Dismissing a Buddhist ritual held by the Dalai Lama as a political tool, Chinese officials denied that thousands of Tibetan pilgrims were pressured to return to China.
"Taking advantage of the presence of the Dalai Lama, the Kalachakra (wheel of time) teachings have inveigled Tibetans into illegally going abroad over the last decade," Zhu Weiqun, chairman of the Ethnic and Religious Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, told the Global Times on Thursday.
The Dalai Lama will this month preside over the 34th Kalachakra initiation at Bodhgaya in eastern India, where the Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment more than 2,000 years ago, AFP reported on Wednesday.
Tens of thousands of pilgrims from all over the world are expected to attend the event. But as preparations got under way on Wednesday, the chairman of the organizing committee Karma Gelek Yuthok said almost 7,000 pilgrims had returned to China, citing pressure from authorities there.
Yuthok, who is a member of the Tibetan "government-in-exile," said some pilgrims had reported receiving threats to relatives in China if they did not return.
Denying the number of pilgrims from China is far less than "thousands," Xu Zhitao, deputy director of the bureau of the Tibet question at the United Front Work Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, said there are pilgrims from China attending the ceremony who hold Chinese passports.
"Therefore, the government by no means threatened them to return, although the government does not encourage them to attend the ritual," Xu told the Global Times on Thursday.
Xu pointed out that the ritual, organized by the Tibetan "government-in-exile," certainly involves politics.
"Considering that the large-scale ritual needs years of preparation, the India-based ceremony frequently degenerates into a political tool," Zhu said, explaining that the organizing committee has made use of the occasion and the opportunity to meet the Dalai Lama to propagate ideas of "hating the Chinese government."
The organizing committee also attempted to establish relations with the Tibetans from China through the ceremony, he said.
AFP said the Dalai Lama had held a special audience for the Tibetan pilgrims from China in Dharamsala in December 2016.
"The number of Tibetans attending the ritual decreased dramatically in recent years after the local governments clarified to local Tibetans that the ritual is about separatism, and also due to tightened border control," Zhu said.
The first Kalachakra ritual given by the 11th Panchen Lama Bainqen Erdini Qoigyijabu concluded in July 2016. It was the first large-scale Kalachakra ritual held in Tibet for 60 years. More than 100,000 believers attended the ritual each day. Cumulative attendance for the four days reached 426,000, the Xinhua News Agency reported.