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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

China Names Its Own Lama to Top Body of Advisers

March 3, 2010

The New York Times
March 1, 2010

BEIJING -- China’s handpicked Panchen Lama, the
teenage religious figure whose legitimacy is a
matter of dispute among many Tibetan Buddhists,
has been appointed to the country’s top advisory
body, the state media have announced.

The Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama, center, in
Hangzhou, China, in 2006. Many Tibetans dispute his claim to the title.

Although membership in the advisory group, the
Chinese People’s Political Consultative
Conference, is of nominal interest to Chinese,
the appointment of the Panchen Lama, 19, on
Sunday ratchets up the government’s efforts to
elevate his stature among Tibetans. Because he
was appointed by Communist Party authorities
rather than by Buddhist leaders, many Tibetans
reject his religious authority as the ranking
leader after the Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile since 1959.

Born as Gyaltsen Norbu, he was anointed the 11th
Panchen Lama in 1995, after the Dalai Lama
identified a different child as the latest
incarnation of the Panchen Lama. A few weeks
later, that boy and his family vanished. The
government has said that they are in “protective
custody,” but their whereabouts have been a mystery for 15 years.

According to Xinhua, the official news agency,
the official Panchen Lama, just shy of his 20th
birthday, is the youngest person ever appointed
to the conference, which convenes this week as
part of the annual pageant that includes meetings
of the National People’s Congress, the country’s main legislative forum.

The advising conference is made up of wealthy
businessmen, sports celebrities and prominent
members of China’s ethnic minorities. It is also
cynically viewed as a reward for retired
officials. Among the 13 new members appointed
Sunday was Li Changjiang, the former head of
China’s food safety administration, who was
forced to resign over the scandal involving melamine-contaminated milk.

Bkra-lo, a Tibetan scholar at the state-run
Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing,
said there was nothing surprising about Gyaltsen
Norbu’s appointment to the advisory conference.

"He has a lot of influence and popularity among
the Tibetan people, so it makes sense," he said.
"Although he is very young, he is also very learned.”

Last month, the state media liberally featured
his elevation as vice president of the
government-run Buddhist Association of China. In
an address, he swore to uphold the leadership of
the Communist Party and promised to “adhere to
socialism, safeguard national unification and strengthen ethnic unity.”

Despite its stated devotion to atheism, the
Communist Party has struggled to offer a
counterweight to the immense stature of the Dalai
Lama, whom it views as a separatist eager to
sunder Tibet from China. The Dalai Lama says his
only interest is greater religious and cultural autonomy for Tibetans.

Tsewang Rigzin, president of the Tibetan Youth
Congress, an exile group in India, said no amount
of grooming would burnish Gyaltsen Norbu’s reputation among Tibetans.

"If you look at the Tibetan struggle for the last
60 years, neither torture nor financial
incentives by the Chinese have been able to win
the hearts of the people,” he said. “Tibetans
will never accept him as the Panchen Lama.”

Zhang Jing contributed research.
A version of this article appeared in print on
March 2, 2010, on page A11 of the New York edition.

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