China appoints its puppet Panchen Lama to key political post

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Move reveals Beijing’s political objectives for strengthening control over Tibet

China has announced that Gyaltsen Norbu, the Tibetan boy arbitrarily installed by China as Tibet’s 11th Panchen Lama, has been appointed as a new member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). Xinhua (1) announced the appointment yesterday after it was approved on Sunday by a meeting of the Standing Committee of the CPPCC. The CPPCC convenes tomorrow for its annual meeting in Beijing.

In December 1995 Norbu was installed in Beijing as Panchen Lama against the wishes of the Tibetan people who refer to him as “Panchen Zuma” or “fake Panchen”. Tibetan opposition to Norbu stems from the sudden abduction by Chinese state officials of the boy, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, Tibetans believe to be the true Panchen Lama. Gedhun was only five when he was recognised by the Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama in May 1995. Days later, Gedhun was abducted by Chinese officials and has not been seen since. His ongoing enforced disappearance is a major grievance for the Tibetan people.

Yesterday’s appointment of Gyaltsen Norbu to the CPPCC is the latest instance of the Chinese leadership’s carefully managed promotion of its own candidate as Panchen Lama. In 2006 Norbu was placed next to Jia Qinglin, China’s fourth most senior leader, at the opening ceremony of the World Buddhist Forum in Hangzhou, the first religious conference of its kind in China since the Communist takeover in 1949. Norbu made a keynote address to the conference, commenting:

"In this new era we need to shoulder the historical responsibility of defending the nation and working for the people”. (2)

Four weeks ago Xinhua announced that Norbu had been elected Vice-President of the Buddhist Association of China (BAC). (3)

China’s interest in promoting Gyaltsen Norbu so assiduously as Panchen Lama is deeply political. In Tibetan Buddhism, Panchen Lamas traditionally play an important role in the recognition of the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. By attempting to bolster the legitimacy of its own puppet candidate, the Chinese leadership is seeking to impose its control over the future selection process for the Dalai Lama, a key step in its wider strategy for bringing Tibet ever more tightly into its political grip.

Commenting on the appointment of Gyaltsen Norbu to the CPPCC, Free Tibet Director, Stephanie Brigden, said:

“The promotion of Gyaltsen Norbu to a body dominated by the atheist Communist Party reveals Beijing’s deeply political agenda for its puppet Panchen Lama.

But this attempt to control the selection process for a future Dalai Lama through the puppet Panchen Lama only serves to point to China’s actual weakness in Tibet. It betrays China’s desperation to find a strategy for countering the present Dalai Lama’s strong and enduring influence inside Tibet, even after more than 50 years of exile. And the Dalai Lama’s continuing influence underlines China’s failure to develop even the slightest degree of either political or religious legitimacy in the eyes of Tibetans.”

Ends

For further information:

Matt Whitticase, External Communications

t +44 (0)20 7324 4605 / +44 (0)7515 788456 and email: matt@freetibet.org

Stephanie Brigden, Director

t +44 (0)20 7324 4605 / +44 (0)7530 528264 and email: stephanie@freetibet.org

Notes to Editor:

1. The Xinhua report is available at: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/china/2010-03/01/c_13191929_2.htm

2. See: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/1515745/Chinas-choice-of-Tibetan-lama-makes-his-debut.html

3. The Xinhua report is available at: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2010-02/03/content_12925146.htm