Although membership in the advisory group, Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, is of nominal interest to ordinary Chinese, the Panchen Lama’s appointment on Sunday ratchets up the government’s efforts to elevate his stature among Tibetans. Because he was appointed by Communist Party authorities rather than by Buddhist leaders, many Tibetans reject his religious authority as the ranking leader after the Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile since 1959.
Born as Gyaltsen Norbu, he was anointed the 11th Panchen Lama in 1995, after the Dalai Lama identified a different child as the latest incarnation of the Panchen Lama. A few weeks later, that boy and his family vanished. The government has said that they are in “protective custody,” but their whereabouts have been an enduring mystery for 15 years.
According to Xinhua, the official news agency, the appointed Panchen Lama, just shy of his 20th birthday, is the youngest person ever appointed to the consultative conference, which convenes later this week as part of the annual pageant that includes meetings of the National People’s Congress, the country’s main legislative forum.
See also “China appoints Panchen Lama in tactical move to quell unrest” from the Independent.