Chinese communist officials have admitted that diminishing the influence of the Dalai Lama, the highest authority in Buddhism, is their “highest priority” for governing Tibet, as Chinese state media attempts to elevate the profile of a rival, state-approved Buddhism authority.
“First, we must deepen the struggle against the Dalai Lama clique, make it the highest priority in carrying out our ethnic affairs, and the long-term mission of strengthening ethnic unity,” Wu Yingjie, the Community Party secretary of Tibet, said on Friday, arguing that the communists must “thoroughly expose the reactionary nature of the fourteenth Dalai Lama, crack down on separatist and subversive activities, and strive to eliminate at their roots harmful elements that damage ethnic unity.”
The Dalai Lama has been exiled from Tibet since 1959 and supports an autonomous Tibetan state, separate from the communist authorities in Beijing. He remains Buddhism’s highest authority, however, a prestigious title the Chinese government has endeavored to tarnish, from dismissing the Dalai Lama’s assurances he will pick a successor in his lifetime to likening him to the violent radicals of the Islamic State.
In December, the Chinese government openly referred to the Dalai Lama as a “violent extremist” and “Islamic State sympathizer,” citing comments the Dalai Lama made urging dialogue with the terrorist organization. “By saying, ‘listen, understand and respect’ them, it exposes, in his very bones, his sympathy or endorsement for ISIS,” Chinese Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee chairman Zhu Weiqun said of the Dalai Lama, as quoted by Chinese state propaganda.
The Chinese outlet People’s Daily reiterated the accusation earlier this month. “While traveling in the European country, [the Dalai Lama] urged talks with the Islamic State extremists, saying talks are ‘the only way’ to end bloodshed in Syria and Iraq without explaining how that is possible,” an editorial titled “Shocking IS comments good chance for some Westerners to see Dalai Lama’s real face” read.
To counter the Dalai Lama’s influence, the communist Chinese state is working to elevate the profile of the second most powerful authority in the religion, the Panchen Lama. Both titles are the product of reincarnation — the current Dalai Lama is considered the 14th incarnation of a 14th century monk — with the living Buddhas helping find each other. The Dalai Lama found a six-year-old boy, Gendun Choekyi Nyima, whom he named the Panchen Lama in 1995. The child has been missing for over 20 years, with Chinese government officials claiming last year that he is “being educated, living a normal life, growing up healthily and does not wish to be disturbed.”
Chinese officials claimed the Dalai Lama had made an unauthorized appointment of the Panchen Lama and, shortly following Nyima’s disappearance, appointed a government-approved Panchen Lama. That man, Gyaltsen Norbu, is Beijing-friendly and increasingly being thrust into the public eye, groomed to participate in the identification of the new Dalai Lama when the current leader, now an octogenarian, eventually dies.
Norbu, 26, is increasingly visible as the leader of Buddhist rituals organized by the Chinese government. The People’s Daily speaks favorably of him, writing, “Unlike other men his age who want a well paying job and a hot girlfriend, his dream is that ‘the world is peaceful, our motherland is stable, people live in harmony, Buddhism is prosperous.'”
“An increasingly active Panchen Lama is expected to mitigate the Dalai’s influence,” the Global Times, another Chinese government publication, declared of him. As the Washington Post notes, however, many Tibetans and Buddhists generally reject this Panchen Lama due to his ties to Beijing and the mysterious disappearance of the legitimate second-in-command in their religion decades ago.