While the world has paid some attention to the Chinese brutalities in Uyghurs, Beijing’s more sinister act of destruction of the Tibetan culture is not receiving the due attention. China through a multi-pronged design is trying to impose its nominee as the successor of the current Dalai Lama along with intensified efforts aimed at erasing the Tibetan culture. This is revealed in the 32-page report entitled “Tibet, the Dalai Lama and the Geopolitics of Reincarnation” published by International Tibet Network (ITN) and the Tibet justice Centre, an independent Tibet group and a member of ITN. The report was released on the 4th October at the side event of 51st Session of UN Human Rights Council sponsored by the US and co-sponsored by the UK, Canada, Czech Republic and Lithuania.
The Chinese strategy is revealed by the secret documents of PRC obtained by “skilled Tibetan researchers with contact in PRC”. The report discloses new dimensions of the CCP plans to compel compliance on the Tibetan Buddhist practice of reincarnation as His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama ages.
Broadly speaking, Beijing has three planks of its strategy to exert control over the Tibetan Buddhist Reincarnation system. At the first plank, it projects that the recognition of reincarnation of the Dalai Lama is the ‘prerogative of the Chinese government.’ At the second plank, it targets the International Community through influence operations/disinformation campaigns/malicious propaganda to secure authority in Tibet and build influence across the Tibetan Buddhist world. At the third plank, it continues to erase the Tibetan culture in Tibet in accordance with the decisions taken at the Seventh Central Symposium on Tibet Works in August 2020. The steps include the ‘sinicization’ of the Buddhist culture and language, imposition of the CCP’s political and ideological education in Tibetan schools by turning them into re-education camps, and strengthening of the border defence and frontier security of Tibet to cut-off links of the Tibetans with outside world.
The Chinese policy of systematic destruction of the Tibetan culture and brutalities against the Tibetans began soon after its illegal occupation of Tibet in 1950. Since then, “it has destroyed thousands of monasteries, burnt religious texts on great pyres, tortured religious teachers and forced them to undergo “patriotic re-education” and “hard labour”. China continues to annihilate Tibetan Buddhism in Tibet by demolishing religious structures, enforcing ideological education on the monks, and unleashing its virulent campaigns against the Dalai Lama labelling him as a “splittist” and a “wolf in monk’s robes”. Several Buddhist were tortured in the first decade of this century that resulted in several Buddhists committing suicides.
In May 2021, China issued its third White paper on Tibet that contained the guidelines to crush the Tibetan culture. It emphasised on the importance of maintaining a tight hold on the region, ensuring Chinese control over the selection of the next Dalai Lama, and border management and development. It underlined “managing religion in the Chinese context” and guiding “Tibetan Buddhism to adapt to socialist society”. These are aimed at erasing the Tibetan culture and religion as also selecting the successor of the Dalai Lama.
The recent report reveals that China has intensified its efforts to crush Tibetan system and perceives the death of the current Dalai Lama would present a ‘strategic’ and ‘historic’ opportunity for Beijing to reset Tibet policy and end international support. It points out that “the Chinese government is making elaborate preparations for what it describes as the ‘post Dalai era’, a Chinese term that has been adopted in order to convey China’s plans to capitalise on the passing of the Dalai Lama and to choose a successor.” Since reincarnation is central to Tibetan Buddhist belief and practice rooted in the concept of the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, Beijing is focussing on taking over the control of this system.
The following key findings of the report are important that reveal the Chinese plans:
- Beijing has developed a public relations strategy targeting Western governments and media outlets involving a plan to end international support for Tibet in what they term the ‘post Dalai era’. Part of this plan includes installing their own Dalai Lama candidate.
- China views control over Tibetan Buddhist reincarnation as a critical component in its efforts to secure authority in Tibet, eliminate Tibet’s linguistic, cultural, and religious identity, and build influence and dominance across the Buddhist world.
- China’s efforts to control Tibetan Buddhism extend to India, Mongolia as well as Bhutan, Nepal, and Central Asia.
- China has strengthened political education and indoctrination efforts, targeting not only monks and nuns but also lay Tibetans at local levels in order to break existing loyalties to the exiled spiritual leader. Tibetans found to be communicating with exiled communities, particularly Dharamsala, over the identification of reincarnate lamas risk torture, imprisonment, and even death.
- Tibetan Buddhist forums linked to Xi Jinping’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ are organised to leverage Tibetan Buddhism and expand extraterritorial influence.
China also is trying to remove the Dalai Lama’s influence among the Buddhist followers by creating a data of “living Buddhas” in the country. The latest Chinese government White Paper released in May 2022 confirmed that in the TAR, “92 reincarnated Living Buddhas had been identified and approved through traditional religious rituals and historical conventions” (meaning they had been identified officially, although not through traditional means). This is aimed at taking away the rights of the Dalai Lama.
In 2007, through the Order No. 5 PRC declared that reincarnations of ‘living Buddhas’ who do not have government approval are “illegal or invalid”, which is intended to convey that the Tibetan system of recognising and educating reincarnate lamas is no longer relevant because it is the Chinese government that decides whether reincarnation is a legitimate religious figure or not. Special training camps are organised to influence the living Buddhas. Simultaneously, China is trying to project its nominee as the Panchen Lama Gyaltsen Norbu as more important than the Dalai Lama, though it has not succeeded in this. In addition, going by the past of the Chinese approach, elimination of the selected candidate by the Dalai Lama cannot be ruled out.
In view of the foregoing, the Dalai Lama has clarified the position. He has affirmed that only he has the authority to nominate his successor and that he could reincarnate in a free country outside the PRC. The successor could be an adult or a woman. He would take a decision in consultation with heads with Tibetan religious heads in 2025 when he would be 90 years old.
The International Community must pay attention to the intensified Chinese activities to destroy the Tibetan culture and system. The need for standing behind the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Govt-in-Exile, cannot be under-estimated in the present scenario. The demand for the self-rule should be given the necessary support by the International Community before it is too late. The third term to Xi would further strengthen his position that would translate into more brutalities against the Tibetans. The International Community has a special responsibility to protect the Tibetans and stymie the Chinese arbitrary efforts for selection of Dalai Lama’s successor. While India has over the last few years increased its interaction with the Tibetan leaders, a more robust and unified international effort is urgently needed to counter the Chinese designs against the Tibetans.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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