The year 2012 marks the dynamic year for China with the ongoing political infighting among the top brass leadership. On the other hand, the Beijing handpicked Panchen Lama Gyaltsen Norbu, aged 22 has made his maiden political appearance outside the mainland China in third world Buddhist forum held in Hong Kong which was attended by more than 4000 Buddhist monks, nuns and scholars from 50 different countries. Despite his rare appearances, he made his political debut in 2010 at the annual session of the Chinese People Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) as a national committee member of the top political advisory body and he had also attended the 1st and 2nd world Buddhist forum in year 2006 and 2009 respectively.
The six-year-old boy recognized and declared as the unmistaken reincarnation of the Tenth Panchen Lama by His Holiness the Dalai Lama on 14th May 1995 was disappeared along with his family after three days. The suspicion related to the disappearance of the young Panchen Lama for being connected to the Chinese government turned into reality when Beijing appointed Gyaltsen Norbu as reincarnation of the Tenth Panchen Lama in November 1995 and later in May 1996, Beijing confirmed the so-called “protective custody” of Gendun Choekyi Nyima.
Despite repeated international pressures and pro Tibet organizations constant plea to the Chinese government over the release of Gendun Choekyi Nyima, often called “the youngest political prisoner in the world,” the Chinese government keeps on telling the world that the Gendun Choekyi Nyima and his family do not want to be disturbed and occasionally warned those who interfere in one China policy: being the emerging world economic and military super power.
According to www.phayul.com (website related to Tibetan issues) recent report dated April 25, 2012 one official who declined to give his name from press section of the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi told website over the phone that “Gendun Choekyi Nyima is in mainland China along with his family and he doesn’t want to be disturbed. When asked why he doesn’t want to be disturbed, the Chinese official instead of giving a straight answer blamed the Dalai Lama for fabricating the truth.”
Central Tibetan Administration’s (CTA) former spokesman Mr. Thubten Samphel believes that “Gyaltsen Norbu’s political appearance in Hong Kong forum was part of a bid for broader acceptance and China is trying to find a platform for him to be accepted by the larger community, which will not happen, I think.”
I agree with Mr.Thubten Samphel’s statement on reference to an incident where Chinese authorities postponed Gyaltsen Norbu’s visit in early July due to concerns about the negative reception by the local Tibetan community. Later in August 2011, when Chinese authorities proposed his visit at Labrang monastery in Amdo, Tibetan laypeople and monks were unhappy and showed dissatisfaction over the decree of Chinese government. Despite threats of pay cuts and extreme warning of extermination from jobs failed to deter local Tibetan official from complying with Chinese government decree to prepare a grand welcome of the boy.
Arja Rinpoche, former abbot of Kumbum Monastery in eastern Tibet fled to United States in order to escape from becoming Gyaltsen Norbu’s tutor. He told the New York Times, “Just forcing him on the faithful cannot win hearts and minds but keeping him in Beijing all the time is also not good for his reputation.”
Since the Tibetans do not recognize Gyaltsen Norbu, observers believe that his appearance in Hong Kong forum was part of Beijing’s intention to boost the spiritual leader’s international standing and recognition.
“The Chinese government wants to promote their appointed Panchen Lama as the most significant leader of Tibetan Buddhism,” said Barry Sautman, a professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology whose research has previously focused on Tibet and Tibetan issue. He further add, “It does signify first that the Chinese government indeed wants people generally, and Tibetans especially, to accept the Panchen Lama.
Beijing based ethnic issue scholar Jiang Zhaoyang agreed with Barry Sautman saying the Hong Kong trip was intended to win international recognition for the Panchen Lama and that he would visit more overseas places future.
All these scholarly interpretations indicate that Beijing was planning of bringing her appointed Panchen Lama in the highest spiritual position after Dalai Lama passes away and to tell the world his version of the story concerning religious freedom in Tibet and rest of China.
The importance of Panchen Lama’s potential role in future Tibet was very well understood by Beijing that eventually led to the abduction of Dalai Lama recognized boy at a very young age. At the same time they have tried numerous ways to cultivate support for their appointed Panchen Lama among Tibetans, which they have failed apparently.
I believe, Beijing’s intention in grooming and educating their Panchen Lama is to surpass Dalai Lama’s popularity and recognition in every part of the world except her few allies. If her idea of replacing Dalai Lama with their Panchen Lama failed, then their ultimate option is to minimize the Dalai Lama’s spiritual role by bringing the bespectacled boy in every major Buddhist related conference and forum overseas.
*Tenzin Tseten is a research fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Tibet Policy Institute.