Radio Free Asia – by Kalden Lodoe
A report looks at China’s strategy to control Tibetan religious identity by appointing the leader’s successor.
Chinese authorities have developed an elaborate public relations strategy to end international support for Tibet after the death of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama that includes installing a puppet leader in his place, according to a new report by the International Tibet Network (ITN).
In the 30-page report, entitled “Tibet, the Dalai Lama, and the Geopolitics of Reincarnation,” ITN found evidence of China’s plans to use the Dalai Lama’s passing as a “strategic” and “historic” opportunity to firm up its control of the region, based on two, previously unseen Chinese policy documents.
Central to the plan is China’s intention to co-opt the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama and name a pro-Beijing leader in his place, said the report, which was launched Tuesday at a side event of the 51st Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, sponsored by the U.S. and cosponsored by the U.K., Canada, Czech Republic and Lithuania.
In one paper, ITN researchers found references to the death of the Dalai Lama as an opportunity for China to “escape its passive situation in communicating on Tibet,” while another states that the reincarnation issue “will be unavoidable but should also be seen as an opportunity” and acknowledges a possibility that the event may lead “hostile Western forces [to] make ever more noise about the ‘Tibet issue.’”
ITN said the two policy documents “reveal an ominous strategy designed to appropriate and control matters at the heart of the Tibetan religious identity,” citing language in the papers which lays out Beijing’s goal to “secure authority in Tibet and build influence across the Tibetan Buddhist world.”
Concerns over the advancing age of the Dalai Lama, now 87, have renewed uncertainties in recent years over his possible successor after he dies, with Beijing claiming the right to name his successor and the Dalai Lama himself saying that any future Dalai Lama will be born outside of China.
Tibetans remain bitter about Chinese intervention in the selection 25 years ago of the Panchen Lama, who died in 1989.
Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, was recognized on May 14, 1995 at the age of six as the 11th Panchen Lama, the reincarnation of his predecessor, the 10th Panchen Lama.
The recognition by exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama angered Chinese authorities, who three days later took the boy and his family into custody and then installed another boy, Gyaltsen (in Chinese, Gyaincain) Norbu, as their own candidate in his place.
The Panchen Lama installed by Beijing remains unpopular with Tibetans both in exile and at home.
Tibetan tradition holds that senior Buddhist monks and other respected religious leaders are reincarnated in the body of a child after they die.
Call for preparedness
Beijing has sought in recent years to control the identification of other Tibetan religious leaders, and says that the selection of the next Dalai Lama—who fled into exile in India following a failed 1959 Tibetan revolt against Chinese rule—must “comply with Chinese law,” while the Dalai Lama himself says that if he returns, his successor will be born in a country outside of Chinese control.
“Given the Chinese government’s atheist stance it may have been expected that Beijing would attempt to end the institution of the Dalai Lama entirely,” ITN said in a statement accompanying the release of the report.
“However, they have instead developed a strategy to exert control over the Tibetan Buddhist reincarnation system including the insistence that it is the prerogative of China to recognise the next Dalai Lama.”
ITN’s report called on world governments to prepare for China’s anticipated interference by developing legislation to affirm that the Dalai Lama’s succession is strictly a matter for Tibetans, the Tibetan Buddhist community and particularly that of the Dalai Lama.
The U.S. Tibet Policy and Support Act of December 2020 makes it official US policy to hold that the Dalai Lama’s succession is a strictly religious matter that can only be decided upon by the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Buddhist community. Under the Act, if Chinese leaders attempt to identify a future Dalai Lama, they will face sanctions that could include having their assets frozen and their entry to the US denied.
The State Department is also tasked to work with like-minded countries worldwide to push back against China’s plans to install its own imposter Dalai Lama.
In a tweet, ahead of hosting the U.N. Human Rights Council side event on the Dalai Lama’s succession, Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights and U.S. Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues Uzra Zeya reaffirmed Washington’s stance on the succession issue.
“We will continue to support members of the Tibetan community’s religious freedom, including the ability to choose their own religious leaders,” Zeya tweeted. Click here to read more.