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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?"

Buddhist cleric: China protects religious freedom

March 29, 2009

By CHRISTOPHER BODEEN
The Associated Press
March 28, 2009

WUXI, China (AP) -- A high-level Tibetan Buddhist
cleric backed by Beijing praised the communist
government's protection of religion Saturday,
apparently indicating the regime's intention to
make him an international spokesman for its religious and Tibetan policies.

China has consistently failed to connect with
foreign audiences over Tibet, and its
heavy-handed control of religion has allowed the
charismatic Dalai Lama, Tibet's highest-ranking
Buddhist leader, to dominate international debate.

The Panchen Lama thanked the government for
sponsoring the lavish international Buddhist
forum in eastern China, which seeks to promote
the country as a protector of Buddhist tradition
after decades of persecution and neglect.

"This event fully demonstrates that today's China
enjoys social harmony, stability, and religious
freedom, and also shows that China is a nation
that safeguards and promotes world peace," the Panchen Lama said.

The Panchen Lama addressed the forum in English,
underscoring Beijing's determination to give him
a prominent international role.

Despite Beijing's backing, Gyaltsen Norbu is not
widely accepted by Tibetans as the Panchen Lama.
Another boy, Gendun Choekyi Nyima, was named as
the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama by the
Dalai Lama in 1995. The boy and his family
disappeared soon after and have not been heard from since.

His rare appearance at the forum was a strong
indication of Beijing's willingness to spend
lavishly to promote him as a credible religious
figure. The conference placed him alongside other
Asian Buddhist leaders and hundreds of
international participants at a grandiose new
Buddhist complex in the lakeside city of Wuxi,
about an hour's drive east of Shanghai.

Buddhism has roots going back 2,000 years in
China, enduring alternating periods of flowering
and official persecution. Following the founding
of the communist state in 1949, monks and nuns
were forced from their monasteries, temples
converted to factories and the religion derided as backward.

Alongside Christianity, it has undergone a
resurgence since the end of orthodox Marxism in
the late 1970s, attracting celebrity adherents
such as action film star Jet Li, who also spoke at Saturday's forum.

The Panchen Lama's remarks came amid nationwide
commemorations of a new Chinese political holiday
marking the anniversary of the overturning of
Tibet's feudal and religious hierarchy in 1959.

The holiday, called "Serfs Liberation Day" by
Beijing, marks the anniversary of a Tibetan
uprising against communist troops that resulted
in the Dalai Lama's flight into exile in India,
from where he continues to head the
self-proclaimed Tibetan government in exile.

China claims Tibet has been part of its territory
for centuries, although many Tibetans say they
were effectively independent for most of that time.

Beijing has in recent years begun enlisting the
Panchen Lama in its campaign to vilify the Dalai
Lama, seeking to portray him as a dictator who
headed a corrupt regime. On Friday he was quoted
as criticizing the former regime without mentioning the Dalai Lama by name.

"I sincerely thank the party for giving me these
bright eyes to allow me to tell right from wrong,
to recognize who really loves the Tibetan people
and who is willing to take any measures to
destroy the peace and stability in Tibet for their own purposes," he said.

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