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Opinion: Panchen Lama's New Role

March 3, 2010

The Wall Street Journal
March 1, 2010

The Wall Street Journal's China Real Time Report
<http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime> recently
looked at a new appointment for the
government-backed Panchen Lama and more reaction
to James Chanos's take on China.

The Chinese government-backed Panchen Lama has
joined a group of leading citizens that advises
the nation’s legislature, part of an effort to raise his public profile.

Gyaincain Norbu, installed as the high-ranking
Tibetan Buddhist cleric as a child in 1995 and
now 20 years old, has been playing a more
prominent public role as a religious leader and
supporter of Communist Party rule in recent
years, after previously staying out of the spotlight.

The young monk was named to the National
Committee of the Chinese People’s Political
Consultative Conference on Sunday, according to
the official Xinhua news agency. The group
consists of more than 2,200 people, including
well-known academics, television personalities,
entrepreneurs and government officials who advise
the National People’s Congress.

The CPPCC will meet Wednesday, followed by the
annual meeting of the People’s Congress, which starts Friday in Beijing.

The Panchen Lama -- believed to be the
reincarnation of the second-highest ranking lama
in the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism -- is at
the center of a struggle for control of the
religion between the Chinese government and
exiled Tibetan clerical and political figures led
by the Dalai Lama, the top Gelug lama.

In 1995, the Dalai Lama recognized a young
Tibetan boy as the reincarnation of the previous
Panchen Lama, who died in 1989. Soon after,
Chinese security forces detained the boy and his
family. They haven’t been seen publicly since.
Beijing instead backed Gyaincain Norbu after a
government-sanctioned selection process.

The addition of Gyaincain Norbi to the CPPCC soon
after the Dalai Lama’s White House meeting with
U.S. President Barack Obama, highlights Beijing’s
efforts to set up an alternate Tibetan Buddhist
leadership to that led by the Dalai Lama.

The government has recently stepped up efforts to
promote its Panchen. Temples and shops in parts
of Yunnan province near the Tibet Autonomous
Region have been ordered by officials to display
his picture and erect shrines honoring him. And
he makes more frequent public statements, such as
one in the wake of anti-Han Chinese riots in
Lhasa in 2008, in which he said: “We resolutely
oppose all activities to split the country and undermine ethnic unity.”

So far, Gyaincain Norbu has failed to gain much
of a popular following. Many Tibetan temples
display only pictures of the previous Panchen,
often alongside illicit images of the Dalai Lama,
whom China accuses of promoting independence for Tibet.

One monk, at a temple in Qinghai province, said
Gyaincain Norbu "is someone who has been
kidnapped by the Chinese government. The
government tells him where to go. His words are
written by the Chinese government. It’s sad to see him this way."

--Gordon Fairclough

The government has recently stepped up efforts to
promote its Panchen. Temples and shops in parts
of Yunnan province near the Tibet Autonomous
Region have been ordered by officials to display
his picture and erect shrines honoring him. And
he makes more frequent public statements, such as
one in the wake of anti-Han Chinese riots in
Lhasa in 2008, in which he said: "We resolutely
oppose all activities to split the country and undermine ethnic unity."

So far, Gyaincain Norbu has failed to gain much
of a popular following. Many Tibetan temples
display only pictures of the previous Panchen,
often alongside illicit images of the Dalai Lama,
whom China accuses of promoting independence for Tibet.
More debate on Chanos

In making his now-(in)famous comment that China
is in a bubble that looks like "Dubai times a
thousand," prominent short-seller James Chanos
crystallized the debate over the country's
economy and inspired a torrent of both praise and criticism.

Chanos, who runs the hedge fund firm Kynikos
Associates, was quoted making the Dubai quip in
the New York Times in early January. The paper's
own columnist Thomas Friedman responded a week
later with a quip of his own: "First, a simple
rule of investing that has always served me well:
Never short a country with $2 trillion in foreign currency reserves."

The latest to join in piling on Chanos is
Jonathan Anderson, the respected emerging-markets
economist for UBS and a longtime China watcher.

In a recent report, Anderson deployed an
impressive array of charts to make the point that
"China looks nothing like Dubai." While Dubai had
rapid growth in bank lending and property deals
for several years before its bubble burst, he
says, China hasn't had those symptoms until that
last 12 months or so—and the government is already trying to cool things down.

China is having more of a "mini Dubai moment,"
Anderson argues. Things are going to slow down
this year, which means that "'big China bears'
could easily look like heroes for a while during
2010," he says, "even if their more dire
predictions are proven very wrong at the end of the day."

As far as sound bites go, "mini Dubai moment" has
nothing on "Dubai times a thousand." But to be
fair, Chanos's argument is more than a sound
bite. In a presentation at Oxford University's
China Center on Jan. 28, Chanos said that the
serious point he was trying to make is that
"We've now seen residential real-estate
speculation really take hold in China." And given
the recent excesses in the property market, that point is hard to argue with.

Chanos said his position on China is more nuanced
than some might think. "This is not a call for an
impending crash. That's not what we're saying.
What we are saying is that there are classic
pockets of overheating and overindulgence,"
Chanos said in his talk. "We have without a
modicum of doubt a credit-driven property bubble
going on in China right now," particularly in commercial real estate.

For the moment, the Chanos-is-right camp is still
ahead on catchy slogans. One of its members is
investor-blogger Vitaliy N. Katsenelson, who
recently put together a presentation calling
China "the mother of all black swans."

--Andrew Batson

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