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China demanding to approve Mongolia’s top religious figure?

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(TibetanReview.net, Mar25’23) – The Dalai Lama’s recognition of the reincarnation of Mongolia’s top religious figure, the tenth Khalkha Jetsun Dhampa Rinpoché, is reportedly being complicated by China’s nudge that its approval be sought for his enthronement, according to several international media reports in recent days.

A Mongolian boy with US dual-nationality has been revealed as the incarnation of the third most important spiritual leader in Tibetan Buddhism and was pictured for the first time alongside the Dalai Lama, reported the dailymail.co.uk Mar 23. While it is not clear on what basis the report calls him “the third most important spiritual leader in Tibetan Buddhism”, inasmuch as there is no hierarchical structure in Tibetan Buddhism, it is a fact that Khalkha Jetsun Dhampa is the top religious figure of Mongolia.

The report noted that rumours about the boy’s identity had swirled around the spiritual community for years, but that his existence has only now been confirmed with his public appearance in India, where the Dalai Lama lives in exile.

Present at the ceremony in Dharamsala on Mar 8 were also 600 Mongolians who came to celebrate their new spiritual leader, the report said.

The report speculated that the unveiling could spark fury in China, which had previously said it will only recognise Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leaders their special government-approved appointees had chosen. But this could be a misreading of the Chinese government’s intention as Mongolia is not under Chinese rule, as is the case with occupied Tibet.

Still, referring to a report by The Times, the report said that in Mongolia, the news about the Dalai Lama and his ceremony with the young boy, resulted in intense excitement among Buddhists in the country as well as “contempt among secular nationalists and alarm among those who feat that it will provoke the rage of the country’s neighbour, China”.

Despite the 9th Jetsun Dhampa’s wish for only the Dalai Lama to recognize his successor, China is seemingly nudging Mongolia to seek its approval before acknowledging a new leader. This if true would be an outrageous interference in the religious affairs of Mongolia. However, this tactic is part of China’s broader strategy to control Buddhism beyond its borders, with Mongolia being a crucial piece of the puzzle, said thediplomat.com Mar 23.

As Buddhism is deeply interwoven with Mongolia’s culture, history, and ideas of sovereignty and democracy, the country’s economic and geopolitical future hangs in the balance, the report said.

Robbie Barnett, a Tibet expert at SOAS University of London, has told The Times: “It can be taken by China as a challenge to their past claim to sole authority in choosing lamas.

“These things can cascade into confrontation with China, which could penalise Mongolia in damaging ways.”

Meanwhile, in the Mongolian city of Ulan Bator, the boy as the reincarnation of the spiritual leader has caused quite a stir, as the boy is the scion of one of the city’s richest business and political dynasties under father Altannar Chinchuluun and mother Monkhnasam Narmandakh, said the dailymail.co.uk report.

This is why the Mongolian government has remained tight-lipped about the recent appearance of the Jetsun Dhampa, as they fear similar responses from China like 2016, the report said.

That was the year in which the Dalai Lama visited Mongolia and Beijing expressed its rage by imposing several measures on the country like delaying loans or closing the border, which caused Ulan Bator to ban him from visiting Mongolia again, the report noted.


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