US rebuff to China over Dalai Lama signals Biden won’t take eyes off Tibet

The United States says the Chinese effort to impose a government-chosen successor of the Panchen Lama 25 years ago was “an outrageous abuse of religious freedom.”

UPDATED ON MAR 10, 2021 10:53 AM IST
The Joe Biden administration’s statement that the Chinese government should have no role in the succession of the Dalai Lama on the day Tibetans in 1959 rose against Beijing’s rule makes it evident that Washington will continue to press the Xi Jinping regime on Lhasa. The 14th Dalai Lama escaped from Lhasa on May 17, 1959, and reached Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh by March-end. The refuge given to the 14th Dalai Lama by India was one of the principal triggers of the 1962 border skirmish.

“We believe that the Chinese government should have no role in the succession process of the Dalai Lama,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters on Tuesday. Price recalled Beijing’s interference in the succession of the Panchen Lama more than 25 years ago and called the Chinese effort to impose its successor “an outrageous abuse of religious freedom.”

In December, former US President Donald Trump signed into law a bill to establish a US consulate in Tibet and called for an international coalition to ensure that the next Dalai Lama is solely appointed by the Tibetan Buddhist community without Chinese interference.

Irrespective of the statements from Washington, analysts said the Xi Jinping regime will interfere in the Dalai Lama succession and anoint a Chinese Dalai Lama as opposed to one that may be appointed by the 14th Dalai Lama during his lifetime or beyond. It is not very difficult to figure that by having two Dalai Lamas and two Panchen Lama, the Chinese will seek to engineer chaos in the international Buddhist community, particularly in the Gelugpa sect, the most dominant school of Tibetan Buddhism.

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Given the Chinese political and economic clout, the international community will be only reduced to making noises as in the case of Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan. The Chinese economic clout is such that the Sunni Muslim nations are willing to look the other way to state abuses against the Uighur community in Xinjiang but are prepared to red flag India on Kashmir at the first given opportunity.

While India is watching the 14th Dalai Lama succession plan very closely, the Modi government has gone beyond the thinking of past governments who thought, as one former top foreign ministry official put it at a high-level meeting, that this issue was akin to flogging a dead horse.

Even though New Delhi has no intentions of deliberately needling China on the Dalai Lama issue despite Beijing’s routine pinpricks on Kashmir, it is unfazed by the routine threats issued by the Xi Jinping regime to anyone raising the so-called core issue of the middle kingdom. Such is the Chinese antipathy towards exiled Tibetan community that the issue of deploying Special Frontier Forces (SFF), made up entirely of Tibetan exiles, in East Ladakh and along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) was seriously raised by the Peoples’ Liberation Army commanders during the military dialogue with Indian commanders. The SFF was part of the Indian Army mission to occupy the Rezang La -Rechin La heights on the south banks of Pangong Tso last August.

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