Surveillance at the monasteryhttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/surveillance-at-the-monastery/

Surveillance at the monastery

Beijing adopts a carrot and stick policy on the monasteries

Beijing adopts a carrot and stick policy on the monasteries

China has long been wary of the growing number of Buddhist monasteries,especially centres of Tibetan Buddhism,in Nepal. Apart from the 20,000 Tibetan exiles in Nepal,there is a substantial number of Nepalese who are adherents of Mahayana Buddhism. The monasteries,numbering about 50 in and around Kathmandu and almost all headed by Tibetan lamas,are revered as centres of learning and spiritual practice.

So far,China has perceived these as possible centres of conspiracy against Beijing and has routinely drawn the Nepal government’s attention to keeping a watch on their activities “directed against China”. Three years ago,President Ram Baran Yadav even cancelled his scheduled visit to Shechen Monastery to attend the enthronement ceremony of a much revered “lama reincarnate” at the insistence of the Chinese embassy. The Boudha area in the capital,a pilgrimage spot for Buddhists from around the world,is under the highest surveillance with around 49 CCTV cameras around the main Boudhanath monastery — all this at China’s request. Surveillance is on the rise after a 25-year-old Tibetan lama self-immolated two months ago. The Chinese embassy has asked the government to keep vigil for the Dalai Lama’s 78th birthday celebrations.

Nepal’s political instability,especially in the past six years,weak government and the resultant high-handedness of the international community that Beijing perceives as hostile,seem to have forced China to not only enlarge its presence in Nepal but also project itself as a nation tolerant of religion,mainly Buddhism. It has stepped up the distribution of relief and essential food items in Nepal. Of late,China has begun printing and distributing the Asia Weekly supplement of the China Daily,in partnership with a local media house.

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But Chinese Ambassador Wu Chuntai surprised many by doing something his predecessors didn’t. On May 25,he paid an unexpected visit to a monastery and quietly invited abbot Ayang Rinpoche to the embassy,sending out the message that China is keen to build bridges with monasteries and Tibetans in exile. The occasion of the ambassador’s visit was the enthronement of a revered lama incarnate — the one the Chinese embassy had forced President Yadav to abstain from three years ago. Promoting Buddhism and developing Buddhist shrines in Nepal is part of Beijing’s diplomacy as well as an aid mission. China has shown keen interest in developing Lumbini,the Buddha’s birthplace,into a world-class city and building a railway link to connect it with Tibet,thereby encouraging Chinese tourists. Government officials also say China has built strong ties with people in Nepal’s border districts and stepped up relief supply.

Seeking more freedom to operate in Nepal,China has asked the government to give it the same privilege as availed by India in identifying the “projects in need” and in “channelling funds through district bodies” without going through the government. Chinese authorities hold routine meetings with political parties and local leaders of border districts. Allowing cattle from Nepal to graze in Chinese land and promoting bilateral trade using the surface route is something China seems to be keen on.

Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi,who paid a brief visit recently,not only promised logistical support for the scheduled elections in November but also pledged three billion rupees for building a training academy for the armed police force. India’s External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid is due to visit Nepal for 48 hours on Wednesday,almost endorsing the concern the Chinese have been raising more aggressively. It’s still not known how India will review its active presence in Nepal. But China has spoken in every manner it can that it wants order and stability. However,as long as the state remains weak,Beijing will adopt a carrot and stick policy on the monasteries.

yubaraj.ghimire@expressindia.com