US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called on China to immediately make public the Panchen Lama's whereabouts and uphold its international commitments to promote religious freedom, saying he is one of the most important figures in the Tibetan Buddhism with spiritual authority second only to the Dalai Lama.
His remarks came on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the disappearance of the 11th Panchen Lama.
The Department of State has made the promotion and protection of religious freedom a priority, especially in China, where people of all faiths face severe repression and discrimination, Pompeo said.
As part of that mission on May 17, we marked the 25th anniversary of the disappearance of the 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, who has not appeared in public since the PRC (People's Republic of China) government abducted him in 1995 at age six, he said in a statement.
The Panchen Lama is one of the most important figures in Tibetan Buddhism with spiritual authority second only to the Dalai Lama. But China's persecution of the Panchen Lama is not unusual, Pompeo said.
He called on the Chinese government to immediately make public the Panchen Lama's whereabouts and to uphold its own constitution and international commitments to promote religious freedom for all persons.
The United States, he said, remains deeply concerned about PRC's ongoing campaign to eliminate the religious, linguistic and cultural identity of Tibetans, including through the ongoing destruction of communities of worship and learning, such as the Larung Gar and Yachen Gar Buddhist Institutes.
Tibetan Buddhists, like members of all faith communities, must be able to select, educate and venerate their religious leaders according to their traditions and without government interference, he said.
In 1995, a young Tibetan boy Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was recognised as the 11th Panchen Lama, the second highest spiritual authority in Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama.
However, Nyima disappeared days after, becoming the world's youngest political prisoner.
China, which claims Tibet as its own territory, named another boy Gyaltsen Norbu to the position. He is said to be living under a close surveillance in mainland China.
However, the Tibetan Parliament in India, known as the Kashag, continues to recognize Nyima as the sole legitimate holder of his title.
India's Dharamshala is home to the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama as well as the Central Tibetan Administration, often known as the Tibetan government-in-exile.
China has grown increasingly wary about who will succeed the 14th Dalai Lama, who lives in India on exile. The current Dalai Lama, who is 84, was designated by high priests as the next Dalai Lama when he was just 2.
According to Tibetan Buddhist tradition, when the current Dalai Lama passes away, he will reincarnate as another person. China has maintained that it has the authority to appoint the successor to the 14th Dalai Lama, who is loyal to Beijing.
While Beijing views the Dalai Lama as a separatist who seeks to split Tibet from China, the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize laureate says he only seeks greater rights for Tibetans, including religious freedom and autonomy.
China says Tibet for centuries has been its territory well before the People's Liberation Army (PLA) took control of the region in 1950.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)