The United Front Work Department has been instrumental in implementing policies aimed at controlling the religious and cultural life of Tibet

by Khedroob Thondup

The legacy of the Dalai Lama and the issue of his reincarnation are pivotal to the future of the Tibetan movement. The Dalai Lama’s role transcends spiritual leadership; it embodies the cultural and national identity of Tibet. As the current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, advances in age, discussions about his succession have intensified, especially considering the geopolitical implications.

The Dalai Lama has historically been both a spiritual and political figure for Tibetans, and his reincarnation is a deeply religious process that is believed to be influenced by his own will and merit. However, the Chinese government has expressed its intent to control the reincarnation process, aiming to appoint a successor that aligns with its political interests and to assert sovereignty over Tibet. This has led to concerns that there could be two successors: one recognized by Tibetans and the other by the Chinese government.

The Dalai Lama’s approach to his reincarnation and legacy is strategic, focusing on the sustainability of the Tibetan cause. He has emphasized the importance of democratic governance and the separation of the religious and political roles of the Dalai Lama, which was evident when he devolved political power to the elected Tibetan government-in-exile. This move was aimed at ensuring that the Tibetan struggle remains resilient and adaptable to future challenges.

The Dalai Lama’s legacy is also preserved through his teachings and the values he promotes, such as non-violence, compassion, and dialogue, which continue to inspire and guide the Tibetan community and its supporters worldwide. His reincarnation will not only be a religious event but also a significant moment for the Tibetan struggle, potentially impacting the direction and nature of the movement.

The international community’s response to the Dalai Lama’s succession will also be crucial. The US has enacted the Tibet Policy and Support Act, which supports the right of Tibetans to choose their leaders without interference. This law, among other international stances, could play a role in legitimizing the Dalai Lama’s successor and maintaining the momentum of the Tibetan movement.

In summary, the Dalai Lama’s legacy and the circumstances of his reincarnation are indeed central to the Tibetan cause, influencing not only the spiritual continuity of Tibetan Buddhism but also the political and cultural resilience of the Tibetan people.

The relationship between China and Tibet has been complex and contentious, with the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people often at the centre of this dynamic. The concept of “United Front” tactics refers to the range of strategies used by the Chinese government to integrate and manage different interest groups, especially those it considers potentially subversive or separatist.

In the context of Tibet, the United Front Work Department (UFWD) of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been instrumental in implementing policies aimed at controlling the religious and cultural life of the region. This includes efforts to manage the succession process of the Dalai Lama, a central figure in Tibetan Buddhism and a symbol of Tibetan identity and autonomy aspirations.

Historically, the Chinese government has sought to undermine the Dalai Lama’s influence by promoting alternative religious leaders and restricting his ability to communicate with the Tibetan people. The CCP’s approach has evolved from outright suppression to more subtle methods of co-optation and control. For instance, the Chinese government has asserted its right to approve the reincarnation of Tibetan lamas, including the Dalai Lama, which is a deeply spiritual matter traditionally decided within the Tibetan Buddhist framework.

Furthermore, the UFWD has been involved in orchestrating dialogues with Tibetan representatives, although these talks have often been criticized as insincere and unproductive. The Chinese government’s narrative portrays the Dalai Lama as a separatist, despite his repeated calls for genuine autonomy within the framework of the Chinese constitution, rather than full independence.

The use of United Front tactics extends beyond the religious sphere, encompassing economic and social policies designed to integrate Tibet more closely with the rest of China. This includes infrastructure development, the promotion of Mandarin Chinese language over Tibetan, and the encouragement of migration from other parts of China to Tibet, which some argue dilutes Tibetan cultural and demographic characteristics.

In summary, China’s United Front tactics in Tibet are multifaceted, aiming to consolidate control over the region while attempting to diminish the influence of the Dalai Lama and the traditional Tibetan way of life. These tactics have significant implications for the preservation of Tibetan culture, the autonomy of the region, and the rights of the Tibetan people.

Khedroob Thondup is the son of Gyalo Thondup, elder brother of the Dalai Lama. Educated at St Stephens College, Delhi University and the University of San Francisco

(With reporting by Sunday Guardian Live)