How Tibet's Karmapa Lama Is Fueling China and India Border Tensions

By Ridge, Mian | The Christian Science Monitor, February 14, 2011 | Go to article overview

How Tibet's Karmapa Lama Is Fueling China and India Border Tensions


Ridge, Mian, The Christian Science Monitor


Chinese cash seized from the Indian monastery of the top Tibetan figure has underscored growing tensions between India and China -- and increased feelings of insecurity among the thousands of Tibetans in India.

To his followers around the world, the Tibetan named Ogyen Trinley Dorje is a "living Buddha" - an icon of purity and detachment.

But the discovery of a large stash of cash - some of it in Chinese currency - at his Indian monastery has fueled suspicion in India that the Tibetan figure widely considered next in line to the Dalai Lama is a spy for the Chinese.

The furor has underscored growing tensions between India and China over border issues and increased feelings of insecurity among the thousands of exiled Tibetans living in India, where they have been given asylum, though not citizenship.

On his recent visit to India, Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, acknowledged that the longstanding border dispute could "not easily be resolved."

The neighbors clash intermittently over the north Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, part of which is claimed by China as "South Tibet." In recent months, tensions between India and China have escalated sharply. In the past, India has been sympathetic to Tibetans: It gave sanctuary to many Tibetans who fled Tibet with the Dalai Lama in 1959 after Chinese occupation. Now, as India is frequently and increasingly riled by reports of Chinese border incursions, it has begun to respond by strengthening its border areas to secure the disputed territory.

Suspicious of Tibetans

But while India has long been somewhat wary about China's territorial claims, Indian authorities appear to be increasingly suspicious of Tibetan refugees on its side of the border - a group previously only targeted by the Chinese. Indian police have begun to step up the number of checks on Buddhist monasteries in and near the border area.

On Jan. 27, Indian police found about $1.4 million in foreign currency, some of it in Chinese yuan, stashed at the Karmapa Lama Dorje's monastery in Dharamsala - the acting capital for Tibetans in exile. The discovery was made during a raid after a large sum of money was found in a car nearby. At least one of Lama Dorje's aides has been arrested, and the Indian media has been quick to proclaim Dorje a Chinese spy.

Who is Dorje?

Dorje is the Karmapa Lama - one of the three most senior figures in Tibetan Buddhism, along with the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama. He has been viewed widely as the most likely political successor to the Dalai Lama, who has indicated he is nearing retirement.

Supporters of the Karmapa Lama say the money was actually a savings of unsolicited donations from the devotees around the world, some of whom are Chinese Buddhists, and that it was going toward building a new monastery. …

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