The 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso celebrated his 84th Birthday on the first week of June with Tibetans all over the world celebrating their spiritual leader’s life and leadership. The Dalai Lama’s birthday gave rise to the pertinent question yet again as he makes his way into old age; what will come after he passes away? Will China be successful in appointing their authority over this line of succession? Or will the Tibetan struggle succeed in garnering international support to freely choose the next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama?
Keeping these questions in mind, the succession question propelled under the limelight when a Chinese official and a member of a Beijing based think tank told some visiting Indian journalists that China will reject any Dalai Lama that is born outside its territory and among the Tibetans-in-Exile. While this comment sparked widespread condemnation from the international community and from the Central Tibetan administration, it is important to first understand why China felt it had the authority to make such a statement. China successively failed to instate a reincarnation of the Karma Pa and the Panchen Lama. Furthermore, to its surprise even after two decades of the Dalai Lama fleeing to India, there was unwavering support for him within the Tibetan region. The Chinese then understood that in order to be able to ‘sinicise’ the Tibetan community they must earn legitimacy first, which would only come if they could control the next Tibetan spiritual leader. The Third Tibet Work Forum was the landmark strategic forum after which China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs issued its “State Religious Affairs Bureau Order no-5”. This order essentially made the Chinese stamp of approval non-negotiable in order to choose a reincarnate.
Tsewang Gyalpo Arya, a CTA official, responded to the Chinese statement saying that “As said by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, a lama is reincarnated on his free will to fulfill the incomplete task of the former. If he is born in a repressive country, where he cannot contribute, then the very purpose of the reincarnation is lost.” He also added that not only would the Tibetans not accept the Chinese-chosen Dalai Lama but also all Buddhists along the Himalayan border from Nepal, Mongolia, China, and other devotees would not accept him.
The Chinese statement came after it rejected an American attempt initiated by the US ambassador Terry Branstad to engage Beijing in a dialogue with the present Dalai Lama to resolve their differences. More recently, Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern, introduced a bill into the Senate to curb Chinese encroachment into Tibetan territory and place financial and economic sanctions on China, based on the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.
From recent developments and escalating tensions, it seems as though China and Dharamshala are both poised to appoint their own Dalai Lama. While the possibility of two parallel Dalai Lama’s remains conceivable, it is also understood that there may be no 15th Dalai Lama at all. Beijing will shoot down any successor chosen by Tenzin Gyatso and vice versa. Thus it seems highly unlikely that either will be able to choose a Dalai Lama due to the ensuing political deadlock. Additionally, India can also be seen to play a crucial role in this choice as it could loan legitimacy by deciding which choice to side with. To conclude, the next Dalai Lama could either resolve China’s long standing security concerns from Tibet or s/he could be the first step towards Tibetan self-determination.
Author: Natasha Todi