Editorials

China’s leaders control plenty, but not the afterlife

An exiled Tibetan monk carries a portrait of the Dalai Lama during a march in New Delhi, India, on Tuesday to commemorate the 56th anniversary of a failed uprising against China’s rule in Tibet.
An exiled Tibetan monk carries a portrait of the Dalai Lama during a march in New Delhi, India, on Tuesday to commemorate the 56th anniversary of a failed uprising against China’s rule in Tibet. The Associated Press

The arrogance of China’s leaders is breathtaking. They censor the Internet. They tamp down political dissent. Now, they want to control the afterlife.

The New York Times reported Thursday that Communist Party officials are warning the Dalai Lama that he must reincarnate the way they want.

They’re angry that the 14th Dalai Lama, 79, recently suggested that he might end his lineage as spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists and not be reborn. He has been a thorn in China’s side since fleeing into exile in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet – a region China claims and where it has been accused of massive human rights violations.

While they’re officially atheist, party officials want to make sure that a 15th Dalai Lama will toe the line.

“Decision-making power over the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, and over the end or survival of this lineage, resides in the central government of China,” a party official said on the website of the party’s main newspaper.

The Dalai Lama has many supporters in the West. He attended the National Prayer Breakfast last month. President Barack Obama hosted him at the White House last year, praising his commitment to peace and strongly supporting the preservation of Tibetan religious and cultural traditions.

That provoked protests from the Chinese government, and the United States can only go so far. While Obama’s supposed “pivot” to Asia and the Pacific might counter China’s military might and diplomatic influence, we’re tied at the hip economically.

China is our second-biggest trading partner – more than $590 billion last year, but with a $343 billion deficit. Then there’s the matter of $1.3 trillion the federal government owes China.

Communist Party leaders may actually believe their power extends to reincarnation, given that they have managed to survive the violent put-down of the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests, and to navigate rapid economic growth with party-controlled capitalism.

What Chinese leaders are finding more difficult to control are larger forces. They can’t escape climate change or stop demographics. An estimated 30 million more men than women will reach marrying age by 2020.

Those trends may prove to be their undoing, no matter how fervently their chosen Dalai Lama prays for them.

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