Monday, June 15, 2015

Hot Summer on the Tibetan Plateau

The political climate is hotting up on the Tibetan plateau.
Xinhua has announced that President Xi Jinping ‘accepted an audience’ with the Chinese-selected Panchen Lama Gyaltsen Norbu at Zhongnanhai in Beijing on June 10. The term ‘accepting an audience’ is a euphemism to say the least, because the ‘audience’ seemed more like summon-cum-lecture, I shall come back to it.
A few weeks ago, the United Front Work Department (UFW) of the Central Committee held a 3-day Conference in Beijing (from May 18 to 20) to take stock of China’s ‘internal threats’. The UFW usually deals with the ‘minorities’ such as Tibetans and Uyghurs as well as non-Communist Party organizations. The Conference decided to recruit ‘three types of people’ for ‘Party Work’. Who are these 3 types?
Xi Jinping named them: overseas students, media representatives, and ‘private’ businesspersons, like Jack Ma of Alibaba. A few days later, China Tibet Online asked a pertinent (for Beijing) question: “do overseas Tibetans count among the ‘three types of people’?”
The Tibetan Diaspora was painted in black and white: “Among the exiled Tibetans, only a handful of ‘high-ranking officials’ Tibetans can obtain the ‘nationality status’ or ‘green cards’ from their host countries, such as several Kalons (cabinet ministers) of the ‘Tibetan government-in-exile’. Most of the overseas Tibetans, especially those living in India and Nepal, are living in poverty and are basically dependent on others.”
However, the Party seemed keen to return to the Deng Xiaoping’s days, when China ‘opened-up’: “all patriots belong to one family …patriotism can be shown at any time”. These ‘patriotic Chinese’ should be given “the freedom to come and go, letting bygones be bygones” adding that “expatriate Tibetans are welcome to come home.”
It sounded like an open invitation to the refugees to return, ‘let the bygones, be bygones’. How many will take the ‘socialist’ bite in the present repressive atmosphere is another question.
The UFW Conference nevertheless “reiterated the bottom line that so long as overseas Tibetans are not involved in separatist activities, but safeguarding the unity of the motherland, they [should be] the targets of the united front’s work.”
This brings us back to the Panchen Lama’s invitation to Zhongnanhai.
He seems to be the No. 1 target of the UFW.
“Why did Xi Jinping meet with the Panchen Lama just now?” asked a Chinese website. But before answering the question, the article notes that the two leaders (Xi and Norbu) have already met in 2006, on the occasion of the first World Buddhism Forum in Hangzhou; then, when Xi, then vice-president went to Tibet in July 2011 and paid homage to the 10th Panchen Lama at the Tashilhunpo Monastery. Xi even offered a khata, a ceremonial scarf, on the tomb of the great Tibetan leader.
The article forgets to mention that for decades, Xi Zhongxun, the President’s father, had been extremely close to the 10th Panchen Lama and even wrote his official obituary in The People’s Daily, when the Tibetan leader passed away in mysterious circumstances in January 1989 in Shigatse.
The present meeting is ‘very appropriate’ says Xinhua, because it shows that the Party “has consistently given a high level of attention to Tibet.” It also indicates, says the news agency, “the great importance that the Central Committee attaches to the religious work,” affirming that Xi Jinping has “set an example for the rest of the Party members by taking the lead in uniting the religious figures.”
What happened during the Xi-Panchen encounter?
First, if one looks at the picture published by Xinhua, apart from Xi, three other members of the Politburo were in attendance (Yu Zhengsheng of the Standing Committee, Sun Chunlan, the UFW head and Li Zhanshu, director of the General Office of the Party); also present was Jampa Phuntsok (the senior-most Tibetan in the Party). Why such a rare lineup?
Apparently Gyaltsen Norbu needed to be briefed.
Xi did most of the talking. If bygones have to be bygones, the Party has to be reassured that those who are supposed to represent the Party understand properly the stand of the Party.
In Beijing’s game plan, Gyaltsen Norbu is destined to play a central role. He has been especially selected by Beijing from a family of faithful Communist cadres from Nagchu prefecture (let us not forget that the boy selected by the Dalai Lama as the Panchen Lama, has for the past 20 years been languishing under house arrest).
What will happen if Norbu, though groomed by the Party, behaves like the Great Tenth, who sent a 70,000 charcater letter to Zhou Enlai in 1962 criticizing the Party’ actions in Tibet and who, a few hours before his death, again asked, what good 30 years of ‘liberation’ had brought to Tibet.
A frightful thought for the Party!
Xi told Gyalsten Norbu to “keep the motherland and its people in his heart and firmly work for the unification of the country and all its ethnic groups.” Is there any doubt in Beijing’s mind?
The Panchen Lama was told that he is expected to grow into "a Tibetan Buddhist leader with great religious achievement, deeply loved by the monks and secular followers." Further, the young Lama should “carry on the legacy of his predecessor and actively engage in the cause to incorporate Tibetan Buddhism into socialist society under the Buddhist principles of equality and compassion among all beings.” This is a tricky one, because the 10th Panchen was a rebel, a courageous monk who never hesitated, at the cost of his own security, to call a spade a spade, even if it was a Party spade.
Gyaltsen Norbu was told to “promote positive Buddhist doctrines, such as those upholding kindness, denouncing wickedness, promoting equality and generosity as well as helping the needy.”
Am I dreaming: the Secretary General of the Communist Party, giving a religious lecture to a Buddhist monk!
Not a word about what the Lama said! It is rare in a Xinhua communiqué.
Clearly China is preparing the 6th Tibet Work Forum which, later this year, should decide on the new Tibet policy for the 5 or 10 years to come.
A few days earlier, Xinhua had reported that the Panchen Lama had concluded a seven-day tour in Yunnan Province where he visited several Buddhist sites. Two places are of particularly interest to decipher the role that Beijing would like the Lama to play.
The Zongfo Temple in Jinghong of Xishuangbanna Prefecture is a Theravada monastery, located in Yunnan, close to the Thailand border. The visit was clearly a political one as Beijing is keen to show that Norbu can take the lead not only of the Mahayana, but of the Hinayana Buddhism too. Beijing wants to use the young Lama for this purpose in the future.
The second ‘political’ important stop was at the Ganden Sumtsenling Monastery in Gyalthang county. It is the largest Tibetan-Buddhist temple in Yunnan. It has been linked to the Shugden practice denounced by the Dalai Lama. Does it mean that the Panchen Lama will lead an anti-Dalai Lama movement in the years to come? It is too early to say, but it was probably part of Xi’s ‘lecture’.
Where is the Dalai Lama in all this? In early June, China Tibet Online had asked “Will the Dalai Lama be united by the CPC?”
The website says: “In the 1950s, Chairman Mao Zedong often wrote to him and sent valuable gifts. However, after the rebellion in 1959, the Dalai Lama fled the country. What is more ridiculous is that recently he called himself a ‘Son of India’, even though he still has the Chinese nationality.”
Xinhua’s publication answers its own question: “The Dalai Lama does not seem to be a person who can be united. For decades he has not totally given up separatist activities. …he seems to be more a qualified force to be united by the United States and other western powers than by the CPC,” adding: “Furthermore, he is neither a patriot who supports socialism and the reunification of the motherland, nor is he dedicated to the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”
The conclusion is that only the Chinese Panchen Lama is left to do the ‘United Front Work, therefore the need of a high level ‘briefing’ in Zhongnanhai. Will it work, is a billion yuan question.

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