“Beijing will resume contact with Dalai Lama” so wrote I in the October 31, 2012 oped entitled “Xi Jinping and Buddhism” in United Daily News. I, at the time, did not know that 5 days ago, an Indian news source had already published a report (see the following posting)revealing that Xi Jinping sent an envoy to Dharamsala to contact Dalai Lama on August 26. My further investigation suggests: Mr. Xiao Wunan might not have carried a letter from Xi Jinping to Dalai Lama, but he was courteous, optimistic, somewhat vague, intent on learning what Dharamsala’s thinking was, and did not claim to represent anyone important in Beijing which set him apart from many other namedropping visitors from Beijing who claimed to represent certain VIPs in Beijing. That made him look more like the real emissary.
Chong-Pin Lin Dec. 30, 2012 India
Particularly worrying would have been the self-immolation on October 15, by the grandfather of the 10-year old Beijing-recognised VIIth Gungthang Rinpoche, which highlights the strained relationship between Tibetans and Communist authorities. A new feature is that recently thousands of Tibetans, disregarding heavy armed police presence, assemble at sites of the self-immolations to pray for the deceased and mark the spot.
In a recent apparent bid to ease these tensions, Chinese authorities quietly sent an emissary and contacted Tibetan leaders in Dharamsala. Thinly cloaked as a venture of ‘Asia Pacific Exchange and Cooperation Foundation’ (APECF), a Chinese government-sponsored NGO manned by Chinese Communist Party (CCP) cadres, the initiative seeks to revive plans to consolidate and expand China’s presence in Nepal and ingress India and its border regions, ostensibly by encouraging Buddhist tourism in Lumbini in Nepal. At least one executive director of APECF has links to China’s military establishment.
Xiao Wunan, a senior CCP cadre and executive vice president of APECF visited India and was received in Dharamsala on August 16 by the Dalai Lama, Lobsang Sangay, then ‘Kalon Tripa’ (prime minister) of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) and Ugyen Thinley Dorjee, who is formally approved by the Dalai Lama and Beijing as the XVIIth Gyalwa Karmapa, or head of the Karma Kargyu sect. Xiao Wunan was accompanied by Gong Tingyu, a Deputy Secretary General of APECF and Simon Kei Shek Ming, reportedly a journalist of the Hong Kong magazine Yazhou Zhoukan.
During his meeting with the Dalai Lama, Xiao Wunan probably carried a personal message from a senior Chinese leader, possibly Xi Jinping. He could have informed the Dalai Lama that he was welcome to spend his last days in Beijing provided he gave up ‘anti-China’ activities and expressed support for the Communist regime.
Xiao Wunan’s meeting with Lobsang Sangay, elected head of the CTA, is significant. It suggests Beijing may be willing to talk to its representatives. Lobsang Sangay is also ‘known’ to the UFWD for facilitating contacts between Chinese academics and the Dalai Lama. Coincidentally, within a month of the meeting the designation of the Head of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) was changed from ‘Kalon Tripa’ (or prime minister) to the less controversial — from Beijing’s perspective —’Sikyong’ (or political leader).
Xiao Wunan’s meeting with Ugyen Thinley Dorjee reportedly ended abruptly when the monk took offence at the tenor of his questions. Xiao Wunan’s photograph with Ugyen Thinley Dorjee is, however, posted on APECF’s website.
Xiao Wunan also visited Nalanda when he met officials of the proposed university and assured financial assistance. In Delhi he met officials in the Ministries of Culture and Tourism. Returning to Kathmandu, Xiao Wunan disingenuously announced that APECF now has the support of the Government of India and would be organising three and four-day package tours for Buddhist pilgrims travelling from Lumbini to India
Interestingly, Xiao Wunan separated from an official Chinese delegation visiting Kathmandu to visit India. The Chinese delegation included Zou Lanming, vice general manager of the Lanzhou-based China Railway 21st Bureau. Xiao Wunan’s presence could suggest China plans to extend the railway from Xigaze to possibly Lumbini, on the border with India. A month later Xiao Wunan announced that APECF had signed an MoU with UK’s Vertical Theme Park (VTP) Group for a Lumbini Cloud Tower project, with the Nepal Government’s approval.
Nepal’s My Republica on October 11, reported the Nepal Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation’s denial that it was aware of any deal to develop Lumbini as an ‘international peace city’. Prachanda, leader of the Unified Communist Party-Marxist Leninist (UCP-ML), however, continues to be a vice president of APECF.
Meanwhile the CCP’s policy governing Tibetans, of combining economic incentives with intense political persuasion, remains unchanged. In an unusually candid interview to the Party mouthpiece People’s Daily on September 21, 2012, Chen Quanguo, party secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), enumerated the economic benefits extended to the people of Tibet. Disclosing measures to ensure ‘social stability’, he listed that 21,804 cadres had been sent to work in 5,451 administrative villages, that the Party had compiled complete sets of files and that 698 police stations had been established. All monasteries and temples now have photographs of the ‘four leaders’ (Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao), the national flag and a copy each of the People’s Daily and Tibet Daily. A project has also been started to ‘cultivate’ 100 senior monks and ‘guide’ Tibetan Buddhism to ‘adapt itself to socialist society’.
The author is a former additional secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India