Why does China get overly nervous about the Panchen Lama?

As Russia’s war on Ukraine is escalating with viciousness with each day passing and Moscow has ominously predicted that the on-going conflict may slip into a deadly third world war, China is increasingly finding itself on the spot due to stringent Covid-19 measures in Shanghai and scaremongering activity in the Taiwan Strait.

But one issue that constantly places Beijing in the international spotlight is that of ‘Panchen Lama,’ reportedly abducted by China along with family members just three days after his recognition by the 14th Dalai Lama as the second highest Tibetan spiritual leader in 1995.

On April 26, when a correspondent put up a question before the Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson that the US State Department has asked Beijing to disclose the whereabouts and well-being of Panchen Lama, nearly fixated Wang Wenbin said: “We firmly oppose the US side’s interference in China’s internal affairs on Tibet-related issues under the pretext of religious freedom.”

It was a curt reply by the Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, indicating Beijing avoids being walled on the Panchen Lama issue. The 14th Dalai Lama recognised six-year-old GedhunChoekyiNyima as the 11th Panchen Lama 27 years ago.

It is said that China abducted the Panchen Lama so as to discredit the spiritualism that has been in practice in Tibet since centuries. Not only did it keep him away from the world, but also made GyancainNorbu as the Panchen Lama of his own choice.  The 10th Panchen Lama died in suspicious circumstances in 1989. BBC said some believed the Panchen Lama may have been poisoned by the Chinese government.

Analysts view it as China’s design to deliberately crush Tibetans cultural and spiritual symbols. Hardly a day passes when Beijing doesn’t snatch away from Tibetans their cultural and spiritual traditions by making them accept “cultural symbols and images of the Chinese nation.” This line was repeatedly maintained by China’s Communist Party officials last year during an event marking 70 years of the People’s Liberation Army’s invasion of Tibet. Beijing feels all religions in China should be Chinese in orientation. That means ethnic minorities in Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia must not follow non-Han religion and culture. These minorities are forbidden from carrying on with their respective language. They are asked to develop proficiency in Chinese language, which is basically spoken by Han nationals of China.

In Tibet, Chinese authorities have jailed and allegedly beaten Buddhist monks and nuns for encouraging people to read and write in Tibetan language. As per ‘Free Tibet,’ a website run by Tibetans in exile, on March 27, 2022, an 81-year-old man set himself on fire in front of a police station in Kirti Monastery in eastern Tibet. If the website is to be believed, the 81-year-old man was the second Tibetan to have carried out a self-immolation this year in protest against China’s repression. Since 2009, 159 Tibetans in Tibet have resorted to self-immolation in protest against China’s occupation and continued repression.

China’s drive against Tibetans is unabated despite international outcry against the worsening human rights situation of the religious minority community. Human Rights Watch, the New York City-based international non-governmental organisation in its January 2021 report said Buddhist monk Tenzin Nyima was tortured to death by Chinese Police after he refused to join China-led political re-education training camp. Human Rights Watch said the death of Tibetan activist Norsang was not revealed by the Chinese authorities till May 2020. He too was tortured to death after he declined to attend re-education training camp in 2019.

Earlier in February 2021, ‘Tibet Sun,’ an English-language news website focusing on Tibet said KunchokJinpa who was awarded a 21-year sentence 2013 for not adhering to the Communist Party guidelines, died in hospital shortly after his release from prison. Beating, third-degree torture which included electric shock are usual tools, Chinese officials employ in forcing Buddhist monks and nuns renounce their loyalty for the Dalai Lama, culture and tradition.

There are those who succumbed to this cruelty. In the process of its brutality against Tibetans, the Chinese officials usually ask them to keep themselves away from the Dalai Lama who is erroneously called by Beijing as ‘separatist.’ China, in fact, keeps on belying the concept of ‘incarnation.’ Since the Panchen Lama plays a lead role in the search for the Dalai Lama, China wants to end this process by thrusting his man as Panchen Lama—all this to serve its political interests. Tibetans in general agree that the issue of reincarnation is one that will be decided only by the Dalai Lama himself, but China that annexed Tibet in 1951 has different things to say on the issue.

Beijing maintains that the choice of the next Dalai Lama will be decided only by it and has even enshrined this right into Chinese law. However, in an interview to Reuters in 2019, the Dalai Lama said: “In future, in case you see two Dalai Lamas come, one from here, in a free country, one Chosen by Chinese, then nobody will respect. So that’s an additional problem for the Chinese.” Yet itchy Beijing is not prepared to lower its guard on issues related to Tibet. “For the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, the Panchen Erdeni and other grand living Buddhas, a complete set of methods and procedures have been established over the centuries, and the religious rituals and historical conventions as well as the Chinese laws need to be complied with in this process,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson said. Obviously, the issue is not as simple as it appears; China gets overly sensitive whenever one asks it about the Panchen Lama who is said to hold the key to Tibetans’ future political course. China feels that if fear of secession of Tibet has to be removed, it will have to first deny Tibetans their spiritual leadership from like Dalai Lamas and Panchen Lamas.

News Desk

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