The Dalai Lama’s representative in North America has dismissed recent remarks by Chinese officials demanding that India support Beijing’s selection of the 84-year-old Tibetan spiritual leader’s successor.
Recent remarks to Indian reporters in Lhasa by two Chinese officials responsible for Tibet warning New Delhi against recognizing the Dalai Lama’s choice of successor have added a new element to longstanding Chinese pressure on Tibetans, said Ngodup Tsering, the Dalai Lama’s representative in North America.
“The Chinese government’s interference in the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation has been there since 2007. However trying to put pressure on the Indian government on this issue has startled me,” Tsering told RFA’s Tibetan Service in an interview.
“China has always been keen on eradicating the Tibetan identity and religious practices. In terms of recent statements made about India’s stand on the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation, I feel the conversation came about just because some Indian journalists happened to be there in China,” he added.
Zha Luo, director at Beijing-based China Tibetology Research Center, a government-run think tank, told Indian reporters recently that any refusal by India to recognize China’s choice of the next Dalai Lama would hurt ties.
"It will be a major political difference that would impact bilateral relations and any wise political leader wouldn't do that," said Zha, according to the Press Trust of India (PTI).
"Since the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama is an important issue for China any friendly country or friend of China would not interfere or meddle on the issue," Zha was quoted as saying.
A second Chinese official, Wang Nengsheng, the director general of the Tibet Autonomous Region government, told a small group of Indian journalists in Lhasa last week that “the Dalai Lama's reincarnation is not decided by his personal wish or by some group of people living in other countries.”
Tibetan tradition holds that senior Buddhist monks are reincarnated in the body of a child after they die.
Pema Jungney, speaker of the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile, told RFA that the office of the Dalai Lama “will have the sole legitimate authority to choose his successor and no one else holds the right to interfere.”
The Dalai Lama himself has said that his successor would come from a free country without Chinese interference.
“In future, in case you see two Dalai Lamas come, one from here, in free country, one chosen by Chinese, then nobody will trust, nobody will respect (the one chosen by China). So that's an additional problem for the Chinese! It's possible, it can happen,” he told Reuters in March.
That scenario played out in 1995, with another senior Tibetan lama.
The Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, was recognized on May 14, 1995 at the age of six by the Dalai Lama as the 11th Panchen Lama-—the reincarnation of his predecessor, the 10th Panchen Lama.
Three days later, the young Panchen Lama and his family were taken away by Chinese authorities, who then installed another boy as their own candidate in his place.
The whereabouts of the Tibetan choice of Panchen Lama, who turned 30 this year, remain unknown and he has not been seen in public since his disappearance. The Panchen Lama installed by China has not been accepted by Tibetans.
Asked if India could succumb to Beijing’s pressure on the Dalai Lama in the interest of India-China relations, Tsering said “India being a secular country where its constitution states that every individual has the right to religious freedom, I am very positive that India will not interfere in the reincarnation process of the Dalai Lama.”
“Moreover, the Indian government has revered and provided immense protection to the Dalai Lama over the last many years,” he added.
The current, 14th, Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959 following a Chinese crackdown on an uprising by Tibetans. India granted him political asylum and the Tibetan government-in-exile has been based in northern India’s Dharamsala since then.
“Many European countries and the United States have passed bills on this matter citing that authority to appoint the next Dalai Lama is solely in the hands of the community who venerate their religion and religious leaders without any other interference,” said Tsering.
“I don’t think the rest of the world will stoop down too low like China is doing,” he said.
Reported by Chakmo Tso and Singeri Sonam Lhamo for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Tenzin Dickey.