Thursday, April 13, 2006

China and the World Buddhist Forum

China (the country, not the fine Maine municipality) is hosting the World Buddhist Forum this week.

As a nonsectarian American Buddhist, it's hard to gauge the current tenor of the relations between China and Tibetan Buddhists in exile. In reading the Washington Post, one assumes that the exiled Tibetans are dismissive of the proceedings:

Tibet's 11th Panchen Lama, anointed by China's atheist Communists but not by the Tibet's Dalai Lama, took center stage at the World Buddhist Forum on Thursday, defending China's record on religion....

Gyaltsen Norbu, appointed in 1995 as the Himalayan region's second most important religious figure after Beijing rejected the Dalai Lama's nominee, shared the stage at an auditorium with eight Buddhist leaders from South Korea, Taiwan and Sri Lanka, taking the middle seat.

"Chinese society provides a favorable environment for Buddhist belief," the 16-year-old told the forum which winds up in nearby Zhoushan on Sunday....

The Dalai Lama's nominee is believed to have been under house arrest since 1995, when he was six years old. International human rights watchdogs call him the world's youngest political prisoner.

Many Tibetans dismiss China's choice as a sham.

The Buddhist Channel reports on some interesting scuttlebut that may or may not bear fruit:

Is the Dalai Lama closer now than ever before to embarking on his first visit to China in over four and a half decades? Atmospherics in Beijing and McLeodganj, the headquarters of the Tibetan government-in-exile in India, seem to suggest that may well be the case.
Of course, while nothing ever is as it appears in the Sino-Tibetan context, the idea of the Dalai Lama visiting China soon may not be altogether outrageous. It all began March 10, on the day to commemorate Tibetan National Uprising Day when the Tibetan leader expressed a wish to visit Buddhist sites in China. Rather than scoffing at it or rejecting it, as it would have normally done, Beijing responded with circumspection.

"As long as the Dalai Lama makes clear that he has completely abandoned Tibetan 'independence', it is not impossible for us to consider his visit," Ye Xiaowen, director of the cabinet's State Bureau of Religious Affairs, told the China Daily, the government's English-language mouthpiece. "We can discuss it."

Is it possible that the Communist leaders of China are contemplating an attempt at their own version of glasnost? If they are, I predict they will gain the same results that Mikhail Gorbachev did. Once folks get a taste of an open society, however fleeting, they will yearn for it all the more.

China is obviously trying to improve its image among the developed countries in order to foster trade and other relations with them. The thing that China's leaders probably don't realize is that greater economic ties with countries that are freer than it is will inevitably lead to greater civil liberties within China, as well.



Linking to: Liberal Common Sense, TMH's Bacon Bits, Quietly Making Noise, Mental Rhinorrhea

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