Tuesday, November 27, 2007

'Tibetans' must pick Dalai Lama - BBC

'Tibetans' must pick Dalai Lama - 27 Nov 2007

The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, says his people should have a role in finding his successor.

Speaking in Amritsar, northern India, he told the BBC that Tibetans would also have to decide if the institution should continue at all after his death.

The Dalai Lama's successor is usually chosen by senior Buddhist officials.

Analysts say the 72-year-old is considering breaking this centuries-old tradition in order to reduce the influence of China in the process.

Traditionally, Buddhist elders congregate after the death of the current leader and identify a young child to succeed him, after being guided by dreams and signs.

The Dalai Lama warned that when he dies, China would try to promote its own candidate.

You cannot have harmony under the gun

Dalai Lama

But he stressed, in an interview attended by the BBC's Sanjoy Majumder, that ultimately it would be up to the people of Tibet to decide who they accepted, if anyone at all.

"The Tibetan nation is 2,000 years old. The Dalai Lama institution is relatively recent - only a few centuries old," he said.

"If I die, it will be a setback for the Tibetan people for some time. But then the struggle will continue.

"If the Tibetan people decide that the Dalai Lama institution is no longer relevant, then it will automatically cease to exist."

'Violation of tradition'

Beijing claims sovereignty over Tibet, which it has controlled since invading in 1950. However, many Tibetans remain loyal to the Dalai Lama, who fled in 1959.

And the spiritual leader reopened a war of words with Beijing by criticising the way it rules Tibet.

"Stability and genuine harmony - that is the Chinese government's top priority. But you cannot have harmony under the gun," he said.

Beijing responded by accusing the Dalai Lama of violating his own religious traditions.

"The reincarnation of the living Buddha is a unique way of succession of Tibetan Buddhism and follows relatively complete religious rituals and historical conventions," China's foreign ministry said in a statement.

Beijing has denounced the Dalai Lama's many foreign trips, including recent visits to the US, Germany and Japan.

It says he should stay out of politics and restrict himself to a religious role.

Buddhists believe the current Dalai Lama is the reincarnation of his predecessors.

Squeezed freedoms in Buddhist Tibet
In the third of a series of pieces from Tibet, the BBC's Michael Bristow looks at the amount of freedom Tibetan Buddhists are given to practise their religion.
Every day, hundreds of Buddhist pilgrims prostrate themselves in front of the Jokhang Temple, the spiritual heart of the Tibetan capital Lhasa.

Their devotion is sometimes literally etched on their faces: many carry marks on their foreheads from constantly lying face down on the floor.

China says more than one million pilgrims visit Lhasa each year - evidence, it says, that the Chinese authorities are protecting religious freedom in Tibet.

But the real picture is more complex. Although people can worship openly, Beijing maintains ultimate control over Tibetan Buddhism.

An example of this control came earlier this month when China's State Administration for Religious Affairs issued new guidelines about who can and cannot be declared a "living Buddha".

The Dalai Lama is in here, but we cannot speak about him

A Tibetan man, pointing to his heart

From 1 September, all reincarnated living Buddhas - eminent monks - will first have to be approved by the government.

The guidelines appear directed at the selection of the next Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhism's spiritual head.

The current Dalai Lama, the 14th, has lived in exile in India since fleeing his homeland in 1959 along with thousands of other Tibetans after a failed uprising against Communist rule. Tenzin Gyatso is now 72.

New rules

China's new ruling on reincarnation also seems designed to prevent exiled Tibetans who have fled the region from helping to select their spiritual leader.

Article 2 makes it clear Beijing will not tolerate "interference" from any person or organisation outside the country.

The Chinese-approved Panchen Lama lives mostly in Beijing

If there are succession problems when the Dalai Lama dies, it will not be the first time there have been difficulties over the selection of a reincarnated monk.

When the 10th Panchen Lama - second in seniority only to the Dalai Lama - died in 1989, the search began for his successor.

In 1995, the Dalai Lama announced that six-year-old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima had been selected. Three days later he disappeared with his parents.

Nyima Tsering, vice-chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region, told the BBC that this Panchen Lama, now 18, is still in Tibet, living a quiet life.

"He wants to live in peace and does not want his life disturbed," said the official, although China does not allow anyone to see him.

Instead, Beijing approved another Panchen Lama. He lives mostly in Beijing, travelling to Tibet every year or so.

Unspoken subject

China seeks to control the selection of senior religious leaders in Tibet because it fears their political power.

Although Beijing says Tibet has been part of China since the mid-13th century, eight centuries on there are still many who dispute that claim.

[The Dalai Lama] is not only a religious figure. He is also a political figure agitating for Tibetan independence

Nyima Tsering, Vice-Chair of Tibet Autonomous Region

Beijing believes senior monks provide a focal point for those advocating Tibetan independence.

The Dalai Lama "is not only a religious figure. He is also a political figure agitating for Tibetan independence," said Nyima Tsering.

Religious and political issues remain mostly under the surface in Tibet. Senior monks are wary when talking about sensitive issues.

When asked about the Dalai Lama, Ping La, head of Shigatse's Tashilunpo Monastery, just shrugged and said: "He's just the Dalai Lama".

It is like saying the Pope is just another Catholic.

But scratch the surface and it is not hard to find political tension.

"The Dalai Lama is in here," one Tibetan in Shigatse told the BBC as he pointed to his heart. "But we cannot speak about him."

There have also been reports this month that the Chinese authorities are cracking down on pro-Dalai Lama sentiment in Tibet by sacking ethnic Tibetan officials.

China has worked hard to promote the view that it governs Tibet with a light touch.

Since 1951, when it reasserted its control of Tibet through what it called "peaceful liberation", Beijing says it has spent more than 1 billion yuan ($132m, £66m) restoring cultural sites.

People, it says, are free to worship and express their views.

"We do not have any political prisoners," said Nyima Tsering.

But it seems odd that in the Tashilunpo Monastery there are pictures of a smiling Chinese President Hu Jintao, but none of the Dalai Lama.

There might be political and religious freedom in Tibet, but it is a freedom severely curtailed by Beijing
Railway brings new era for Tibet
When a railway line linking Tibet to China opened last year, there were fears it could lead to the erosion of Tibet's unique culture and way of life. In the first of a series from the region, the BBC's Michael Bristow reports on the effects of the line one year on.

Business is benefiting from the new rail connection

Lhasa's railway cargo depot lies at the end of a partly-paved road, full of potholes, around 20km (12.5 miles) outside the Tibetan capital.

Scurrying to and fro along its platforms, uniformed workers unload everything from construction materials to incense.

Station master Chen Zhanying proudly churns out impressive statistics, detailing exports, imports, costs and benefits.

One year after the opening of the railway connecting Tibet with the rest of China, officials are keen to stress its achievements.

Improving wages

Those benefits are not hard to find. Renchin, a cleaner, is just one person whose life has improved with the railway's arrival.

The 28-year-old Tibetan works 12 hours a day, six days a week mopping the floor at the railway's passenger terminal on the outskirts of Lhasa.

Before the railway opened last July, she worked at a karaoke bar earning far less than the 900 yuan ($119, £59) she now takes home each month.

"At my previous job, the wages were bad and the work was hard," she said as she dragged her mop along the floor.

She added: "It's a lot better working here."

The development has helped people get better paid jobs

Businesses, as well as individuals, have also benefited.

Along the road leading to the cargo station, a giant gateway tells visitors they have arrived at Lhasa's economic development zone.

At the moment there is not much to see. Beyond the impressive entrance, a wide boulevard leads to vacant parcels of land.

But the zone's director, Huang Yutian, is optimistic. He said 112 businesses from as far away as Beijing and Guangzhou had already signed up to use the park.

These will be involved in industries such as mining, and processing Tibetan wool and dairy products.

Tax revenue from the development zone is expected to double this year to 80m yuan ($10.6m, £5.2m), Mr Huang said.

Predictably, tourism has also been given a boost by the railway's arrival to a region with wonderful natural scenery, and colourful temples and monasteries.

Previously, Lhasa could be reached only by plane or after a long, arduous road journey.

At central Lhasa's Jokhang Temple, one of Tibetan Buddhism's most revered sites, there are now at least twice as many visitors as before.

There are so many tourists at the 1,300-year-old temple - pilgrim numbers are about the same - site officials are considering setting limits.

There are fears that Tibetans are missing out on new jobs

"We need to manage visitors in an orderly fashion," said senior monk Chodak.

He added: "We are currently trying to figure out the best way to do that."

In short, local officials believe the railway is helping to transform Tibet's economy, improving the lives of ordinary people in the process.

Hao Peng, vice-chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region, said the area used to depend on central government funding to drive the economy.

But this year private investment, consumption, and imports and exports are all providing new impetus, he explained.

Economic growth was up by 14.7% in the first half of this year in the Himalayan region.

Skills gap

But if the railway has brought benefits, critics say they have not been evenly distributed.

All the good jobs, they claim, are being taken by China's dominant Han people who move to Tibet to find work.

That seems to be at least partly the case at the Hada Group, a Tibetan-run firm in Lhasa making traditional furniture and ironware.

Group Chairman Qun Pei said more than 90% of the company's 500 workers are ethnic Tibetans.

But he later admitted the firm had taken on 1,200 temporary workers from other parts of the country this year because it could not find enough Tibetans with the right skills.

Government officials admit there is a skills gap and say money has been put aside to train unqualified Tibetans.

But even if they are trained, will economic development provide enough jobs in what is still a very remote region?

As the development zone's Mr Huang (unnecessarily) pointed out, Tibet is hardly the centre of the economic universe.

This is particularly true for people living outside the main urban areas.

The year-old railway is certainly changing Tibet. It is bringing easier access to fresh vegetables, but also more tourists and migrants.

For some these changes are welcome and will provide opportunities. Others view them in a less benign light.


China's relocation of rural Tibetans
In the second of a series of pieces from Tibet, the BBC's Michael Bristow looks at the effects of relocating huge numbers of rural people to urban areas.

Tibetans have been moved from houses like this...
All along the main road from Lhasa to Tibet's second city, Shigatse, new homes are being erected beneath the towering peaks.

The work is part of a huge relocation project that saw 290,000 rural people - 10% of Tibet's population - moved into new homes last year alone.

China, which governs Tibet, is proud of this achievement. It says it is bringing modern services to once-isolated communities, and boasts that the annual per capita income for rural Tibetans increased by 17.2% last year to 2,435 yuan ($322, £158).

"If these people still lived in remote areas it would be hard to develop the economy and raise incomes," says local party secretary Gardor.

But critics argue that the relocation is destroying traditional Tibetan lifestyles, and say the authorities did not give much regard to the wishes of some local people.

Local optimism

... to these ones like this
An hour's drive outside Lhasa is the village of Caibalang.

Some people already lived here, along the main road, but others have recently been re-housed from more remote areas.

It is a place the Chinese government is keen to show off to visiting journalists.

On one side of the road stand spacious new two-storey homes, built with the help of government grants and preferential bank loans.

On the other side of the street, surrounded by muddy puddles, are a clutch of one-storey stone hovels, where animals and people share living space.

When I looked inside one of these old homes, it was dark and dirty. The only light came from a TV being watched by two children sat on the edge of a bed. A goat was tethered to a piece of furniture on the opposite side of the room.

The message is clear: China is transforming the lives, and living conditions, for at least these poor villagers.

The villagers themselves say they support the project.

Living in one of the newly built houses is Drolkar, a 31-year-old Tibetan woman who shares her house with her husband and son.

[The Chinese] authorities didn't bother to find out what Tibetans want, and have been heavy handed with those who have complained

Brad Adams
Human Rights Watch

Her new home cost 140,000 yuan ($18,500, £9,100) to build and furnish, which her family paid for mostly out of their own savings.

They also have a 30,000 yuan bank loan, being paid off over three years, and they received a grant of about 10,000 yuan from the government.

The family's new home comes with better farmland - and therefore the chance to make more money. They have also opened a roadside shop.

"I don't think there is a country in the world that has this kind of favourable relocation policy," says county chief Sun Baoxiang from behind a pair of large sunglasses.

He says the village's 500-odd families all welcome the project. "There have been no cases of imposed relocation," he explains.

Lifestyle change

If the choice is between the two houses being shown to journalists, it is not hard to believe officials when they say they have not had to force anyone to move.

But relocating farmers who plant crops and keep a few domestic animals is easier than moving Tibet's herders.

Drolkar and her family have now opened a roadside shop

Herders move around in search of fresh pastures for their yaks and cows. It is more difficult to get them to live in permanent homes.

Critics say the relocation policy is destroying their traditional way of life.

In June, US-based Human Rights Watch urged China to stop moving herders until the project's effects have been fully assessed.

"Some Chinese authorities claim that their forced urbanisation of Tibetan herders is an enlightened form of modernisation," says Brad Adams, the organisation's Asia director.

"But those same authorities didn't bother to find out what Tibetans want, and have been heavy handed with those who have complained."

Lacking basic skills, many resettled people have difficulty finding anything other than temporary or menial work, Human Rights Watch says.

And for those that do want to move, there is also the cost of the homes.

One villager in Caibalang, in Qushui County, complained he would have to take a job in Lhasa to pay for his new house.

Despite the complaints, the sheer scale of the building work taking place along the Lhasa-Shigatse road suggests China is not going to halt the project.

Chinese-style development is taking place whether Tibetans like it or not.

Regions and territories: Tibet

Tibet, the remote and mainly-Buddhist territory known as the "roof of the world", is governed as an autonomous region of China.
Beijing claims a centuries-old sovereignty over the Himalayan region. But the allegiances of many Tibetans lie with the exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, seen by his followers as a living god, but by China as a separatist threat.



Chinese troops invaded in 1950, sealing a tumultuous history in which Tibet had been conquered by its powerful Chinese and Mongolian neighbours and had latterly functioned as an independent entity.

Some areas of the "old Tibet" were incorporated into neighbouring Chinese provinces.

In 1959, after a failed anti-Chinese uprising, the 14th Dalai Lama fled Tibet and set up a government in exile in India. Most of Tibet's monasteries were destroyed in the 1960s and 1970s during China's Cultural Revolution. Thousands of Tibetans are believed to have been killed during periods of repression and martial law.

Potala palace: Former seat of government and Lhasa landmark

Under international pressure, China eased its grip on Tibet in the 1980s, introducing "Open Door" reforms and boosting investment.

Beijing says Tibet has developed considerably under its rule. But rights groups say China continues to violate human rights, accusing Beijing of political and religious repression. Beijing denies any abuses.

Tourism and the ongoing modernisation drive stand in contrast to Tibet's former isolation. But Beijing's critics say Tibetans have little say in building their future.

China says a new railway link between Lhasa and the western Chinese province of Qinghai will boost economic expansion. The link is likely to increase the influx of Chinese migrants.

Buddhism reached Tibet in the seventh century. The Dalai Lama, or Ocean of Wisdom, is the leading spiritual figure; the Panchen Lama is the second most important figure. Both are seen as the reincarnations of their predecessors.

The selection of a Dalai Lama and a Panchen Lama follows a strict process, conducted by the existing Dalai Lama. But the Dalai Lama and Beijing are at odds over the 11th incarnation of the Panchen Lama, having identified different youngsters for the role. The Dalai Lama's choice, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, has not been seen since his detention by the Chinese authorities in 1995.

Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, leads a government in exile

There have been intermittent and indirect contacts between China and the Dalai Lama. The exiled spiritual leader advocates a non-violent, negotiated solution to the Tibet problem and accepts the notion of real autonomy for Tibet under Chinese sovereignty. China has questioned his claims that he does not seek independence.

Tibet's economy depends largely on agriculture. Forests and grasslands occupy large parts of the country. The territory is rich in minerals, but poor transport links have limited their exploitation. Tourism is an important revenue earner.



Population: 2.62 million (2000 Chinese census)
Capital: Lhasa
Area: 1.2 million sq km (471,700 sq miles)
Major languages: Tibetan, Chinese
Major religion: Buddhism
Main exports: Handicrafts, livestock


The Chinese Communist Party is the highest political and administrative authority in Tibet, operating through the region's party secretary and the government of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Many Tibetans regard the exiled 14th Dalai Lama as their spiritual leader. Born in 1935, he was identified as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama at the age of two and was enthroned in 1940.

A campaigner for Tibetan autonomy on the world stage, the Dalai Lama leads a government-in-exile based in Dharamsala, in northern India. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.



Tibet's media are tightly controlled by the Chinese leadership. Official radio and TV stations have extended their reach across much of the mainly-rural region.

Overseas-based radio stations target Tibetan listeners in local languages, including the Voice of Tibet, operated by Norwegian non-governmental organisations, and the US government-backed Radio Free Asia. The shortwave broadcasts are subject to jamming.

The press

Xizang Ribao (Tibet Daily) - Communist Party newspaper

Tibet TV Station - state-run

Tibet People's Broadcasting Station - state-run

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