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Beijing puts Tibet's Panchen Lama on Show

March 29, 2009

November 27, 2009

BEIJING (AFP) -- China's controversial choice as
the second highest Tibetan spiritual figure is
increasingly being used by Beijing as a tool in
its propaganda offensive against the exiled Dalai Lama, say experts.

Rarely seen in public previously, but believed to
have been educated in the Chinese capital, the
19-year-old Panchen Lama this week expressed
loyalty to Beijing, in stark contrast to the
views of the Tibetan spiritual leader.

On Friday, the controversial figure appeared in
the Great Hall of the People in Beijing to kick
off a symposium marking the 50th anniversary of
what is officially called "the end of serfdom in Tibet."

He will appear at the Second World Buddhist Forum
which opens in the east Chinese city of Wuxi on
Saturday, according to state press reports.

During the last forum two years ago, the young
monk with an almond-shaped face and small round
glasses made his first public appearance, more
than 10 years after his controversial enthronement.

Earlier this month, the Dalai Lama, exiled from
his homeland for 50 years, accused China of
having transformed Tibet into "a hell on earth"
and of killing hundreds of thousands of Tibetans during its rule.

But according to the Panchen Lama, "facts show
that it is only under the leadership of the
Communist Party of China that Tibet can enjoy its
current prosperity and an even better future."

"As a descendant of serfs in ancient Tibet and
the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, I am
excited... with the idea of celebrating the day
marking the emancipation of the serfs," he added
in an essay carried by the communist mouthpiece, the People's Daily, on Monday.

China will on Saturday celebrate for the first
time the end of Tibetan "feudalism," a day that
coincides with the quelling of an anti-Chinese
uprising in the Himalayan region 50 years ago.

Born Gyaincain Norbu, the controversial figure
was enthroned as the 11th Panchen Lama in a 1995
ceremony overseen by the atheist Communist Party,
which had rejected a second boy selected by the Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama's choice, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima,
immediately disappeared from public view and is
believed to have been under a form of house arrest ever since.

The 10th Panchen Lama died in 1989 after a
tumultuous relationship with China's communist
leaders that alternated between prison and relative freedom.

The current Panchen Lama, who has never been
interviewed by the Western press, also appeared
at an exhibition organised in Beijing earlier
this month to commemorate "the 50th anniversary of democratic reform in Tibet."

But even if he becomes more high-profile in
China, that does not mean he is accepted as a
spiritual leader by Tibetans, according to Tibetan scholars outside of China.

In Tibetan temples, it is rare to see images or
photographs of him, while those of his predecessor are common.

"He is a piece of propaganda. He is being used by
the Beijing government," said Samten G. Karmay,
the Paris-based former head of the Association of
International Tibetan Studies.

"The Tibetan population does not recognise him,
especially as he is saying the things that fall
in with the Communist Party line."

Although both the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama
belong to the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism,
differences between them have existed
historically and the communists are not the first
to try to take advantage of this, Karmay said.

In the 19th century, the Qing Dynasty tried to
play on the antagonism by attempting to make the Panchen Lama an ally.

Beijing's manipulation of the selection of the
Panchen Lama in 1995 could be a sign of what will
happen after the death of the current Dalai Lama.

"The Chinese government will try to name someone,
but China will have a problem with legitimacy,"
said Tsering Shakya, a leading Tibetan historian
at the University of British Columbia.

"It is certain that 100 percent of Tibetans will
not recognise a child chosen by China as the
Dalai Lama. But that won't matter to Beijing. For
the Chinese it is only a question of showing their power."

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