delayed information for over a month after it emerged in 2002 and detained the doctor, who sounded the whistle, to 45 days in custody. From 2002-3, SARS affected more than 8,000 people in 26 countries. But the death toll from this coronavirus outbreak is far greater than the 2003 coronavirus and we cannot imagine the magnitude of what could come next if we didn’t act now.

The first cases of the novel coronavirus emerged in Wuhan at the beginning of December last year. By late December, it had become a major concern among the medical circles and health experts. Instead of listening and acting on the warning raised by the doctors in Wuhan hospitals, China sought to silence them and carried on denying the severity of the deadly disease as well as the scope of the transmission.

In March, a study published by the University of Southampton found that 95% of the pandemic could have been prevented had the Chinese government intervened early in the initial 3 weeks. The lockdown in Wuhan was imposed on January 23, seven weeks after the virus first appeared. Even the Mayor of Wuhan has said that by the time lockdown was imposed, five million people had already left the city. If you look at the situation around the world, you will see that in just a week or two, the situation gets worse. China had seven weeks to act.

Unfortunately, even at a time when the world is grappling with the direct consequences of China's totalitarian system, instead of offering reparations, China is proceeding at full throttle with disinformation campaigns to deflect the blames.

Don’t you think, had China taken action and attended to the warning Chinese doctor Li Wenliang and others gave at the early stages of the virus outbreak, this pandemic could have been contained and so many lives around the world could have been saved?

Yes, as I said, the blame squarely lies with the Chinese government. China’s cover-up allowed the virus to spread exponentially in just weeks, causing a global pandemic.

Corona casualties and positive cases are still moving uphill. But, instead of apologising and taking moral responsibility for the chaos, China tried to put the blame first on the US army, then on Italy and Kazakhstan, lately on the black people. Your opinion...

Not only has China been assiduously trying to deflect the blame and divert attention from its failures, but it has also resorted to mask diplomacy and its routine tactic of intimidation. China’s recent threat to Australia to cut off all trade relations with the country if it keeps pushing for an inquiry into the COVID-19 origins is a classic example of China’s tactic. The International community must take the responsibility to account China for its misdealing.

In Tibet, human rights and religious freedom deteriorated greatly after the 2008 Olympics, restriction and surveillance became so severe that Tibetan refugees crossing the border came to nil since then. Today, the Tibetan plateau which had once dreamt of making it as a Zone of Peace has become one of the highly militarised zones in the world today. What would you say about this?

For the last five years in a row, US think-tank Freedom House ranked Tibet as the second least free country after Syria. The situation inside Tibet is of ever-increasing repression where the freedom of speech, religion, movement, and assembly continues to remain heavily suppressed under the guise of developmental policies such as urbanisation, economic and environmental development. The repression of people’s conscience and freedom is such that at least 154 Tibetans have burned themselves in a desperate attempt to denounce the draconian policies and demand change.

For decades, Tibetans have been telling the world about China's actions; what happened to us could happen to you. Just as it did in Tibet under the guise of liberalisation and development, the Chinese Communist Party is now rapidly exporting these tactics in developing countries around the world. With its ever-growing economic clout and influences in International human rights bodies, the CCP has already waged a war against global human rights order.

Now, when the world is limping and struggling hard to recover from the pandemic, China has the audacity to send naval warships to Japan, South China seas and the Indian Ocean. It arrested Martin Lee along with some 14 prominent democratic advocates in Hong Kong and has threatened to bomb Taiwan into submission. What is this?

Many hoped that when China was rising as an economic power it could become more liberal politically and responsible towards the international community. However, China became more repressive at home as well as abroad. As its economic power grew, it abused its power and might to infiltrate international systems and further its ideology and its interest. When the world is still struggling to deal with this pandemic, China is seen taking advantage of the crisis. Its renewed aggression in the South China Sea, Taiwan, Hong Kong is a case of China exploiting the COVID-19 crisis.

Don’t you think that the international community should wake up to this coronavirus alarm and bring the Chinese communist party to the International Court of Justice? Else, Chinese ‘dictatorial’ regime could be dangerous if left unchallenged?

A coalition of 130 nations has recently supported Australia’s and EU’s call for an independent probe into the origins of the coronavirus outbreak at the WHO’s annual World Health Assembly (WHA), A proper and thorough investigation should take place. None of this would have happened if China were an open and transparent society, with an accountable government. Hence it is crucially important for the countries in the free world to join hands to hold China to account for its coronavirus blunders, and most importantly to keep China’s authoritarianism in check and reinstate the democratic spirit, freedom and rule of law before it’s too late.

More than 154 Tibetans have committed self-immolation since 2009 to protest the Chinese atrocities and to draw the attention of the international community to the injustice and human rights abuses that Tibetans are subjected to. Do you consider Chinese ‘dictatorial’ regime a threat to global peace, stability and democracy?

The COVID-19 pandemic should be a wake-up call for the whole world to realise what could be the cost of normalising China’s authoritarianism. The pandemic is a direct consequence of China’s unchecked repression in Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong. The world could be next if it didn't act now.

UNHRC recently revealed that China had been selected to join a special panel which will oversee a whole slew of important human rights issues. Don’t you think, if China joins the panel, it will immediately have the power to appoint or nix global investigators on freedom of speech, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and health?

It’s ironic that one of the world’s most prominent violators of human rights is appointed as a designated member to such an influential panel on the UNHRC. Given China’s long-standing record of China’s human rights violations in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Hong Kong, the UN should decline to offer such a prestigious position to China.

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Why is India’s fight against coronavirus, a positive one? How do you see the post-corona world? What are the lessons of COVID-19 for India and humanity?

India started responding to the risks of the pandemic from very early on by adopting a nationwide lockdown. Through its robust cluster containment strategy and digital innovation, India approached the pandemic with a well-defined strategy keeping in view its large and diverse demography.

Once the pandemic is over, we will conclude that the democratic systems handle human crisis better than authoritarian ones provided that they are given timely and accurate information. In this COVID-19 pandemic is a lesson that if we must continue to partner with China, we must do so by supporting the suppressed voices from China and thereby reaffirming the advancement of freedom, transparency and democracy in China and elsewhere.

China has recently claimed that Tibet’s 11th Panchen Lama who was forcibly made to disappear 25 years ago along with his family is now “a college graduate” with “a stable job”. Your remark.

By now we have all learned that the statements or figures provided by the Chinese government cannot be trusted, not even when it came to the question of their citizens or a global health crisis. If the Panchen Lama is leading a normal life as the Chinese foreign spokesperson claims, then let us see him or provide factually verifiable evidence. For 25 years since his abduction, we have been asking the Chinese government to allow us to see him and his family but China has still not disclosed a single piece of credible evidence or information on the wellbeing or whereabouts of the Panchen Lama.

On May 15, 1995, His Holiness the Dalai Lama chose the then six-year-old Gedhun to be the 11th Panchen Lama. Three days later, Chinese authorities kidnapped him and his family. The world has not seen or heard from them since. China’s continued imprisonment of Tibet’s spiritual leader from the age of six represents the state of ever-increasing repression and crackdown on religious freedom in Tibet.

To mark the 25th anniversary of the Panchen Lama’s disappearance, the Central Tibetan Administration organised a monthlong global advocacy campaign to appeal his immediate release. Many government leaders and parliamentarians across the world including the US, Canada, Europe have joined the CTA in an unprecedented global condemnation of China’s prolonged disappearance of the Panchen Lama.

Especially amidst the present COVID-19 pandemic, we are increasingly concerned about the safety and wellbeing of the Panchen Lama as well as all the prisoners of conscience languishing in Chinese prisons. The Tibetan people are already suffering under the brutal draconian system, and the COVID-19 pandemic renders them even more vulnerable than ever. We urge the Chinese government to heed the global call for the immediate release of the Panchen Lama and honour its claim of ethnic harmony in China by fulfilling the aspirations of the Tibetan people.

You have called for Taiwan’s inclusion in the WHO as a full-fledged member while congratulating the Taiwanese President Dr Tsai Ing-wen on the commencement of her second term. But what is your reaction to the Chinese Communist Party regime’s comment in which it has asked India to refrain from supporting Taiwan? China is seemingly outraged by the subtle support that India has extended to the democratically elected government of Taiwan.

The model of Taiwan’s transparency and the free exchange of information between the government and its citizens with which it tackled the COVID-19 pandemic reinforces the power of freedom of speech, transparency and independent media and that democracies handle human crises better than authoritarian governments provided they are given timely and actuate information. In the interest of its citizens and better governance, China should imbibe Taiwan’s transparent responses rather than criticising it.

Given its excellent performance both in prevention and containment of COVID-19 pandemic, Taiwan’s affiliation with WHO should be restored to pre 2016 membership.

The US mission at the UN has said that China’s national security law for Hong Kong is a ‘‘matter of urgent global concern that implicates international peace and security and warrants the immediate attention of the UN Security Council’’. Your remark…

The security law that China has passed in Hong Kong will greatly undermine the freedom and democracy in Hong Kong. The United Kingdom and China have signed an agreement in 1984, in which China agreed to a high degree of autonomy and democracy in Hong Kong. In fact, "one country, two system" concept was agreed. As China is not abiding by the agreement, people of Hong Kong are coming to the streets.

It is clear that in the guise of "security law", the communist government is trying to bring Hong Kong under its repressive rule. Tibet has gone through this for the last 70 years.

In 1951, through the 17-point agreement with Tibet, China promised full autonomy. But China violated the agreement. Today Tibet is among the most repressed regions in the world. Hong Kong and Taiwan people are wary that they may face a similar fate as Tibet.

Don’t you think that Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh were always part of India? So, is Tibet the core issue to have permanent peace between two largest populated countries in the world, India and China?

Lhasa has always maintained that the disputed parts of Ladakh were always part of India as are parts like Tawang in the state of Arunachal Pradesh. The Indo-Tibet border has been in existence for thousands of years of recorded history. Since it has become the India-China border, all these tensions have come up. Hence, the core issue is Tibet. When Tibet was independent, the Indian Army did not require a defence budget of $60 billion, it was not necessary at all. So, once Tibet is demilitarised and declared a zone of peace, two largest populated countries in the world, India and China, will have permanent peace.