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India, Dalai Lama blocking Beijing from using Buddhism as soft power, say Chinese scholars

Buddhist scholars had gathered this week in northwest China’s Qinghai province to discuss how to leverage Buddhism in constructing and expanding the BRI.

world Updated: Oct 18, 2018 18:35 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times, Beijing
India,Dalai Lama,Beijing
His Holiness Dalai Lama addresses teachers after the inauguration of Happiness Curriculum of the Delhi government at Thyagraj Sports Complex in New Delhi, in July 2018. (Sonu Mehta/HT File Photo)

Sutirtho Patranobis


India is the biggest challenge for Beijing to use Buddhism in support of President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to tackle terrorism and separatism and for strategic purposes, leading Chinese scholars have said.

For one, the Chinese Buddhist scholars argued at a recent symposium, the Dharamshala-based Dalai Lama has established a “separatist” base in India and promotes traditional religion and culture – as opposed to the Communist Party’s socialist values – to maintain his base.

India itself is a “stumbling block” as it has not joined BRI, a connectivity project worth billions of dollars, because of geopolitical reasons.

The scholars gathered this week in northwestern Qinghai province to discuss how to leverage Buddhism in constructing and expanding the BRI. The symposium was seemingly focussed on “sinicising” – and also politicising – Buddhism for the purpose of statecraft.

“Soft power like religion, if used properly, will convert to hard power,” one scholar said.

“Guided by the core socialist values, the symposium aims to encourage Tibetan Buddhism to adapt to the socialist society and teach the religion to serve the construction of the Belt and Road Initiative,” the news website reported.

Tibetan Buddhism can act as a bridge between BRI countries so that they can better communicate with each other, since religious and cultural beliefs are similar in Central and South Asia, Qin Yongzhang, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), told Global Times tabloid.

The BRI, for example, has “injected new energy into China-Nepal ties” and China has built a relationship with Mongolia through Tibetan Buddhism.

Not so the case with India.

“One immediate challenge of promoting BRI through Tibetan Buddhism comes from India, which has been holding back for geopolitical reasons,” Qin said.

“The Dalai Lama has established a separatist base in India, and has been advocating the ‘traditional culture’ as leverage to expand his influence.”

Buddhism has a significant role in curbing separatism, religious extremism and terrorism while implementing BRI because it pursues harmony and opposes violence, said Xiong Kunxin, an ethnic studies professor at Tibet University in Lhasa.

The position against India and the Dalai Lama is in line with a recent decision by a Chinese county not to allow India-trained Buddhist monks to teach in China.

In May, the county in southwestern Sichuan province banned Tibetan monks “wrongly educated” in India from teaching Buddhism to prevent the spread of “separatist” ideas.

Officials of Litang county issued the ban, the first such move outside the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).

“As some monks received education overseas from the 14th Dalai Lama clique – whom China regards as separatists – it is necessary to tighten supervision so as to prevent the clique from using local Buddhists to conduct separatist activities,” Zhu Weiqun, former head of the ethnic and religious affairs committee of the national committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, had said.

First Published: Oct 18, 2018 14:52 IST