Beijing's Tibetan protege comes of age in HK
Ada Lee and Teddy Ng
The Panchen Lama chosen by Beijing but disputed by Tibetans in exile marked his political coming of age in Hong Kong yesterday, delivering his first public speech outside the mainland to an international audience at the World Buddhist Forum.
The 22-year-old Panchen Lama - the second-highest Tibetan spiritual authority - made a well-prepared but cautious speech in front of more than 4,000 monks, nuns and scholars from 50 countries. Seldom seen in public, he has previously attended only two public forums on the mainland.
Observers said the Hong Kong event was intended by Beijing to boost the spiritual leader's international standing and recognition. Anointed by Beijing, the young Panchen Lama - whose real name is Gyaincain Norbu - is not recognised by followers of the exiled Dalai Lama, the top Tibetan spiritual leader.
'The Chinese government wants to promote the Panchen Lama as the most significant leader of Tibetan Buddhism,' said Barry Sautman, a social science professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, who studies Tibetan issues. 'It does signify first that the Chinese government indeed wants people generally, and Tibetans especially, to accept the Panchen Lama.'
The bespectacled 22-year-old made his political debut with well-groomed ease, although at times he showed a flicker of nervousness. After bowing to a 2,500-year-old holy relic said to be part of the skull of the Buddha, he read a prepared speech.
Buddhist teaching is 'sweet dew that ends human suffering and is a way to promote world peace,' he read, making only occasional eye contact with his audience. '[Greed] has unbalanced ecosystems, contaminated the environment, caused natural disasters, spread epidemics [and] induced wars ... endangering all sentient beings.'
Jiang Zhaoyong , a Beijing-based ethnic issues scholar, agreed with Sautman, saying the Hong Kong trip was intended to win international recognition for the Panchen Lama and that he would visit more overseas places in future.
Gyaincain Norbu arrived in Hong Kong on Wednesday - the 23rd birthday of his rival, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, who was picked by the Dalai Lama as the 11th Panchen Lama in 1995 but rejected by Beijing and taken into custody. He has since vanished from public sight.