|Ye Xiaowen, State Council's Secretary for Religious Affairs selecting the name|
China is today a powerful State, probably more powerful than the United States, at least if one looks at the Huawei affair and the way the Chinese state-sponsored telecom giant manages to influence governments (the British Defence Secretary recently lost his job for not realizing this).
China is indeed powerful and can dictate to the world media its views on any subject. Take the case of the young Panchen Lama recognized by the Dalai Lama, who turned 30 year-old last week; he has spent the last 24 years under arrest …somewhere in China.
Where is the Panchen?
Not one of the media persons posted in the Chinese capital dared to ask the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) the whereabouts of the young reincarnation during the daily briefings.
The saga of the young lama’s disappearance (or more correctly kidnapping) by the Chinese State would indeed make a great Hollywood blockbuster.
In 1989, a promising young Communist cadre called Hu Jiatao was sent to Lhasa as Party Chief. It was to be the crucial challenge for Hu; he knew that he had to show results to repay the confidence placed in him by the senior leaders in Beijing.
Hu reached Lhasa on January 12, 1989. On January 23, he went to the Tashilhunpo monastery in Shigatse; he was accompanied by the 50-year old 10th Panchen Lama, the second highest ranking Tibetan Lama after the Dalai Lama. The occasion was the consecration of a stupa containing the mortal remains of some of the previous Panchen Lamas. To everyone's surprise, during the function, the Panchen Lama denounced the Communist Party's role in Tibet: “although there had been developments in Tibet since its liberation, this development had cost more dearly than its achievements.” Four days later, he passed away in mysterious circumstances.
When a demonstration erupted on March 5 in the Tibetan capital, the People's Armed Police quickly took control of the situation; eyewitnesses later said that hundreds of Tibetans were massacred around the Central Cathedral in Lhasa on that day leading to the clampdown of martial law three days later. The tragic events in Lhasa seem to have been a rehearsal for another event: the student rebellion on Tiananmen Square three months later. But the young official would be rewarded for his actions; a few years later, he would become President of China and Secretary General of the Communist Party.
In May 1995, the ‘return’ of the Panchen Lama was announced on the world’s telescripters; the Dalai Lama had formally recognized Gedhun Choeki Nyima, a six-year old boy from Lhari district in Nagchu prefecture of Tibet as the 11th Panchen Lama. Soon, it transpired that the Tibetan leader had been in touch with the Chinese-appointed head of the Search Committee, Chatrel Rinpoche, who had twice consulted the Lhamoi Lhatso, the Lake of Vision, in which signs often indicate the way to discover a departed soul.
When Jiang Zemin and his colleagues of the Politburo, learnt that the Dalai Lama had announced the return of the Panchen Lama without consulting them, they were furious.
The Chinese President and his Premier Li Peng personally took charge of the ‘reincarnation’ issue. Gedhun Choeki and Chatrel Rinpoche were arrested.
In the meantime, the Chinese leadership decided that no time should be lost to announce Beijing’s own candidate. The name of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was deleted from the list of possible candidates, while a few weeks earlier he was for Beijing one of the very strong contenders for becoming the Eleventh Panchen Lama.
On December 8 1995, a new candidate Gyaltsen Norbu, was imposed by the Party and ‘officially’ enthroned at the Tashilhunpo monastery. The ceremony had been kept secret by the Chinese until the last moment as they feared the backlash of an angry Tibetan population at this unilateral imposition of their candidate, ‘selected’ after a mock ‘Golden Urn’ ceremony organised in the Jokhang Cathedral in Lhasa on November 29 by the governor of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, also Gyaltsen Norbu (some Tibetans found the courage to joke, “Gyaltsen Norbu chose Gyaltsen Norbu”). The parents of the boy were of course good Communist Party card holders.
The question remains, why twenty-four years later, has nobody to dar asking the Chinese government “But where is the Panchen Lama Gedhun Choeki Nyima?”
Like questions on Xinjiang, it is simply not allowed.
Is it the sign of a ‘great’ State or a nervous State?
A Nervous State
It is true that the BBC publicized the issue by commissioning forensic artist Tim Widden to flesh out the look that the Panchen Lama would have today. Widden used the only known photograph of young lama; he assumed an average height and weight …and a guessed upon hairstyle.
Why didn’t someone ask the MFA spokesman if the simulation looked like the real Panchen Lama (and if he is still alive)?
The answer is simply because China, as a great power, does not have to answer queries.
But is it the hallmark of a human State …in the new era often mentioned by President Xi?
If China wants to become a respected power, it is not enough to have a powerful Navy or the latest gadgets such hypersonic planes, plasma guns or AI Apps, which can control each and every move of its citizens, China needs to become a ‘moral’ State too; it means, it should stop supporting well-known terrorists, as it did for years for Jaish-e-Mohammad’s Masood Azhar; stop ‘reeducating’ its own minorities; stop trying to enlarge its territory by grabbing lands (or seas) around and stop spying on industrial competitors or political opponents. Goondagiri does not make a power truly great.
In the case of the Panchen Lama, to imprison a young boy just because the Dalai Lama had announced his recognition before Beijing could do so, is deplorable and unacceptable.