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02 April, 2008

Panchen Lama to turn 19 this month?

An article entitled "A timely question (Australian Prime Minister Kevin) Rudd should raise" presents a good overview of several deep issues relating to the occupation of Tibet by China, and how this might impact the future. In part, the article stated ...

He was called the world's youngest political prisoner when, as a six-year-old, he was taken into Chinese custody in 1995. He has not been seen or heard of since.

For whatever his fate since then, it most certainly has not involved sitting on a gilded throne in Tibet's ancient Tashilumpo monastery, his traditional home amid the snow-capped Himalayan mountains of Xigaze, surrounded by chanting red-robed monks.

We know this because no sooner had the Dalai Lama announced that six-year-old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima [wiki] was the newly reincarnated 11th Panchen Lama - the most important figure in Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama - than the boy was whisked away along with his parents and the Chinese installed their own choice, Gyaincain Norbu the son of Communist Party members.

And events have taken an even more bizarre turn since. As of last year all would-be reincarnate lamas - influential figures revered by Tibetans as living Buddhas - have to apply for Chinese Government approval. Imagine the Pythonesque party debates: "He's not a living Buddha, he's just a naughty boy".

The importance of the Panchen Lama lies in the key role he plays in determining who is the Dalai Lama, and vice versa. That leapfrogging has occurred for hundreds of years.

The current 14th Dalai Lama is arguably the world's longest-serving leader who, as the writer Pico Iyer has pointed out, he has led his people longer than Queen Elizabeth II, King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand or Fidel Castro. And although he appears to be in robust good health - and active enough to plan a return trip to Australia later this year - at 71, he cannot live forever. Inevitably, what happens after his death must be occupying not only his thoughts and those of his government-in-exile in Dharamsala, India, but those of the Chinese leadership.

Meanwhile, the missing boy is now a man. He turns 19 on April 25. When Kevin Rudd visits China later this month, he may care to ask whether Gedhun Choekyi Nyima is still alive. And if he is, exactly where and how he will spend his 19th birthday.

UPDATE 04/10/08 - An AFP article today reported this from Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's trip to China:

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd urged China Thursday to talk with exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader the Dalai Lama, although his comments appeared not to hinder trade between the two countries.

"The question of dialogue (with the Dalai Lama), of course, was raised," Rudd told reporters following two-and-a-half hours of talks with Premier Wen Jiabao that also included lunch.

"The position of the Australian government is that there are significant human rights problems in Tibet which require resolution through, number one, non-violent approaches and, two, through dialogue."

Rudd, a fluent Mandarin speaker and former Beijing-based diplomat, is the highest-profile western leader to visit China since unrest erupted in Tibet last month. [more]

• Read the entire article at the web site.

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