A kinder, gentler China hosts its first Buddhist conference

Obviously religious freedom isn’t there yet. The Dalai Lama is still kept away, and China’s feeble attempts to promote their own version of the Dalai Lama continues to fal flat. But there’s no denying China is striving to improve its image of religious intolerance. (No, I didn’t say they were striving to actually tolerate all religions, just to improve their much deserved image of intolerance.)

Buddhists from more than 30 countries are in China for the World Buddhist Forum – communist China’s first ever international religious gathering.

Hundreds of monks and scholars are visiting the eastern city of Hangzhou, but Buddhist spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has not been invited. China regards the exiled Tibetan leader as a separatist.

It has made its nominee as Panchen Lama – Tibet’s second most important figure – the figurehead of the conference. But according to Reuters news agency he appeared to be shunned by delegates. Fellow Buddhists made no attempt to greet Gyaltsen Norbu during greeting ceremonies ahead of the conference on Wednesday, the agency reported.

The Dalai Lama has nominated his own Panchen Lama, who has disappeared and is believed to be under house arrest.

This is, I believe, part of a bold new effort by Hu to improve China’s image in the eyes of a world he increasignly hopes to influence, charm and make deals with. China’s prickly image of old just won’t cut it anymore.

It’s a shrewd move. Even if the starting steps are clumsy and not necessarily overwhelming, it’s nevertheless a marked break from traditional policy and, as with everything China does on the international scene, it’s no accident; Hu hopes to attain specific and tangible goals with his new Glasnost with Chinese characteristics.

Watch for more such stories indicating that China is loosening up and reaching out. Whether it’s window dressing or substantive remains to be seen.

The Discussion: One Comment

for Tibetans, Panchen will never replace Dalai and the same is true the other way around. But I don’t think anyone of them knows who Dalai picked, and I suspect many don’t care that much anyway, so long as one exists. In this war over Panchen, I’m afraid CCP is winning. And there is little doubt that once Dalai passes on, there is going to be a new version of Dalai in China in addition to a new one overseas. And guess who’s going to be the one Tibetans worship…

April 19, 2006 @ 7:45 pm | Comment

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.