January 26, 2005
The order was issued, together with a threat of punishment, in a closed-door meeting in November in Qinghai, a western province with a population of more than 5 million, many of whom are ethnic Tibetans, sources familiar with the issue said.
"Apparently the meeting was held under great secrecy. It was obviously an important meeting," one source said on condition of anonymity due to the political sensitivities surrounding Tibetan issues in China.
A second source said the meeting was called by senior Qinghai officials to give the message that "Beijing was very, very much in charge." Similar meetings were likely to have been held in other Tibetan-populated parts of China, the source said.
The Communist Party imposed its rule on Tibet when its troops entered the deeply Buddhist Himalayan region in 1950. Nine years later, Tibet's god-king, the Dalai Lama fled into exile in India after an abortive uprising.
Beijing considers the Dalai Lama a separatist, but many Tibetans remain loyal to him.
An official with the Qinghai office of religious affairs said he had not heard of the meeting. The propaganda department of Qinghai's Communist Party committee denied such a meeting had taken place.
NO SUCH MEETING
"Impossible. We can't tell people in a meeting who they should believe in or who they should not believe in," said one official.
China's communist leaders rarely publicize such meetings, particularly gatherings on internal issues and when the topic touches on such delicate matters as religion.
At the Qinghai meeting, Chinese officials voiced displeasure at what they said was a lack of support for the boy Beijing recognizes as the latest reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, Tibet's second-most important religious figure, the second source said.
"They issued a warning that lack of cooperation about the Chinese Panchen Lama would be punishable," the source said, adding that the monks were instructed to pass the message on but to act as if they were not acting on orders.
Beijing anointed Gyaltsen Norbu, now a teenager, as the 11th Panchen Lama in 1995, rejecting the Dalai Lama's nominee, who has disappeared and is believed to be under house arrest.
Many Tibetans, however, believe the Chinese choice is a sham and remain secretly loyal to the Dalai Lama's selection.
The thorny issue is critical to the future of Tibet because the Panchen Lama traditionally identifies new reincarnations of the Dalai Lama. The current Dalai Lama, a Nobel peace prize laureate, turns 70 in July this year.
Last September, envoys of the Dalai Lama visited China as part of a delicate and slow-moving process to pave the way for a dialogue on the future of Tibet and possibly the eventual return of the Dalai Lama to Lhasa.
The exiled spiritual leader says he wants a mutually agreeable solution that entails greater autonomy, but not independence, for Tibetan regions.
Kate Saunders, of the International Campaign for Tibet, said the Qinghai meeting was evidence of official concern about the strength of Tibetan religious feeling and identity in the area.
"This meeting appears to be a clear attempt to counter what the Dalai Lama has been saying about the need for Tibetans in all Tibetan areas of the People's Republic of China, not just the Tibet Autonomous Region, to be included in any possible future settlement with Beijing," she said.