April 27, 2006

China says Tibetan boy not political prisoner

By Benjamin Kang Lim

BEIJING (Reuters) - China condemned exiled Tibetans and
international human rights watchdogs on Friday for calling a
Tibetan youth the world's youngest political prisoner, saying
their aim is to push for independence for the Himalayan region.

The whereabouts of Gendun Choekyi Nyima, 17, who pro-Tibet
groups say has been under house arrest since the region's
exiled god-king, the Dalai Lama, appointed him the 11th Panchen
Lama in 1995, is one of China's most keenly guarded secrets.

In reply to questions submitted by Reuters, the State
Council Information Office said China had not arranged meetings
between the boy and foreign organizations or media out of
respect for the family's wishes not to be disturbed.

"Exiled Tibetan splittist elements and some foreign
organizations with ulterior motives have been whipping up
opinion that Gendun Choekyi Nyima is the world's youngest
political prisoner," the cabinet spokesman's office said in a

"Their objective is to split China, sabotage ethnic unity
and internationalize the Tibet issue to serve Tibetan

The Dalai Lama's unilateral announcement embarrassed and
enraged China's atheist Communists, who dropped Nyima's name
from a shortlist of candidates and endorsed Gyaltsen Norbu as
the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama, who died in 1989.

Tibetan Buddhists believe in reincarnation and that the
soul of a "living Buddha" migrates to a boy born shortly after
the holy monk's death. Reincarnations are identified through a
mystical search that includes a series of ancient and rigorous
tests such as picking out items that belonged to a late lama.

The cabinet spokesman's office said Nyima was "no
reincarnation of the Panchen Lama" and was "just an ordinary
boy belonging to China's Tibetan ethnic group."

"At present, his health is good. He lives a normal happy
life and is receiving good cultural education," it said.
"According to the wishes of his family, meetings with foreign
organizations, the media and others have not been arranged to
avoid disturbing him and his family's normal life."

In reply to a question on whether the Panchen Lama anointed
by the Dalai Lama was studying Buddhism, the cabinet spokesman
said it was totally his personal religious freedom.

The Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama made his debut on the
world stage this month at China's first international religious
forum since 1949. The 16-year-old is reviled by Dalai Lama
loyalists as a pretender and security is extremely tight
wherever he goes, apparently to prevent assassination attempts.

The return of the Dalai Lama, who fled into exile in India
in 1959 after an abortive uprising, does not hinge on whether
he recognizes the Chinese Panchen, the cabinet spokesman's

It argued that the Chinese central government had the final
say on determining reincarnations of "living Buddhas" like the
Dalai or Panchen according to a 1793 agreement between Tibet
and China's last dynasty, the Qing (1644-1911).

The door to dialogue with the Dalai Lama was open, the
statement said, but he must truly abandon his advocacy of
Tibetan independence and publicly recognize Tibet as an
inseparable part of China, Taiwan as a Chinese province and the
People's Republic of China as the sole legitimate government of