June 8, 2010 / 3:50 AM / 10 years ago

China's Panchen Lama visits sensitive border area

BEIJING (Reuters) - The Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama, traditionally the second-most powerful figure in Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama, has paid his first visit to a sensitive border region with India, state media said on Tuesday.

The 11th Panchen Lama attended religious ceremonies in Lhoka prefecture on Monday, the official People’s Daily said.

Part of Lhoka is run by India’s northeastern Arunachal Pradesh state, considered by China to be southern Tibet. China and India fought a brief border war there in 1962 and the territorial dispute continues to strain bilateral ties.

The People’s Daily said it was the first time the Panchen Lama had visited Lhoka since being appointed in 1995, and that thousands of believers turned out.

“I have had a desire for many years to come to Lhoka on a pilgrimage and hold Buddhist activities,” the report quoted him as saying. “My wish came true today and I am extremely happy.”

But the Panchen Lama did not apparently get close to the line of control between China and India, visiting only the Trandruk Temple in Nedong county, a few hours drive southeast of the Tibetan capital Lhasa, the People’s Daily said.

The Trandruk monastery is said to be one of the oldest Buddhist monasteries in Tibetan areas, with relics left by a Chinese princess who married a seventh century Tibetan king.

The Dalai Lama, Tibet’s god-king who fled into exile in India in 1959 after an abortive uprising, visited Arunachal Pradesh’s remote Tawang district last year, prompting an angry Chinese response. Chinese maps show Tawang as being in Chinese-run Lhoka.

Beijing considers the Dalai Lama a separatist, a charge he denies. Beijing and the Dalai Lama have been competing for the hearts and minds of Tibetans and China has poured billions of dollars to develop the Himalayan region to justify its rule.

China moved swiftly to appoint its own reincarnation of the Panchen Lama in 1995, shortly after the Dalai Lama announced his own choice, a six-year-old boy, who was taken away by Chinese authorities and has disappeared from public view.

The Beijing-anointed Panchen Lama is spurned by many Tibetans as a fake.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Benjamin Kang Lim and Ron Popeski

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