Tibetan Defection Undermines Beijing

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Good thing for China that it doesn't depend on the consent of the Tibetans to rule Tibet. A 14-year-old boy recognized as the 17th Karmapa — a senior figure in Tibetan Buddhism — has fled to Dharmsala, the Dalai Lama's headquarters in India. It was reported Friday that the boy fled after the Chinese authorities, who had used their official relationship with the Karmapa as evidence of their tolerance of Tibetan Buddhism, broke promises to allow the boy access to his spiritual teacher in India. Beijing had officially recognized the boy, chosen by monks at the Karma Kagyu order's headquarters in Sikkim, India, and had championed him as a Tibetan spiritual leader who accepted China's authority in the disputed territory. His defection may be the most serious p.r. blow to China's claims on Tibet since the escape of the Dalai Lama four decades ago.

The Karmapa's flight caps a year in which the authorities in Beijing are facing growing discontent from religious believers of varied stripe. Besides the challenge represented by the widespread Falun Gong sect, which was banned amid national protests in the summer, Beijing has faced continued resistance from Islamic separatists in its westernmost provinces, and earlier this week China's leadership set a collision course with the pope by engineering the appointment of three officially approved bishops to the Chinese Catholic Church over the Vatican's objections. The Karmapa's defection may be a blow to Chinese efforts to legitimize its claim of sovereignty over Tibet, but that's unlikely to drive out Beijing. After all, they're not exactly asking the Tibetans' permission to be there in the first place.