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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Reborn supremacy: China's control of Tibetan reincarnation

January 23, 2008

Non-Subscriber Extract

Jane's, UK
21 January 2008

Reincarnation rarely overlaps with international security concerns.
However, in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) of China, the topic has
implications for the way Beijing rules the region.

Since invading the then-independent Tibet in 1950, Beijing has ensured
tight military and political control over the strategically important
area. Struggling against this control has been the spiritual leader of
Tibetan Buddhists and last independent political leader of Tibet, the
14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso, who was 15 when China invaded and in his
early twenties when he fled the region to India in 1959. Now 72 years
old, he and his Tibetan government-in-exile are concerned that his death
and reincarnation (the present Dalai Lama is believed by Tibetan
Buddhists to be the latest in an unbroken lineage of incarnations) will
eliminate the possibility of political accommodation with China, given
the Dalai Lama's role as the symbolic focus of the Tibetan issue.

For its part, Beijing similarly believes the Dalai Lama's demise will
remove a figure of symbolic force and sap the movement of much of its
international resonance. It is therefore seeking to, and believes it
can, manage the Dalai Lama's death with alacrity and prevent any
deterioration in security.

The issue of reincarnation was highlighted in November when the Dalai
Lama announced during a visit to Japan that he might choose his
successor while he is still alive. Although there are instances in
Tibetan history where an incarnate Tibetan lama is believed by Tibetans
to have reincarnated before his passing, the Dalai Lama's statement was
still somewhat unusual, and certainly politically significant as an
attempt to thwart Beijing's control and supervision of the reincarnation
of influential Tibetan lamas.

However, despite the Dalai Lama's statement, the government-in-exile in
Dharmsala remains undecided on the issue. A referendum on the concept of
succession and a popular election for any successor have also been
mentioned by the Dalai Lama in 2007. This hesitancy was underlined by
further remarks in December, when the Dalai Lama also acknowledged that
he and his exile government had come to no real decision about any
specific method for managing the search for and recognition of the next
dalai lama. This indecision highlights the difficult situation for the
Tibetan government-in-exile, which has little influence in the TAR's
politics, and the nimble diplomacy of Beijing.

China's intentions regarding its desire to select the next Dalai Lama
have been known for more than a decade, long enough for the Tibetan
leader and his exile government to have formulated a clear and decisive
plan for the succession. That they still remain undecided about how
specifically to counter China's plans at this late stage is symptomatic
of the almost wholly reactive nature of their strategy towards China.
China has long remained several steps ahead of them at almost every stage.

Playing on the Dalai Lama's political naivety and his desperation to
resolve the Tibet issue, China acted to ensure that the idea of Tibetan
independence lost some of its legitimacy by shrewdly insisting he be
more vocal about accepting Tibet as a part of China. What ensued during
the 1990s and into the present decade was effective statecraft.
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