Officials: Dalai Lama Can’t Attend Conference Buddhism Conference

The government of China has exercised its growing influence over Cambodia to prevent the Dalai Lama, the world-famous Tibetan spiritual leader, from attending a major religious conference here later this year, religious officials said on Tuesday.

Instead, Cambodia has asked China to recommend its own delegates from the disputed Tibet to attend the third World Buddhist Conference, scheduled to be held in Cambodia in December.

“We can’t invite the Dalai Lama because our policy doesn’t allow us to do that,” said Chhorm Eam, a secretary of state for the Min­istry of Cults and Religion.

He said Cambodian officials have written to China asking whether its government will send any Tibetans to the conference. If so, the Tibetan delegates would fly the Chinese flag and sit behind a placard identifying them as being from China.

The Dalai Lama attended the first World Buddhist Conference in Japan in 1998, but the exiled leader—now living in India—was not asked to the second, held in 2000 in Thailand.

Observers in recent years have speculated that China is exerting an ever-greater influence on Cambodia, with an increasing number of official visits and signs, such as this one, of China’s ability to sway Cambodian decision-making.

Chhorm Eam said delegates from Taiwan and Hong Kong have been invited to the conference but will be prohibited from raising their own flags.

Instead, Hong Kong will fly the Chinese flag, while Taiwan will be allowed only to raise the “universal Buddhist flag,” he said. Hong Kong reverted to Chinese control after a century and a half of British occupation in 1997 but kept its capitalist system.

Taiwan split from China in 1949, but mainland China’s communist government considers it a renegade province and has threatened to use force if the tiny island seeks full independence. Last week, Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian drew a furious response from Beijing when he proposed a referendum on independence.

Chhorm Eam said Cambodia follows Beijing’s “One China” policy, in which Hong Kong, Taiwan and Tibet are considered parts of China.

Taiwanese delegates’ name placards at the conference will say they are from “Taipei, China,” he said.

China, a major supporter of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, continues to support Cambodia with aid programs and heavy investment from state-run companies.

The upcoming conference may be the biggest of the conventions Cambodia is scheduled to host in the near future. The Asean summit will take place in Phnom Penh in November, with the Asean Tourism Forum following in January 2003.

Chhorm Eam said the Buddhism conference is expected to draw 1,500 participants from 16 Asian countries. Of these, as many as 1,200 leaders and supporters of Japan’s Nebushushu Buddhist sect—the conference’s sponsor—are expected. The other countries will each send five delegates.

The conference is scheduled to open on Dec 5. Participants will spend two days in Phnom Penh and two in Siem Reap.

Meanwhile, two Cambodian monks received diplomas in Buddhist Dharma from Rangoon’s International Theravada Buddhism Missionary University, presented by Burma’s ambassador to Cambodia on Tuesday.

The monks spent a year studying Buddhism in Rangoon.


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