BEIJING (AFP) — China's controversial choice as the second highest Tibetan spiritual figure is increasingly being used by Beijing as a tool in its propaganda offensive against the exiled Dalai Lama, say experts.
Rarely seen in public previously, but believed to have been educated in the Chinese capital, the 19-year-old Panchen Lama Friday expressed loyalty to Beijing, in stark contrast to the views of the Tibetan spiritual leader.
"For a long time the Dalai's separatist clique has ignore the success of Tibet's development, plotted and planned to ruin Tibet's social stability and wantonly attacked the policies of the central government," he said, referring to the Dalai Lama's exiled Tibetan administration.
The comments made in an interview with China Central Television came as he attended a symposium marking the 50th anniversary of what is officially called "the end of serfdom in Tibet" held at Beijing's Great Hall of the People.
"Old Tibet was a theocratic feudal serf society, the ruling class, nobility and clergy rode on the backs of the people and exploited and persecuted them," he said in the interview.
On Saturday, China will, for the first time, celebrate the end of Tibetan "feudalism," a day that coincides with the quelling of an anti-Chinese uprising in the Himalayan region 50 years ago.
The Panchen Lama is also scheduled to appear at the opening of the Second World Buddhist Forum in eastern China's Wuxi city on Saturday, according to state press reports.
During the last forum two years ago, the young monk with an almond-shaped face and small round glasses made his first public appearance, more than 10 years after his controversial enthronement.
Earlier this month, the Dalai Lama, exiled from his homeland for 50 years, accused China of having transformed Tibet into "a hell on earth" and of killing hundreds of thousands of Tibetans during its rule.
But in an essay that appeared in the communist mouthpiece the People's Daily on Monday, the Panchen Lama expressed full loyalty to the atheist ruling party.
"Facts show that it is only under the leadership of the Communist Party of China that Tibet can enjoy its current prosperity and an even better future," he wrote.
Born Gyaincain Norbu, the controversial figure was enthroned as the 11th Panchen Lama in a 1995 ceremony overseen by the Communist Party, which had rejected a boy selected by the Dalai Lama.
The Dalai Lama's choice, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, immediately disappeared from public view and is believed to have been under a form of house arrest ever since.
The 10th Panchen Lama died in 1989 after a tumultuous relationship with China's communist leaders that alternated between prison and relative freedom.
But even if the new Panchen Lama becomes more high-profile in China, that does not mean he is accepted as a spiritual leader by Tibetans, according to Tibetan scholars outside of China.
In Tibetan temples, it is rare to see images or photographs of him, while those of his predecessor are common.
"He is a piece of propaganda. He is being used by the Beijing government," said Samten G. Karmay, the Paris-based former head of the Association of International Tibetan Studies.
"The Tibetan population does not recognise him, especially as he is saying the things that fall in with the Communist Party line."
Although both the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama belong to the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism, differences between them have existed historically and the communists are not the first to try to take advantage of this, Karmay said.
In the 19th century, the Qing Dynasty tried to play on the antagonism by attempting to make the Panchen Lama an ally.
Beijing's manipulation of the selection of the Panchen Lama in 1995 could be a sign of what will happen after the death of the current Dalai Lama.
"The Chinese government will try to name someone, but China will have a problem with legitimacy," said Tsering Shakya, a leading Tibetan historian at the University of British Columbia.
"It is certain that 100 percent of Tibetans will not recognise a child chosen by China as the Dalai Lama. But that won't matter to Beijing. For the Chinese it is only a question of showing their power."
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