BEIJING – The Chinese government has loosened restrictions that kept Tibetan monks in two provinces from openly revering the Dalai Lama, Radio Free Asia reported.
Authorities in Sichuan province announced people can display pictures of the exiled Buddhist spiritual leader, and ordered officials not to criticize him, the U.S.-funded RFA reported, citing an anonymous resident in Sichuan’s Ganzi prefecture. In the past, monks had to keep pictures of the Dalai Lama hidden.
China seized control of Tibet in 1951 and has vilified the Dalai Lama, 77, as a separatist since he fled in 1959 to India, where he leads a government in exile. Chinese officials regularly levy diplomatic sanctions on countries that host him for visits, including Britain.
RFA also cited a resident of Qinghai province as saying officials now aren’t under orders to criticize the Dalai Lama. Monks may venerate the Dalai Lama as a spiritual leader, not as a political leader, RFA reported.
Tibet policy has only become more aggressive since former President Hu Jintao was the Communist Party’s secretary of Tibet in the 1980s, said Robbie Barnett, director of the Modern Tibet Studies Program at Columbia University in New York City. While banning photographs of the Dalai Lama was never a national-level policy outside of Tibet, any hint of reversing a policy of attacking him would be significant, he said.
“Denigrating the Dalai Lama, insulting him, attacking him, basing policy on accusations against him, that’s a national-level propaganda theme,” he said. “So reversing that is much more significant than the question of photographs.”
Tibetans’ reverence for the Dalai Lama hasn’t diminished even as their living standards under Chinese control have improved, an indication that the government should reassess its approach toward the issue, Jin Wei, professor at the Central Party School in Beijing, said in an interview published June 9 by Hong Kong magazine Asia Weekly.