Communist officials have demanded stricter obedience from Buddhist leaders in the traditionally Tibetan region of Qinghai province, warning they would be punished if they failed to win greater support for Beijing's policies toward the exiled Dalai Lama, people with knowledge of the discussions said Saturday.
The threats were conveyed in a meeting between more than 20 Buddhist leaders and Chinese officials in November in Qinghai's capital, Xining, according to two sources aware of details of the meeting.
The talks followed a visit to Tibet by envoys of the Dalai Lama in September, during which the sides held what exiled Tibetan officials described as the most extensive discussions on Tibetan issues in recent years.
The sources, with strong connections to Tibetan officials, spoke on condition of anonymity by telephone and e-mail from India, which borders Tibet. China treats religious policy toward Tibet with great sensitivity and people who leak information to the outside can be tried for revealing state secrets.
According to the sources, Buddhist leaders at the November meeting were told to win greater acceptance among their followers for Gyaltsen Norbu, the boy picked by China as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, the second most important figure in Tibetan Buddhism.
Norbu was chosen in 1995 after Chinese officials rejected a boy chosen by the Dalai Lama. The other boy, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, has not been seen since and Chinese officials refuse to say where he is.
A source said Chinese officials were particularly upset over the lackluster reception Norbu received on visits to Tibetan areas in 2003 that were marked by heavy security. Many Tibetan Buddhist clergy have rejected Norbu or pay only lip service to Beijing's demands for recognition of his title.
The religious leaders were told to present the Chinese positions as if they were their own ideas, and were forbidden to say they had been told to carry such messages, one of the sources said. Chinese officials told them that obedience would be rewarded with improvements to their "economic livelihoods," while failure would be met with punishments that they didn't describe, the source said.
The source said officials attending included a vice governor of the province along with high ranking members of the police, armed forces and intelligence bureaus.
Tibetan leaders were also told that Beijing would not give ground on the Dalai Lama's appeals for greater self-rule, and that such demands were "meaningless," the source said. Such calls were delivered by the Dalai Lama's envoy, Lodi Gyari, when he headed a delegation that spent two weeks in China last year.
The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet along with tens of thousands of followers in 1959 amid a Chinese crackdown, says he wants some form of autonomy that would allow the exiled community to return to the Himalayan region to freely practice their culture, language and the Tibetan form of Buddhism.
Communist troops entered Tibet in 1950, and Beijing says it has belonged to China for centuries. Many Tibetans say they had long been independent _ a sentiment mainland authorities have struggled for decades to stamp out.