Jonathan Sudworth reports on his encounter with Xiao Wunan, a former high-ranking CCP official who invited the BBC into his home to find a Buddhist shrine with an image of the Dalai Lama prominently displayed:
Inside Xiao’s luxury Beijing apartment, in pride of place atop his own private Buddhist shrine, sits a portrait of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, a man long reviled by the Chinese government as a dangerous separatist.
[…T]here, beneath that same image sat Xiao, with a Tibetan Buddhist guru, Geshe Sonam, sitting beside him.
[…] Much of this [rumors that Xi Jinping is relatively tolerant of religion, that his father had a positive relationship with the Dalai Lama prior to his exile, that his wife has an interest in Buddhism, or that Xiao Wunan as ties to Xi] is speculation, of course, but the important question is whether Xiao’s permission for the BBC to witness him worshipping at a Buddhist altar is meant to send a signal.
[…] Xiao Wunan’s exact role when he was in government is unclear – “just call me a former high official”, he says.
[…] [Tibet scholar Robert] Barnett advises against reading too much into Xiao Wunan’s meeting with the Dalai Lama, but says it is nonetheless symbolic.
“I can detect no politically significant activities in that meeting,” he says, “but it is significant as a symbolic indicator, a glimpse of a shift that might be under consideration in, or near, the policy-making heights of the Chinese system.” […] [Source]
Click through to read the entire report, which also touches on Tibetan Buddhism as a growing trend among China’s super-rich. Xiao Wunan also provided the BBC with a video of an unofficial 2012 meeting he had with the Dalai Lama. This BBC story comes on the heels of Chinese state media reports that officials in the Tibet Autonomous Region were “severely punished” for disciplinary violations—some of whom for separatist activities after allegedly providing intelligence to the “Dalai Lama clique.” While formal talks between representatives of the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government have been stalled since 2010, the Dalai Lama said last October that informal discussions were underway regarding a pilgrimage to China—the Foreign Ministry quickly dismissed the trip as impossible, and reaffirmed their view of the Tibetan spiritual leader as a separatist.
On the diplomatic front, the Chinese government routinely pressures foreign government representatives from publicly meeting with the Dalai Lama. While Barack Obama has met the Dalai Lama three times as president (2010, 2011, and 2014), he has done so in low-key settings and without the presence of reporters in response to strong objections from Beijing. At TIME, Elizabeth Dias reports that the Dalai Lama will be present at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington next month, marking their first public appearance together:
The Dalai Lama will attend this year’s National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 5, marking the first time that the Tibetan leader will appear in public at an event that President Obama is expected to also attend, according to a press aide for Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, who is co-chair of the event.
“The Dalai Lama will be at the breakfast, but he does not have a speaking role,” Casey aide Alex Miller tells TIME in an email. The White House did not immediately confirm the report.
[…] The National Prayer Breakfast is an annual, historically Christian event at the Washington Hilton for hundreds of mostly evangelical and other faith leaders. The President of the United States and First Lady have long attended, and the President traditionally speaks. [Source]
Reuters quotes a White House spokesperson: “The President will see many religious leaders at the event, but we don’t have any specific meeting with the Dalai Lama to announce.”