Tibet’s Beijing-appointed Panchen Lama in a speech this month slammed what he called foreign interference in Tibetan affairs, saying that “anti-China forces” care nothing for the Tibetan people and only raise issues of religious freedom in order to hinder China’s development.
Speaking on March 11 at a meeting of the Chinese People’s Consultative Conference, Panchen Gyaltsen (Chinese, Gyaincain) Norbu, a member of the CPCC Standing Committee, said that “Foreign anti-China forces have been hyping Tibet issues and religious issues in China, and transforming the topics into political bargaining chips.”
“As long as a person has sanity and an objective stance, he would see the truth very clearly,’ Norbu said in remarks quoted by China’s official Global Times, which noted that the U.S. State Department in a statement the day before had said that China “shouldn’t interfere with the succession process of [exiled Tibetan spiritual leader] the Dalai Lama.”
The comments by the Panchen Gyaltsen Norbu, who is widely regarded by Tibetans as a puppet of Beijing, drew a sharp rebuke this week from Tenzin Tsetan, an analyst at the Dharamsala, India-based Tibet Policy Institute.
“The Tibet Policy and Support Act signed into law by the U.S. government imposes sanctions on Chinese Communist Party officials if they interfere with the reincarnation process of Tibetan religious leaders,” Tsetan said, referring to legislation passed in the U.S. Congress in December and signed into law by U.S. President Donald Trump.
“I think the Chinese government is manipulating [this issue] by using their own appointed Panchen Lama to assert their [own] claims,” Tsetan added.
The Tibet Policy and Support Act 2020 establishes as U.S. policy that the selection of Tibetan religious leaders, including future successors to exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, is a decision to be made only by Tibetans, free from Chinese government interference.
Concerns over the advancing age of the Dalai Lama, now 85, have renewed uncertainties in recent years over his possible successor after he dies, with Beijing claiming the right to name his successor and the Dalai Lama himself saying that any future Dalai Lama will be born outside of China.
‘Can’t really judge’
In supporting China’s policies, Gyaltsen Norbu may be speaking under coercion, though, says London-based Tibet expert Robbie Barnett, formerly director of the Modern Tibetan Studies program at Columbia University.
“We can’t really judge anyone, especially not a Tibetan in China, by what they say publicly. Chinese officials have always praised the Communist Party, and it’s difficult to know whether those words of appreciation are genuine or not,” Barnett said.
“It may also be that these officials are being coerced into praising the Communist Party,” he said.
“Since Chinese President Xi Jinping assumed power [in 2013], the crackdown and policies aimed at destroying Tibetan religion, culture, and identity have intensified more than ever,” said Karma Choeying—spokesperson for the Dharamsala, India-based Tibetan government in exile, the Central Tibetan Administration.
“Tibetans inside Tibet have and will continue to resist China’s widespread brutality, and Tibetans in exile must always remain vigilant and be aware of the [Chinese Communist Party’s] intentions,” Choeying said.
Tibetans remain bitter about Chinese intervention in the selection 25 years ago of the current 11th Panchen Lama, whose predecessor died in 1989.
The recognition in 1995 by exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama of six-year-old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the Panchen Lama angered Chinese authorities, who three days later took the boy and his family into custody and then installed Gyaltsen Norbu as their own candidate in his place.
The Panchen Lama installed by Beijing remains unpopular with Tibetans both in exile and at home.
Reported by Lobsang Gelek for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Tenzin Dickyi. Written in English by Richard Finney.
Copyright © 1998-2020, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036. https://www.rfa.org
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