China gives Panchen Lama a political role

March 3, 2010 at 5:47 AM
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BEIJING, March 2 (UPI) -- The Panchen Lama, Tibet's second highest ranking Tibetan monk and chosen by Beijing, has been elevated to China's top advisory body, state media report.

"The 11th Panchen Lama, one of the two most senior living Buddhas in Tibetan Buddhism, is now a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference," Xinhua news agency said.

Gyaincain Norbu, 20, was one of 13 people to become members of the national committee of the CPPCC whose more than 2,000 members are private entrepreneurs, academics, celebrities and other public figures including religious and cultural. The CPPCC does not make laws or appoint officials but its members have acknowledged influence with senior government officials and lawmakers.

Hao Peng, executive vice chairman of the Tibet regional government praised the Panchen Lama for "his participation in social activities and holding of social positions are of great significance for demonstrating the role of the living Buddhas in Tibetan Buddhism and encouraging more believers to participate in state affairs."

The new political status of the Panchen Lama is seen by some Tibet watchers as a direct insult to the globe-trotting self-exiled Dalai Lama. The media-friendly monk is accused by Beijing of constantly stirring up separatist sentiments in the Autonomous Region of Tibet, as Tibet is known within China.

Political leaders around the world who meet with the Dalai Lama are guaranteed columns of vitriol in the Chinese press. Last month the China Daily newspaper devoted several articles damning U.S. President Barack Obama for meeting with the Dalai Lama, saying that it went against all norms of international diplomatic conduct from which China-U.S. relations must somehow recover.

The current Panchen Lama was approved by Beijing as the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama in November 1995. He was picked "after a lot-drawing ceremony among three candidates in the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa."

He was also elected vice president of the Buddhist Association of China last month.

"Since he was enthroned in 1995, the 11th Panchen Lama has made great improvements in both Buddhist studies and cultural knowledge and has demonstrated the demeanor of a senior living Buddha in Tibetan Buddhism," Hao said. "He is deeply loved by people of all ethnic groups in Tibet."

However, the Panchen Lama -- loosely translated as "great scholar" -- is traditionally chosen by the Dalai Lama, whose own chosen one in 1995 was a 6-year-old boy, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima.

But Nyima along with his immediate family disappeared shortly after the Dalai Lama proclaimed him the 11th Panchen Lama. Some reports suggest he is under protective custody or house detention in Beijing. Few hard facts exist concerning his whereabouts.

By giving the 11th Panchen Lama an obvious political position, the government in Beijing is likely sending signals to both the Dalai Lama and his supporters within Tibet who are said to be the vast majority of the Tibetan Buddhist community. The Panchen Lama now has the attention of leaders in Beijing and so eventually will sideline the Dalai Lama who fled Tibet into India when Chinese troops entered Tibet in 1959.

However, Beijing's naming of new members such as their chosen Panchen Lama to the CPPCC has taken on a broader political significance this year, an analysis in London's Independent newspaper concludes.

A report by a senior government expert criticized Beijing's handling of growing civil unrest, such as Tibet saw in March 2008. Monks demanded the release of imprisoned fellow monks and many demanded more autonomy for Tibet. Street riots occurred with up to 400 killed, depending on which source is quoted.

China watchers have been closely reading the text of a recent speech by Yu Jianrong, China's top expert on social unrest, The Independent article noted. Yu appears to warn that hard-line security policies are taking the country to the brink of "fundamental revolutionary turmoil" because the Communist Party is obsessed with holding on to its power monopoly.

The CPPCC may have more influence in the future than observers now believe will be the case.

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