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Tibet Party Chief declares renewed crackdown on religious belief

November 16, 2015

By Edward Wong

New York Times, November 11, 2015 - The Chinese Communist Party in central Tibet is aiming to peer into the hearts of its members to hunt down secret worshipers of the Dalai Lama or people who secretly hold religious beliefs.

That seemingly difficult mission was laid out by the party chief of the Tibet Autonomous Region, Chen Quanguo, in a question-and-answer published online by the party’s central anticorruption and discipline agency.

“We must severely punish those party members and cadres who don’t have firm beliefs and ideals, who don’t share the same mind with the party and the people, who have ‘two faces’ when it comes to the important question of what’s right and wrong,” Mr. Chen said, according to the transcript of the question-and-answer session that was published on Monday.

Mr. Chen said it was important to go after party members who “pretend not to be religious but indeed are” and those who “follow the clique of the 14th Dalai Lama.” He said that party investigators should seek out members who have gone to India, where the Dalai Lama lives, to “worship” him or ones who send their children or other relatives to schools run by the Dalai Lama.

There are skeptics of this approach. Global Times, a nationalistic, state-run newspaper, ran an article in its English edition citing an expert based in Tibet who said, in the newspaper’s words, that “it’s hard to identify such people because separatism is an ideological issue and is usually difficult to spot during recruitment simply through their words and deeds.”

The expert also said, again in the newspaper’s words, that the Dalai Lama “has been deodorizing his image, and local governments should provide more information of his activities in a transparent and open manner.” Global Times did not name the expert.

The party has vilified the widely revered Dalai Lama, 80, the Tibetan spiritual leader, since he fled to India in 1959, saying he is plotting Tibetan independence even though he has insisted he wants only self-autonomy for the Tibetans, as guaranteed in the Chinese Constitution. The Dalai Lama’s image is generally banned from mainland China and Tibetan regions, though local officials occasionally allow people to openly display it.

Each year, many Tibetans and even some ethnic Han, the dominant group in China, try to go to Dharamsala, India, to seek the Dalai Lama’s blessing or to hear him speak. Many Buddhist institutions of learning have been established by Tibetans in Dharamsala.

Since a widespread uprising of Tibetans in 2008, Chinese officials have tried to clamp down on the border between Tibet and Nepal to prevent most Tibetan pilgrims from leaving via a popular route. In 2012, security officers in Tibet detained hundreds of people returning from a Kalachakra religious teaching ceremony in India over which the Dalai Lama had presided. The ceremony is sometimes held in India, and officials had turned a blind eye to some Tibetans seeking to attend, but the 2012 mass detention showed that Mr. Chen, an ethnic Han, and other regional leaders were intent on taking a harder line.

Mr. Chen said in the question-and-answer transcript that officials in the Tibet Autonomous Region, which includes Lhasa and the central Tibetan plateau, had uncovered 19 cases of violations of political discipline and had punished 20 people. “In 2015, not one person from the Tibet Autonomous Region has gone to the 14th Dalai Lama’s prayer sessions,” he said.

In August, an official publication of the party’s Organization Department, which manages postings for party members, said the party in central Tibet was tightening discipline. The publication, China Organization and Human Resources News, said the party there had issued a policy called the “six absolutely don’t-use,” which described criteria for rejecting potential party members or officials. Those include people who have gone abroad to “worship” the Dalai Lama or to prayer sessions and teachings, and ones who “intentionally manufacture ethnic conflict or disrupt ethnic unity.”

Though the party denounces the Dalai Lama, it has insisted that he must reincarnate after his death, rebutting declarations by the current Dalai Lama that he may be the last one. The party is seeking to control the reincarnation process so it can give the title of Dalai Lama to someone whom it can control, as it has done with the Panchen Lama.

Two decades ago, officials took a 6-year-old boy, Gendun Choekyi Nyima, from his home in Tibet after the Dalai Lama said he was the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, the second-ranking figure in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism. The party then installed its own boy as the reincarnation.

In September, an official in the party’s United Front Work Department in Tibet, Norbu Dunzhub, made a rare reference to the boy who had vanished in 1995, now 26. The official said he “is being educated, living a normal life, growing up healthily and does not wish to be disturbed.”

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