The Chinese government loosened restrictions that kept Tibetan monks in two provinces from openly revering the Dalai Lama, the exiled Buddhist spiritual leader, Radio Free Asia reported.
Authorities in Sichuan province announced people can display pictures of the Dalai Lama and ordered officials not to criticize him, the U.S.-funded RFA reported, citing a resident in Sichuan’s Ganzi prefecture it didn’t identify. In the past, monks had to keep pictures of the Dalai Lama hidden.
China took control of Tibet in 1951 and has vilified the Dalai Lama, 77, as a separatist since he fled to India in 1959, where he leads a government in exile. Chinese officials regularly levy diplomatic sanctions on countries that host him for visits, including the U.K., and today Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the Dalai Lama has undermined “social stability and national unity.”
RFA cited a resident of Qinghai province as saying officials now aren’t under orders to criticize the Dalai Lama. Monks may venerate the Dalai Lama as a spiritual leader, not as a political leader, RFA reported.
Tibet policy has only become more aggressive since former President Hu Jintao was party secretary of Tibet in the late 1980s, said Robbie Barnett, director of the Modern Tibet Studies Program at Columbia University in New York City. While banning photographs of the Dalai Lama was never a national-level policy outside of Tibet, any hint of reversing a policy of attacking him would be significant, he said.
“Denigrating the Dalai Lama, insulting him, attacking him, basing policy on accusations against him, that’s a national-level propaganda theme,” he said. “So reversing that is much more significant than the question of photographs.”
The RFA report may not reflect conditions “in all the regions in Tibet or all the regions in Qinghai or Sichuan,” Tashi Phuntsok, secretary for information and international relations of the Tibetan exiled administration, said by phone from the Indian town of Dharamshala where it’s based.
Self-immolation protests by Tibetans mean the “situation in Qinghai or the Tibet Autonomous Region is very severe and very volatile,” Phuntsok said. “It may be possible that in certain areas the Chinese leadership is trying to please people by giving certain small concessions. But the basic situation in Tibet remains very repressive, very suppressive and without human rights.”
A Tibetan nun died this month after setting herself on fire near a monastery in eastern Tibet, the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet said June 20. There have been 120 self-immolations by Tibetans in China since February 27, 2009, the group said in a statement.
“The Chinese government’s position on the Dalai Lama is very clear,” Hua said at a briefing today. “The Dalai Lama is not a purely religious person but he has long been engaged in anti-China separatist activities under the pretext of religion.”
Tibetans’ reverence for the Dalai Lama hasn’t diminished even as their living standards under Chinese control have improved, an indication that the government should reassess its approach toward the issue, Jin Wei, professor at the Central Party School in Beijing, said in an interview with Hong Kong magazine Asia Weekly published June 9.
She said talks between the Dalai Lama’s representatives and the government are the best way to solve the Tibet problem.
Riots between ethnic Tibetans and Chinese security forces in 2008 killed more than 200 protesters, according to the exiled government. The U.S. and U.K. recognize China’s rule over the area, though the U.S. State Department has called on Chinese leaders to relax controls on Tibetan Buddhist religious practices.
— With assistance by Michael Forsythe, and Henry Sanderson