China’s latest interference: Blocking the Dalai Lama’s rumoured visit to Sri Lanka

 By R. R. M. Lilani

Even though Sri Lankan politics claim to be nonaligned, supportive of all countries, and prioritize Buddhism, on January 11, 2023, a number of Chinese diplomats and their Chargé d’affaires Hu Wei hurried to the Malwathu Chapter in Kandy and warned the high prelates not to host the Dalai Lama because they are engaged in a dispute with him. This is counter to China’s pledge to the world that it will not meddle in the domestic or foreign affairs of any country.

However, the news of his coming was simply a rumor because some Buddhist monks who had met with the Dalai Lama had expressed a desire to welcome him to Sri Lanka. 

Hu Wei, the charge d’affaires of the Chinese Embassy, visited Kandy and met with Most Venerable Thibbatuwawe Sri Siddhartha Sumangala Thera, the Mahanayake Thera of the Malwathu chapter of the Siam Nikaya, to express how strongly the Chinese government and people, including those in the Tibet Autonomous Region, oppose His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s visit to Sri Lanka. The Chinese Envoy said that the 14th Dalai Lama is unquestionably not a “simple monk,” as he claimed to be, but rather the ruler of Tibet’s feudal serfdom and theocracy before 1951, a political exile who has long been involved in anti-China separatist activities and tried to divide Tibet from China.

It was Ven. Waskaduwe Mahindawansa Mahanayake Thea, Mahanayake Thera, Sri Sambuddha Sasanodaya Sangha Sabha from Sri Lanka in an interview for an India media had said that India helped His Holiness Dalai Lama, and today they know thousands of visitors are at Bodh Gaya because of His Holiness. One of the Monks had said that “People don’t usually come to Bodh Gaya anymore because it’s so chilly, but they do now because of His Holiness. Bodh Gaya gains in many different ways. Is Tibet making any progress? We ought to think about this aspect as well.” They were reportedly impressed by the meeting with the Dalai Lama. He declared, “We were delighted to meet spiritual leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama. We comprehend spiritual activity. As a result, the Maha Sangha from Sri Lanka is thrilled to observe what His Holiness is accomplishing “. The Asgiri Chapter Muruddeniya Dhammarathana Thera continued by saying that they are thrilled because Bodh Gaya is “like our motherland because Lord Buddha obtained enlightenment there” and they adore that site.

The high-ranking Sri Lankan monks in fact, hoped the Dalai Lama would come to Sri Lanka and help the nation get through its current economic problems. “I believe His Holiness has been to Bodh Gaya. He would bring thousands of tourists to Sri Lanka, which will help the country’s struggling economy. And if His Holiness comes to Sri Lanka, as he did to Bodh Gaya, a lot more tourists will come. Both the economy and the country will be blessed as a result,” he clarified. Recalling his several visits to China including one Buddhist exchange tour in the Tibet Autonomous Region,  Thibbatuwawe Sri Siddhartha Sumangala Thera expressed his high appreciation for China’s economic and social development and the freedom and prosperity of Buddhism in the oriental country.

However, it’s crucial to note that the Tibetan administration claimed the spiritual leader had no invitation and no plans to travel to Sri Lanka and the Chinese delegation’s response to even a rumor can be contemptible.

 The government of Sri Lanka’s assertions is that its relations with China are only commercial but China’s invasions have put Sri Lanka in a difficult situation on both the political and economic fronts. Despite the Dalai Lama’s lack of affiliation with the Theravada sect, the majority of Buddhists believe his teachings to be solemnly accepted, and his visit to Sri Lanka can only be viewed as a blessing and bring tourism rather than being driven by politics.

China’s hostility toward the Dalai Lama is multifaceted. They find it offensive that India granted him asylum and that the Dalai Lama now lives permanently in the northern Indian city of Dharamsala in exile. The Dalai Lama also established the Tibetan government in exile, and India viewed Tibet as a de facto country in its diplomatic relations. It is not china preventing. 

The Dalai Lama fled to India following the 1959 Tibetan uprising after the People’s Republic of China annexed Tibet. Even in exile, he continues to be the most significant spiritual figure in Tibet and world over. Dalai Lama joined Twitter in 2010 and currently has more than 8.5 million followers on the platform alone.

The Dalai Lama, one of Buddhism’s most well-known figures, plays a significant role in spreading Buddhist teachings around the world. Senior monastic disciples generally identify the Dalai Lama’s successor based on spiritual signs and visions. The Dalai Lama, who fled to India, rose to prominence as the most vocal supporter of Tibet in the world as well as a revered figure in religion and morality. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, and he still travels the globe imparting wisdom on moral and spiritual matters. From 1950 the Chinese government that reoccupied Tibet has ever since tried to control the region.

However, China tells the Tibetans to be focused on developing the region rather on religion. According to a report by The Economist, China is pressuring the Tibetans to give less attention to their religion and more support to president Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in its most recent effort to consolidate its grip in Tibet. The report further tells that the Tibetan farmers have been relocated to contemporary housing in or close to towns and cities, while the Muslim Uyghurs have been placed in “re-education centers.” Furthermore, Mandarin that is comparable to that spoken in Xinjiang has been introduced to replace Tibetan.

According to The Economist, the level of surveillance has increased in Tibet. Smartphones are tapped; networks of informers transmit information to the state. It has become difficult for Tibetans to travel to India to attend religious lectures delivered by the Dalai Lama, as many did before Chinese President Xi took power in 2012, just as Uyghurs can no longer make pilgrimages to Mecca.   Since 1949,    over 1.2 million out of six million Tibetans have been killed, over 6000 monasteries have been destroyed, and thousands of Tibetans have been imprisoned.

China has forged ties with Sri Lanka in an effort to show off its power while highlighting Sri Lanka’s fragility. Due to the geopolitical concerns caused by China’s presence and actions in Sri Lanka, India, Japan, and the United States of America have started to question Sri Lanka and its motivations for hosting China beyond its limits. While Sri Lanka has only just emerged as a passive observer, the presence of China primarily poses a danger to the marine security of the South Asian region.

The Dalai Lama is renowned for his insightful spiritual observations that apply to a wider context. His visit to Sri Lanka can only be seen as a blessing rather than the unfathomable terror, fear and threat China has at the commencement of its quest for supremacy in South Asia and the Indo-Pacific. China will continue to defend its interests and is unconcerned with what other nations may think. This is the type of meddling China has done in Sri Lanka after initially joining as a development partner.