By Kay Beswick
One of the oft-repeated allegations is that Dorje Shugden practitioners are funded by the Chinese government, as part of their strategy to split the Tibetan community. This same allegation was the focus of a recent Reuters special report on the issue, titled “China co-opts a Buddhist sect in global effort to smear Dalai Lama” which was published on Dec 21, 2015.
The Reuters report has received widespread attention for the depth of its investigation, but it has also drawn many responses and criticism for its shortcomings. What the Reuters article fails to consider is that:
- The ban was implemented by the Tibetan leadership. If anyone created a cause for the split of the Tibetan community, it was the Tibetan leadership themselves. They were the ones who split the Tibetans into those who practice Dorje Shugden and those who do not, and pitted the two groups against one another by fanning the flames of their patriotism. There would be nothing for the Chinese government to supposedly fund if there was no ban at all so if anyone is responsible for the split of the Tibetan community, it is the Tibetan leadership who are responsible for this
- Dorje Shugden practitioners, as first highlighted by Lukar Jam and later by Justin Whitaker, are not a homogenous group and to treat them as such would be a mistake. Within the Dorje Shugden community are people who hold His Holiness the Dalai Lama in high respect, just as there are people who hold him responsible for the ban. Justin Whitaker outlines this very clearly in his analysis on Patheos, recognizing that there is no single main Dorje Shugden leader to represent everyone. Therefore, just because some Shugden practitioners have made the personal decision to receive financial support from China, does not mean there is a defined link between Dorje Shugden and China. Such decisions are being made on an individual capacity
- Lama Tseta has been discredited as an opportunist, who was never the head of the Dorje Shugden Society as he is fond of claiming. It is well-known in the Tibetan community that Lama Tseta has received money and kickbacks from the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) to speak, including his recognition as a reincarnated lama by the Tibetan leadership
- For these reasons of personal benefit, Lama Tseta continues to speak against Dorje Shugden. Yet he has never once produced a single shred of hard evidence to back up his claims that Dorje Shugden practitioners receive funding from China. He has never produced receipts or documentation showing payments made, or even recordings or photographs of the meetings he claims to have held with Chinese officials in his capacity as the (falsely claimed) head of the Dorje Shugden Society
- Lama Tseta has previously claimed that Dorje Shugden lamas are behind the unsolved murders of 1997 at the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics, yet he does not produce any evidence. This kind of allegation is a serious one (a criminal one, at that) and yet Lama Tseta has not produced any evidence to back up his accusations. It has to be asked – does Lama Tseta have ANY evidence at all for anything he says? Or does he have evidence that he is withholding from the authorities, in which case he would be perverting the course of justice and become an accessory to murder?
- Despite such a lengthy investigation, Reuters themselves admit there is no hard evidence of payment or funding from the Chinese government (“Reuters has no independent evidence of direct Chinese financing of the protests.”). They are relying solely on the testimony of a monk whose credibility has been repeatedly called into question
It is therefore no surprise to note that Reuters has been accused of falling under the control and influence of the British government. Although it is a privately-owned company based in the United Kingdom, Reuters is said to have close links with the British government and functions as their official mouthpiece.
As a result, they have acquired a reputation for publishing news about China with a strongly negative bias. It would certainly explain their rush to publish yet another article seeking to discredit the Chinese government, with no hard evidence whatsoever. After all, why does Reuters continue to give so much precedence to the claims of somebody who, in their own words, does not seem to be able to provide “independent confirmation” for anything he says?
For such a significant claim which forms the entire basis of this investigation, it is strange indeed that the journalists of this Reuters’ article have relied on hearsay, and have not been able to produce any evidence.
That Reuters would paint the Shugden protests in such a negative light is disappointing, to say the least. Britain touts itself as being open-minded, fair and tolerant, and Reuters claims to be an unbiased source of news. Yet the article’s treatment of the Shugden protests is anything but unbiased. The journalists fail to consider that the protesters have all the permits necessary to carry out their protests, and they are merely exercising their right to make themselves heard. Since the Tibetan leadership has never made any concrete offers or arrangements for constructive dialogue with members of the Shugden community, the protesters have been left with little choice but to protest peacefully, to constantly remind the Tibetan leadership of their presence and provide them with every opportunity to initiate dialogue.
This lack of outreach to Dorje Shugden lamas, practitioners and organisations is reflected in this article, by the lack of significant involvement from any Shugden lama or organisation in this investigation. It would therefore seem that precedence was instead given to airing Lama Tseta’s unsubstantiated claims. As a well-respected journalistic outfit, we would be willing to consider the possibility that Reuters has been grossly misled in this topic since it seems quite unlike Reuters to intentionally omit the significant input of any Dorje Shugden organisation or lama.
It would be easier to assume that Reuters has been misled because it would be disturbing to consider that a respected media outlet would actually support allegations that His Holiness is in any real danger. Such an allegation would reflect careless journalism. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been in close proximity with Shugden protesters since 2008 and if the danger were real, there have been plenty of opportunities to bring harm to His Holiness. Yet, the protesters continue to maintain a respectful distance and continue to ask for their religious freedoms. And it is exactly this type of careless journalism that Andrew Korybko criticizes in his online recap of the Reuters article.
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This type of reporting is nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction against the Dorje Shugden protests. With no real evidence of any of the accusations being made against Dorje Shugden practitioners, Reuters and other media outlets are fast turning His Holiness the Dalai Lama from media darling to media fodder. Thanks to lazy reporting, His Holiness has become a source of entertainment by the media keen to highlight his public relations missteps, from his remarks about the next Dalai Lama being an attractive female, to VICE’s careless publication by someone claiming her mother went on a date with the Dalai Lama.
If it was Dharamsala’s aim to use Reuters to discredit Shugden practitioners by highlighting their non-existent links with China, then the strategy has backfired. As a result of this article, China has openly confirmed their support for Dorje Shugden and all religions. As such, this Reuters’ article has had the effect of pushing China in a direction that the Tibetan leadership has always dreaded – that Dorje Shugden practitioners would actually gain the support of the great Dragon of East, and China would become increasingly open to the West and gain their ongoing support. This Reuters article has, in effect, further alienated Dharamsala from any potential resolution they may have with Beijing regarding their own political goals.
Since the Cold War, the West has often been at loggerheads with China and for the last 60 years since they first went into exile, the Tibetan community has been a pawn in this political game of chess. Western powers have used their support for the Tibetan cause as a jab at China, citing China’s human rights record as a reason for their refusal to develop friendlier relations with them. However, as China opens up and develops their own form of democracy, we are seeing increasingly warmer relations between the Western powers and China.
With the issuance of this statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry granting religious freedom for all faiths, including the worship of Dorje Shugden, the West has one less reason to keep their distance from China. They now have one more reason to increase trade and political relations; after all, why not “reward” China with closer economic ties since they are taking measures to incorporate greater levels of Western-style democracy into their political system?
This is notwithstanding the fact Western powers actually need China, given today’s languishing economies. With 1.2 billion people, and a growing middle class with a disposal income they are looking to spend, China represents a huge untapped market for the Western companies vying to introduce their products to the population.
As the West improves their relationship with China, and they no longer need the Tibetan cause to keep China at an arm’s length, Dharamsala will see support for their political goals slowly eroding and fewer Western leaders willing to meet with them. What can a relationship with Dharamsala do for countries are who struggling financially and looking to boost their economies? A relationship with China will prove more financially beneficial than a relationship with the Tibetan leadership; a relationship with China provides so many more incentives than a relationship with Dharamsala.
The Reuters article has therefore become another trigger or cause for Western support for Tibet to erode. The Reuters article highlights the suppression of Dorje Shugden practitioners and, in their response, has provided China with an opportunity to demonstrate their willingness to provide religious freedom for all of their citizens, including Shugden practitioners. This in turn will make it more comfortable and easier for the West to demonstrate their support for China.
It is obvious that any time someone supports the ban against Dorje Shugden, or uses it to achieve some kind of political goal, everyone becomes a victim and there is never a positive result. Dorje Shugden practitioners suffer discrimination, while those upholding the ban continue to damage the reputation of the Tibetan community and His Holiness the Dalai Lama by encouraging investigations like these which are not truthful or thorough. Even the most casual observers of the ban will see that it will only benefit the Tibetan leadership and all involved parties to lift the ban against Dorje Shugden.
Reuters’ Original Report
Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Response to Reuters
Justin Whitaker’s Analysis on Patheos