The spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy in India, Counsellor Rong Ji, issued a press statement on Wednesday criticising in unusually blunt terms the recent Indian media coverage of the landmark Tibetan Policy and Support Act, 2020, of the US.
While the Chinese Embassy is free to entertain the idea that the free and boisterous Indian media can be cowed with some stern warnings, Counsellor Rong Ji’s comments on issues related with Tibet are all propaganda and not grounded on facts. As such, they merit complete rejection.
Cautioning Indian media against playing the “Tibet Card”, Counsellor Rong Ji contends the US legislation “maliciously distorts [Tibet’s] social development, makes groundless accusations, denigrates China’s ethnic and religious policies, and interferes in the normal reincarnation procedure of living Buddhas under the pretext of human rights and religion”.
She claims Tibet “has been part of China since ancient times” and its affairs are “purely China’s internal affairs that allow no foreign interference”.
Prior to China’s military invasion of Tibet in 1950, Tibet was an independent country, and no other country knows this better than India. Historically, there never was a India-China border, only a India-Tibet border. This is an undeniable fact, that even the global hegemony of Chinese economic and military prowess cannot dilute by rewriting Tibetan history at will.
Following the classic literature of erstwhile colonial powers, China’s incessant propaganda machinery has mastered the art of untruthfully glorifying Tibet’s economic development in the last half-century, under China’s rule. They are also equally adept at concealing the devastating cost of China’s rule in Tibet and on its people: The widespread death and destruction carried out in the wake of the Chinese invasion and military occupation of Tibet, the extremely severe restrictions on even the most basic freedoms of the Tibetan people and the wanton exploitation of Tibet’s natural resources and river waters, causing catastrophic damage to Tibet’s fragile ecology.
China has transformed the Tibetan Plateau, once a “zone of peace”, into a military bastion and continues to perpetrate what is now viewed as high-tech, extensive surveillance and repression of all aspects of Tibetan life.
On the issue of recognising the reincarnation of Tibetan spiritual leaders, Counsellor Rong Ji’s claim that even His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama was identified and recognised with the approval of the Chinese government is a blatant lie.
The only role that the representative of the Chinese government played was that of a mute spectator during the enthronement ceremony of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama in 1940, which was also attended by representatives of Tibet’s other neighbouring countries, such as India, then under British rule.
The institution of the Dalai Lama lineage, which dates back to 1391, has all the potential to outlive the present Chinese Communist regime, which came into existence only with the inception of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.
Further, as an atheistic and anti-religious regime, the Chinese Communist government has no justifiable reason to meddle in the centuries-old unique system of recognising the reincarnation of spiritual masters of Tibetan Buddhism. Equally preposterous is the Chinese government’s insistence that the 14th Dalai Lama must reincarnate according to their diktat. Indeed, it is an outrageous proposition.
As far as the issue of reincarnation of the Dalai Lama is concerned, His Holiness has already made it amply clear through a public statement made way back in September 2011:
“If it is decided that the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama should continue and there is a need for the Fifteenth Dalai Lama to be recognised, responsibility for doing so will primarily rest on the concerned officers of the Dalai Lama’s Gaden Phodrang Trust. They should consult the various heads of the Tibetan Buddhist traditions and the reliable oath-bound Dharma protectors who are linked inseparably to the lineage of the Dalai Lamas. They should seek advice and direction from these concerned beings and carry out the procedures of search and recognition in accordance with past tradition. I shall leave clear written instructions about this. Bear in mind that, apart from the reincarnation recognised through such legitimate methods, no recognition or acceptance should be given to a candidate chosen for political ends by anyone, including those in the People’s Republic of China.”
Similarly, in a major religious meeting in November 2019, the Tibetan spiritual leaders and their representatives also affirmed that “The authority of decision concerning the way and the manner in which the next reincarnation of the 14th Dalai Lama should appear solely rests with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama himself. No government or otherwise will have such authority. If the Government of the People’s Republic of China for political ends chooses a candidate for the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan people will not recognise and respect that candidate.”
In fact, if the current predicament of the Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama is any indication, the followers of Tibetan Buddhism across the world, as well as the majority of international communities and their governments, will certainly not accept a future Dalai Lama appointed by the Chinese government to meet their political ends.
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In this regard, the Tibetan Policy and Support Act 2020 signed into law by the US President Donald Trump is a momentous step in the right direction, especially for those who believe in the sanctity of basic human rights and religious freedom in particular.
Although the Chinese Embassy in India is entitled to its own views about how best to salvage its beleaguered relations with India, mainly because of its own increasingly visible expansionist agenda and designs, the growing popular clamour in India to revisit its Tibet policy is so deafening that one simply cannot sweep it under the carpet by berating the Indian media for being fair and objective. India, fortunately, is not a democracy with Chinese characteristics.
Ngodup Dongchung is the Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in New Delhi