Chinese Officials Pressure Tibetan Buddhist Leaders to Support PRC-installed Panchen Lama

January 26, 2005

Reuters reported on January 24 that Chinese government officials ordered senior Tibetan religious leaders in Qinghai province to "urge the faithful to show more support for a top monk anointed by Beijing and on whom the future of the restive region may ride." Anonymous sources said that the officials held the meeting in secret in November 2004, and threatened the Tibetan Buddhist leaders with unspecified punishment if they failed to comply. According to the news account, a provincial religious affairs official said he had not heard of such a meeting, and an official in the Qinghai Communist Party propaganda office denied that it had taken place.

On January 23, the Associated Press (AP) reported that about 20 Tibetan religious leaders had attended the meeting, which took place in Xining, Qinghai’s capital. AP described the sources as located in India and having "strong connections to Tibetan officials," evidently referring to the Tibetan government-in-exile based in Dharamsala, India.

The reports disclose another development in China’s ongoing campaign to compel Tibetan acceptance of Gyaltsen Norbu, the boy selected under the supervision of China’s State Council and enthroned as the Panchen Lama in November 1995. In May that year, the Dalai Lama announced from Dharamsala that he recognized then five-year-old Gedun Choekyi Nyima as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, a figure many Tibetans regard as second only to the Dalai Lama. Enraged Chinese officials dismissed the Dalai Lama’s action as "illegal and invalid," and countered by installing Gyaltsen Norbu. Expressing religious support for Gedun Choekyi Nyima, even by possessing a photograph of him, is dealt with as a threat to China’s unity and national security. Offenders may face punishment that can include imprisonment.

Gedun Choekyi Nyima and his parents, then living in Lhari county (Jiali) in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), were taken into custody by Chinese authorities immediately after the Dalai Lama made his announcement. The tenth anniversary of the family’s disappearance will arrive in May this year. Chinese officials have not provided any verifiable information about them, nor allowed representatives of any international organization to visit the family. Additional information about the Panchen Lama controversy and related issues is available in the CECC Annual Report 2004.