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The Chinese Panchen Lama on the Indian Border
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Claude Arpi | Date:19 Aug , 2019 0 Comments
Claude Arpi
Writes regularly on Tibet, China, India and Indo-French relations. He is the author of 1962 and the McMahon Line Saga, Tibet: The Lost Frontier and Dharamshala and Beijing: the negotiations that never were.

Interesting developments have recently taken place in Western Tibet (Ngari Prefecture).

The Chinese Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu is said (by the Chinese media) to have conducted an ‘inspection tour’ of the region, including a village bordering Ladakh.

Extensive Media Coveage

Hundreds pictures were published showing the Chinese-selected 11th Panchen Lama touring areas such as Purang/Taklakot, Mt Kailash, Manasarovar lake, Minsar, the monasteries in Tholing/Tsaparang, Ngari town, Rutok, the Panggong tso Lake and even a village on the Indian border in East Ladakh.

He visited monasteries, villages, and larger towns such as Tholing, Nagari and Rutok; he ‘inspected’ many projects i.e. an Ecological Agricultural Industry Park of Gar County. 

The Chinese media extensively covered his two-week long visit.

Norbu had come to Ngari prefecture five years ago, but he then had remained in Purang and Kailash area. 

China Tibet Online reported that on July 26, Gyalsten Norbu (called Choskyi Gyalpo by the Chinese media) traveled to Jaggang Village in Rutok County “for survey and research”; he paid a visit to two Tibetan families named as Wangdul Phuntsok’s and Tashi Dundrup’s.

The Chinese website said that “Jaggang Village is located in the southern part of Rutog County, 70 kilometers away from the county town. It is a typical plateau village.”

But it is not an ordinary village, it is also known as Chagkang or Chiakang and situated very close to Demchok in Ladakh.

It seems that it is the first time, that such a ‘senior’ religious leader, adventures himself on the Indian border, which China says is ‘disputed’.

A ‘disputed’ border?

One still remembers that three weeks earlier, some ‘Tibetans’ (probably PLA soldiers in disguise) protested against the Ladakhis and Tibetans in Demchok/Koyul/Dungti area of India who had celebrated the Dalai Lama’s 84th birthday.

China Tibet Online wrote that Gyaltsen Norbu went inside the home of one Wangdul Phuntsok and ‘carefully’ asked about the family’s production and living conditions. “Are there changes between your past and present life?” “Are you keeping well; what about your knees?” “Do you go out for a travel?” “How do you keep warm in winter?” “How do the livestock sustain when it snows?” “How many TV channels do you get?” 

The website reported that Norbu chatted happily with Wangdul Phuntsok and his family.

Everything seemed scripted, including the tape-recorder on the table. Wangdul Phuntsok would have said: “The previous generation of our family were all nomads, and living conditions were very poor. Now we live a happy life. And our life has improved a lot.”

The discussion continued, Norbu learnt that there is a college graduate in Wangdul Phuntsok’s family who hoped to stay in his hometown (village) and find a good job, Norbu advised: “Your generation has already grown up, you should return home and contribute to the development of your hometown.”

Later, the Lama visited the home of one Tashi Dundrup, probably a Communist cadre in the village: “Our family used to live in a mud brick house, but look at this big house where my family lives now. I only paid 60,000 yuan (8,500 US dollars), and the rest of the money was paid by the government,” 

Tashi Dundrup informed the Lama about his financial situation: “This amount of money was no burden on my family. Because the government gives us grassland subsidies, border resident subsidies, and forestry subsides, this earns us around 50,000 yuan (7,120 US dollars) per year.”

It is interesting to note that the villages bordering India are getting ‘border resident subsidies’.

Incidentally, there is no forest in the area as it is located above the tree-line.

According to the news article, the 63-year-old Tashi Dundrup’s most important task was to take his grandchild (courtesy one-child policy!!) to school and bring him back home every day. 

Gyaltsen Norbu advised: “You must prioritize education and educate your children well, because the future development depends on the next generation. This way, future generations will live happy lives one after another. I will pray for you every day and pray for your happiness and health. When I have the chance, I will come visit you again.”

This raises serious questions:

  1. Norbu’s visit was probably a message to Delhi and Dharamsala; Beijing has already done a lot of homework on the ‘succession’ of the Dalai Lama. Norbu will be projected as the next Tibetan leader by Beijing.
  2. China has decided to fully play the card of Gyaltsen Norbu in the years to come. Today, Norbu is a member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National Committee and vice president of the Buddhist Association of China.
  3. Beijing trusts Norbu enough to let him visit the border with India. And let us not forget that China today claims large parts of Ladakh.
  4. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently told his Indian counterpart Dr. Jaishankar that the Indian government’s announcement of the establishment of the Ladakh Union Territory, “involves Chinese territory, [it] has posed a challenge to China’s sovereignty and violated the two countries’ agreement on maintaining peace and stability in the border region”.
  5. The fact that the Chinese Panchen Lama visited this area a few days before Jaishankar’s trip to Beijing, should not be over-looked by Delhi.
  6. China banks on the fact that the system of ‘succession’ by reincarnation’ is a poor system of governance, as it has a gap of 20/25 years between the passing away of a Lama and the time, the ‘returned’ one is capable to ‘rule’ spiritually or otherwise.
  7. Even if China selects its own Dalai Lama (with the help of Gyaltsen Norbu), the latter will continue to ‘rule’ on behalf of the Communist Party for decades (provided, the Communist Dynasty lasts this much).
  8. On July 21,Gyatsen Norbu visited the Chuguo (Trügo) Gompa near Mt Kailash, on the southern banks of Lake Manasarovar. He is said to have held a grand lake worship ceremony: “Hearing that the 11th Panchen Lama would come to Chuguo Temple, local people dressed in festive clothing and came one after another, waiting for the 11th Panchen Lama to receive his blessings.” If the photos are to be believed (see below), a large gathering welcomed him.
  9. From July 24 to 25, he visited Toling Monastery in Zanda (Tsamda) County “to worship the Buddha and gave longevity empowerment to local Buddhist followers. During his stay, the 11th Panchen Lama also visited the site of the Guge Kingdom ruins and visited local farmers,” said the Chinese media.
  10. Incidentally, Norbu also visited a Nyingma monastery (Tirthapuri Gompa) in the vicinity of Mr. Kailash. This shows that China plans to use him as ecumenical leader, not just a Lama of the Geluk School of Tibetan Buddhism..
  11. Let us remember that the 10th Panchen Lama was also ‘fake’ (because recognized by China, groomed by China and trained by China) and later in his life he became one of the most patriotic Tibetans.
  12. Later, Gyalsten Norbu visited Nam tso and Nagchu prefecture where he witnessed the Ling Kesar Horse race. He was then accompanied by Danko, a Tibetan member of the Standing Committee of the Tibetan Autonomous Region’s Communist Party and United Front Dept Head (and TAR CPPCC Vice Chairman).
  13. China is clearly putting people/system in place for the succession of the Dalai Lama. Though the Dalai Lama may hopefully remain on this planet to guide his people for many years, it would seem prudent to have something in place at the earliest to counter China in the Great Reincarnation Game; Dharamsala should take a decision at the earliest and tell the world which direction it wants to go and announce it.


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