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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

A timely question Rudd should raise

April 3, 2008

Joyce Morgan
The Sydney Morning Herald
Wednesday, April 02, 2008

He was called the world's youngest political prisoner when, as a
six-year-old, he was taken into Chinese custody in 1995. He has not been
seen or heard of since.

Indeed, the only image the world has of the Tibetan-anointed Panchen
Lama, who turns 19 this month, is of a ruddy-cheeked infant staring
apprehensively ahead. And apprehensive he may well have been.

For whatever his fate since then, it most certainly has not involved
sitting on a gilded throne in Tibet's ancient Tashilumpo monastery, his
traditional home amid the snow-capped Himalayan mountains of Xigaze,
surrounded by chanting red-robed monks.

We know this because no sooner had the Dalai Lama announced that
six-year-old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was the newly reincarnated 11th
Panchen Lama - the most important figure in Tibetan Buddhism after the
Dalai Lama - than the boy was whisked away along with his parents and
the Chinese installed their own choice, Gyaincain Norbu the son of
Communist Party members.

It sounds like a farce: an atheist Communist regime that has no truck
with reincarnation determining who is a reborn lama, an arcane religious
practice surrounded by much myth, magic and consulting of oracles.

And events have taken an even more bizarre turn since. As of last year
all would-be reincarnate lamas - influential figures revered by Tibetans
as living Buddhas - have to apply for Chinese Government approval.
Imagine the Pythonesque party debates: "He's not a living Buddha, he's
just a naughty boy".

But the implications of that 1995 swap are far-reaching and far from
farcical. This is becoming increasingly apparent as Tibet enters its
most critical era since the Chinese invasion that prompted the Dalai
Lama's flight into exile in 1959. Questions about the shape and future
of the political and spiritual leadership are becoming increasingly
pressing as the generation passes that saw - or fled - the events of
half a century ago.

Yet, in all the coverage of recent Tibetan unrest, the fate of the
Panchen Lama has been largely overlooked. China has said he is living
quietly, but Tibetans fear he is detained and denied his spiritual
education. There is no independent confirmation of his whereabouts. Has
he had access in all these years to his family, education - spiritual or
otherwise - and medical treatment? Is he under house arrest? And if so why?

The importance of the Panchen Lama lies in the key role he plays in
determining who is the Dalai Lama, and vice versa. That leapfrogging has
occurred for hundreds of years.

Control the Panchen Lama and you potentially control the selection of
Tibetan Buddhism's main man - and the political direction of the restive
region. A puppet Panchen Lama could eventually anoint a puppet Dalai Lama.

At least theoretically. Efforts to control the senior lamas have
backfired. The 10th Panchen Lama, who many regarded as pro-Chinese,
denounced Chinese rule days before he died suddenly in 1989 while the
Karmapa Lama, the third-highest ranking, fled to India in 1999.

The current 14th Dalai Lama is arguably the world's longest-serving
leader who, as the writer Pico Iyer has pointed out, he has led his
people longer than Queen Elizabeth II, King Bhumibol Adulyadej of
Thailand or Fidel Castro. And although he appears to be in robust good
health - and active enough to plan a return trip to Australia later this
year - at 72, he cannot live forever. Inevitably, what happens after his
death must be occupying not only his thoughts and those of his
government-in-exile in Dharamsala, India, but those of the Chinese
leadership.

Little wonder then that the Dalai Lama has flagged recently that the
role, which dates back to the 14th century, may change. There has been
speculation in Tibetan circles for some time that he may be the last
Dalai Lama. He has long said only that if the institution is no longer
useful it will cease to exist. More recently he has said the role could
be democratically elected.

This comes amid reports that China may be considering a political
position within the Communist Party hierarchy for its Panchen Lama. The
youth has appeared in public occasionally over the years, most recently
to condemn last month's violence in Tibet and support the Government's
actions. Violence ran contrary to Buddhism and was an attempt to split
the country and undermine ethnic unity, he has been quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, the missing boy is now a man. He turns 19 on April 25. When
Kevin Rudd visits China later this month, he may care to ask whether
Gedhun Choekyi Nyima is still alive. And if he is, exactly where and how
he will spend his 19th birthday.
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