Chinese `smear' Dalai Lama

Peking is stepping up efforts to bring Tibet's spiritual leader down to earth, writes Tim McGirk in Dharamsala
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Chinese agents operating in India have mounted a campaign to smear the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan religious leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, in an attempt to weaken his influence within Tibet and among the large refugee community in South Asia.

In Dharamsala, in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas, where the Dalai Lama has made his retreat since going into exile in 1959, fears are also growing that the Chinese might try to kill the spiritual leader. His home minister in exile, Sonam Topgyal, said: "We've seen secret Chinese documents stating how they plan to crush what they call the `Dalai-clique'. It says that if you want to get rid of the snake, you smash the head."

Indian authorities, who protect the Tibetan leader with bodyguards when he is not travelling abroad, are taking the alleged threats against the Dalai Lama seriously enough to strengthen his security. Diplomatic sources in Delhi and exiles in Dharamsala say that the decision to mount the new offensive against the Dalai Lama was taken at the highest levels in Peking and is being carried out by the United Front, which handles foreign affairs.

"The Chinese are much more sophisticated now in their attacks. Lhasa radio used to tell Tibetans that the Dalai Lama had a rosary with beads made from the bones of serfs," said Lhakpa Tsering, a Tibetan human rights worker. "Of course no Tibetan believedit."

The Indians and Tibetan supporters of the Dalai Lama both report an increase in the number of Chinese spies who have crossed the Himalayas to infiltrate the Tibetan refugee communities. One refugee said he had been a bricklayer in Lhasa, but before I could ask questions, he demanded to know which member of a Tibetan troupe of performers visiting London had met clandestinely with the press.

The exiled Home Minister also claimed that the Chinese embassy was recruiting "troublemakers" in Dharamsala. Privately, some Dharamsala residents say that when riots erupted in this old British hill station in April, after a Tibetan youth stabbed a Gaddiherdsman, provocateurs were seen stirring up hatred against the Tibetans.

The Chinese embassy in Delhi denied this claim. Yet according to a classified 1993 document entitled "Chinese Public- Relations Strategy on Tibet", Peking set itself the goal of "dividing and destroying" Tibetans in exile.

Robbie Barnett, from the Tibet Information Network in London, said: "There's no doubt that the Chinese have been playing on all sectarian and ethnic fault-lines." He added: "It's a simple thing to do. Stirring up distrust among political refugees is probably the easiest political game in the world."

The Chinese are also thought to have meddled with Tibetans searching for the reincarnation of a high lama called the Karmapa. A succession feud has developed in which monks have rival contenders: one is a boy under tight Chinese control in a monastery near Lhasa, while the other, ,also born in Tibet, was allowed to travel to India with Peking's full connivance. The Karmapa's millions of followers are confused over which boy is the true incarnation.

The political assault against the Dalai Lama is reinforced by a new crackdown against his many followers in Tibet. Mr Barnett said: "There's a full-frontal attack against the pro-independence Tibetans. Before, Beijing had a whole industry veiling this, but now the aggression is out in the open." Monasteries are being shut down, displaying photographs of the Dalai Lama is now outlawed, and Tibetan "separatists" within the Communist Party and civil service are being purged. Government cadres are now required publicly to disavow the Dalai Lama, a painful declaration for most Tibetans who revere him as an emanation of the Buddha.

Tibetan exiles say the new repression began after the Clinton administration last May renewed its Most-Favoured Nation trade agreement with China.

Barred by the Dalai Lama from using arms to drive out the Chinese - both out of common sense, since the barren, icy terrain does not lend itself to guerrilla ambushes against the Chinese army, and out of a Buddhist belief in non-violence - Tibetans in exile have devised another means of protest. In two months, thousands of Tibetans will begin a 1,000-mile march from New Delhi to Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, over the highest mountains in the world.