China is marking 20 years since the death of the second-most senior figure in Tibetan Buddhism by lauding him as an enemy of separatism in the restive region as it enters a year laden with tense anniversaries.
The death on Jan. 28, 1989, of the 10th Panchen Lama, revered by Tibetans for championing their rights, deprived Chinese authorities of a buffer against discontent in the mountain region and helped stir demonstrations and riots in the regional capital Lhasa weeks later.
But Chinese officials now champion the late Panchen Lama as a model patriot, set against the exiled Dalai Lama, who they condemn as a separatist traitor.
In the official People’s Daily on Tuesday, a senior Chinese Communist Party official again lauded him as an example for Tibet.
But the 10th Panchen Lama’s political legacy is much more disputed than such propaganda presents.
China lost a chance to win greater acceptance from Tibetans when it put under secretive house arrest the five-year-old boy chosen by the Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama in 1995. Beijing installed its own successor, who is spurned by most Tibetans.
China is seeking to prevent unrest in Tibet as it marks the 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s flight into exile in March. Most Tibetans still honor him as their supreme religious leader.
A security lockdown has been imposed in most Tibetan areas. And authorities in Lhasa launched a “strike hard” campaign to stifle potential trouble there, overseas groups advocating Tibetan independence said, citing media reports.
The Lhasa Evening News reported on Friday that police hunting criminals carried out “comprehensive checks” on 5,766 residents, the International Campaign for Tibet said in an e-mail.
“This latest strike hard campaign appears to be intended to intimidate Tibetans” ahead of their traditional new year in late February and the 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s flight, said Kate Saunders of the International Campaign.
At least 81 people have been detained for suspected criminal activity amid the security sweep, including two who are being held for having “reactionary music” on their cellphones, state media reported. Others were detained on suspicion of theft, burglary and prostitution.