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The Mongolian Candidate

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On March 8, 2023, a young boy was presented as the 10th Khalkha Jetsun Dhampa Rinpoche or the 10th Jebtsundamba Khutuktu of Gelug lineage of Khalka Mongols, one of the highest-ranking leaders in Tibetan Buddhism. Media reports indicate the eight-year-old child is one of a set of twins named Aguidai and Achiltai Altannar. He was born in the United States in 2015 and comes from a family that is well-established in the political and business realms, having been introduced by none other than the 14th Dalai Lama himself in a ceremony attended by approximately 600 people in Dharamsala, India.

The boy will act as the leader of Tibetan Buddhism in Mongolia, the country’s majority religion. And in the case that the current Dalai Lama would pass away suddenly, he would then become an even more important figure. After all, the legitimacy of the second-highest religious authority after the Dalai Lama, the Panchen Lama, is denied by Tibetans since China’s abduction and replacement of his eleventh incarnation with its own hand-picked candidate in 1995.

This shift in Mongolia’s Buddhist leadership holds the potential to profoundly determine the direction of the country’s relationship with China. The move also reverberates more widely in terms of the future of Tibetan Buddhism at large, especially when it comes to the selection of the next Dalai Lama. It is yet another reminder to Beijing that the Tibetan resistance movement is alive and well—and it now has a fresh new figurehead who holds meaningful religious authority. As one political analyst predicted in a 2022 article, “Since…2012, Mongolia has walked a geopolitical tightrope with China on one side and Dharamsala on the other. When and how the Jebtsundamba Khutuktu reincarnates will give one side much more power over the future of Tibetan Buddhism, with significant geopolitical consequences.”

The lama link

Mongolia holds critical importance when it comes to Tibetan Buddhism, both today and historically. In fact, the word “dalai” is a Mongolic world meaning “ocean,” “vast,” or “great.” In 1913, Mongolia and Tibet signed a treaty declaring friendship, independence from China, and mutual recognition, with both parties pledging to “work by joint consideration for the well-being of the Buddhist faith.” More recently, in a BBC interview, the Dalai Lama again emphasized the nation’s significance in this domain, stating that his future will be determined by “the Himalayan Buddhists of Tibet and Mongolia.”

The Mongolian government itself has not yet commented on this latest announcement, perhaps to avoid upsetting China, as Beijing has repeatedly punished Mongolia for previously hosting the Dalai Lama throughout the past decades. Following a visit the spiritual leader made to the country in 2002, China closed a border crossing with its neighbor, and after a 2006 visit, flights were suspended to Mongolia from the Chinese capital. The most recent and dramatic retribution China doled out to Mongolia regarding a visit made by the Dalai Lama occurred in 2016. That year, it is said that the Dalai Lama identified the 10th Khalka Jetsun Dhampa Rinpoche’s reincarnation, but stated it was too soon to formally introduce him to the world due to his young age.

China reacted with rage. It demanded that the Mongolian government release an apology and forced the nation to promise it would never again host the Dalai Lama, threatening diplomatic consequences if he were to return. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the Mongolian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tsend Munkh-Orgil, “The Dalai Lama’s furtive visit to Mongolia brought a negative impact to China-Mongolia relations.” In a statement, Wang Yi added, “We hope that Mongolia has taken this lesson to heart.”

Beijing did not merely hit Mongolia with a scolding and stern words, but real, practical consequences as well. One week after the Dalai Lama’s visit, China imposed fees on Mongolian commodity imports and extra transit costs on products crossing into Inner Mongolia. Moreover, Beijing closed a key border crossing with Mongolia, leading to congestion and serious traffic jams and leaving truck drivers stuck in freezing temperatures for days on end. China also halted negotiations with Mongolia for a loan worth 4.2 billion USD. Such obstacles do not come lightly for Mongolia, who relies heavily on China economically, with Beijing being responsible for 60 percent of its imports, over 80 percent of its total exports, and over 40 percent of its GDP.

In response to the 2016 fiasco, the Mongolian government stated, “Mongolia firmly supports the one China policy, consistently holds that Tibet is an inseparable part of China, that the Tibet issue is China’s internal affair.” Mongolia also claimed that the Dalai Lama’s trip was the result of an invitation from Mongolian Buddhists, not the Mongolian government. This reaction, along with Mongolia’s serious financial dependence on China, underscores the considerable degree of influence that Beijing has over the country.

Chinese interference

Beijing does not only leverage the economic power it has over Mongolia, but also actively meddles in the country’s religious affairs. As a way to consolidate its control, China facilitates exchanges with Mongolian Buddhist clergy; more specifically, it does so by targeting and supporting sects that are hostile towards the Dalai Lama, and there are claims that China has financially backed Mongolian abbots that hold this view. After a controversy within the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism that began in the 1970s, it is rumored that the CCP started to invest in Mongolia’s anti-Dalai Lama Shugden sect. Interestingly, an NGO called the International Shugden Community, known for staging protests during the Dalai Lama’s international visits, disbanded in 2016 following a Reuters investigation that revealed CCP links to the organization. The accusations of being too close to Beijing can sometimes create problems of legitimacy for Mongolian clergy members hostile to the Dalai Lama, especially as the majority of the country’s Tibetan Buddhists do support him—but China can wield its financial power over these individuals to ensure they do not become too close to Dharamsala.

Today, China is making concerted efforts to integrate Tibetan Buddhism within the framework of its Belt and Road Initiative as part of what’s been called Buddhist diplomacy. Party secretary at the High-level Tibetan Academy of Buddhism, Wang Changyu, has said as much. He explained that the institute’s training of Tibetan Buddhist monks “help[s] countries and territories along the ‘Belt and Road’ satisfy their demand for religious specialists and scriptures,” adding that these exchanges can promote “the results of our Party and country’s ethnic and religious policies, displaying the healthy heritage and development of Tibetan Buddhism [in China, while minimizing] the Dalai clique’s space of activity, upholding national sovereignty.”

This topic is so pivotal to China-Mongolia relations that if one accesses the website of the Chinese embassy in Mongolia, a section dedicated entirely to Tibet is immediately visible on the homepage. The page, entitled “China’s Tibet in the eyes of Mongols” contains reports compiled by Mongolian researchers who traveled on organized visits to Tibet, after which they were instructed to produce material showcasing a positive image of Tibet’s “development and progress” under the PRC. This state-sponsored method—subsidizing trips in exchange for propaganda dissemination—has been used to recruit from other countries as well, such as Nepal.

Another factor to consider is China’s concerns surrounding the ethnic factor in Mongolia. In fact, there are actually more Mongols inside China than in Mongolia, presenting Beijing with another layer of tension to manage. The CCP’s response to this perceived problem has been to crack down on Mongol culture in Inner Mongolia, for instance, by passing a law in 2020 prohibiting teachers from using the Mongolian language—a policy reminiscent of the one instituted in the so-called night-stay schools in Tibet— as part of an effort to make Han Chinese and Mongol culture indistinguishable. This move led to protests in Inner Mongolia that garnered support from across the border, which the government swiftly suppressed before installing new leadership in the region a year later.

Finding the fifteenth

The Dalai Lama’s presentation of the 10th Khalka Jetsun Dhampa Rinpoche has undoubtedly upset China, who wants to control and approve all reincarnations in Tibetan Buddhism. By hosting this ceremony in Dharamsala himself, the Dalai Lama has sent a strong message to the CCP that directly challenges its claim to authority over the reincarnation process. The CCP argues that the correct technique for handling Tibetan Buddhism’s reincarnation process is known as the Golden Urn, and insists that this responsibility falls within its purview and is historically grounded.

The method, performed under the Qing Dynasty, involves filling a golden urn with several options and then drawing lots to identify the reincarnation. In February 2023, the state media outlet The Global Times released an article explaining the Golden Urn process and why the “Recognition of [the] new Dalai Lama must be conducted in China.” The article asserted that this method “has been supervised by the Chinese Central Government and conducted within Chinese territory since the late 13th century.” Beijing claims that this is how Gyaincain Norbu was chosen as the CCP-endorsed Panchen Lama, though there are assertions that the procedure was rigged in his favor. In 2007, the PRC enshrined the Golden Urn convention into law, allowing them to restrict reincarnations to come only from their own pool of pre-determined candidates. This is how the CCP will select the next Dalai Lama. The 14th Dalai Lama rejects this system entirely, saying it was “only used to ‘humor’ the Qing emperors.”

The manners in which the Mongolian government and Buddhist clergy decide to respond to the Dalai Lama’s introduction of the 10th Khalkha Jetsun Dhampa Rinpoche will be important to watch. Thus far, they have remained quiet, as has China. If Mongolia’s response to this reincarnation announcement does not satisfy China, then the CCP may be further incentivized to expand its presence in Mongolia for the sake of getting a hold on Tibetan Buddhism, a force it considers one of its greatest assets—and foremost threats.

Victoria Jones is a Senior Research Fellow at the Asia-Pacific Foundation, an international policy assessment group based in London. Additionally, she is the chief editor of INTERZINE, a digital media platform that uses history to contextualize contemporary global issues.

East Asia

Mongolia To Strengthen Transparency Through Constitutional Reforms

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The Government of Mongolia has this week made efforts to strengthen the governance of its legislature and increase transparency by passing into law a number of changes to the country’s constitution. The country hopes to create more opportunities for civil society representation by moving to a mixed electoral system.

Representatives in the country’s parliament, the State Great Khural, debated and approved reforms that will increase the number of members in the parliament from 76 to 126, with nearly 40% of the MPs now being elected through proportional representation. The Government is also shortly due to introduce separate proposals that will increase the representation of women in the parliament. All these changes are set to be in place in time for the next set of general elections in 2024.

Mongolia’s political system is centred on the sharing of executive power between the Prime Minister as the head of government, and an elected President. The country’s Constitution was adopted in 1992, with amendments made in 1999, 2000, 2019, and 2022. Recent changes have focused on securing political stability in the country, through for example limiting the maximum term of the presidency from two four-year terms to one six-year term, and amending the number of parliamentarians who can hold ministerial positions. 

The increase in the size of the State Great Khural will address the rise in the number of voters represented by each parliamentarian, which has increased from 27,000 in 1992 to 44,000 today. Alongside the move towards a more proportional electoral system, the reforms are designed to bring parliamentarians closer to the people they are elected to serve by enhancing the scrutiny given to new laws.

A separate amendment to the country’s constitution creates a role for Mongolia’s Constitutional Court in reaching a final decision on citizen petitions alleging breaches of civil rights and freedoms, including equal rights between men and women, freedom of thought, speech, and peaceful assembly.

Commenting on the proposed changes to the constitution, Mongolia’s Prime Minister, L. Oyun-Erdene, said:

“I strongly support these proposed changes to Mongolia’s Constitution. They represent a further step for our country in the direction of a more inclusive and democratic future. Through increasing the representation in our parliament and broadening input into the law-making process, we will be better placed to meet current challenges and ensure that we continue to make progress towards our Vision 2050 goals, improving the livelihoods of people across Mongolia.”

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East Asia

Taiwan’s International Status: “A Country Within a Country”

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Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen met with US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California. (Photo: Taiwan's Presidential Office)

In California, a recent meeting was held between the President of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, and the U.S. House Speaker, Mr. Kevin McCarthy, which holds political significance. This aforementioned meeting facilitated a negative shift in the bilateral relations between China and Taiwan.  The latent hostilities between China and Taiwan possess the potential to escalate into full-scale armed conflict at any given juncture.

The proposal

The incongruent dynamic existing between China and Taiwan has persisted since 1949, when Taiwan made the conscious decision to separate from mainland China.

From 1949 onwards, China and Taiwan have been embroiled in a geopolitical imbroglio pertaining to their respective territorial integrity and claims of sovereignty. The Chinese government asserts that Taiwan is an integral component of its sovereign geography. On the contrary, Taiwan is assertive of its autonomy as a distinct, self-governing entity that operates independently and is no longer subject to Chinese jurisdiction.

The discordant relationship between the two sides which has escalated over the preceding biennium, potentially heightening the likelihood of military confrontation.

Over the course of the past two years, there have been several instances in which China has deployed the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to conduct military maneuvers in close proximity to Taiwan. The aforementioned initiative was aimed at preventing any activities fueled by Taiwan that could have been construed as provocative and potentially encroach on China’s claims of rightful control over Taiwan’s sovereignty and territorial boundaries

The persistent geopolitical tensions between China and Taiwan since 1949 can be attributed to diverging opinions regarding the formal recognition of Taiwan, in particular, the contentious matter of Taiwan’s sovereignty. Tensions will continue Between China and Taiwan until Taiwan becomes independent or recognizes its self-identification as a constituent part of China.

Since 1949, the China has exerted persistent pressure upon Taiwan to acquiesce to the notion of reunification or the incorporation of Taiwan into the mainland territory of China. Nevertheless, it appears that Taiwan’s internal political circumstance and dynamics persist in maintaining its political choices and ideology as a democratic and self-governing entity.

The prolonged inability of both parties to develop a more extensive and adaptable resolution or methodology to address the matter implies that the aspiration to “normalize” relations between China and Taiwan continues to exist solely within the realm of rhetoric.

In order to achieve the objective of unification under the the idea of the “One China Principle” or One China Policy and to surmount the political divergence concerning Taiwan’s official position, has engendered several propositions by China aimed at resolving this issue. A proposed approach adopt the implementation of a “one country, two systems” protocol akin to that employed in Hong Kong and Macau.

The Chinese government has expressed that the policy is exceedingly permissive and capable of surmounting the distinct system variances that exist between the mainland region of China and Taiwan.

The proposal of “special administrative region” attributed to Taiwan enables the continued preservation of its economic, social, and security system that they have built so far, while attenuating or obviating any undue influence or interference by China. Nonetheless, the aforementioned proposal appears to be insufficient in instigating political transformation in Taiwan, given the persistent refusal of Taiwanese individuals and governmental officials to endorse unification and uphold their desire for independence.

In view of China, safeguarding Taiwan and accomplishing the complete unification of the country is not solely a matter of fulfilling its constitutional obligations, but also serves the purpose of preserving its stature as a dominant and revered nation on the global stage.

In contrast, Taiwan persistently endeavors to establish diplomatic and cross-strait relations through a range of diverse strategies and approaches with multiple nations across the globe. The clear objective is to secure the hearts and compassion of the global populace. Taiwan undertook this action with the aim of restoring its position in the global arena and paving the way for its eventual recognition as a self-governing entity with full political autonomy.

“Country within a country”

Again, the China-Taiwan issue is rooted in a territorial and sovereignty perspectives. In the global arena, China maintains a comparatively advantageous position. China, is a prominent participant in the United Nations, the most extensive intergovernmental organization encompassing numerous states worldwide, Positioning itself as a powerful participant in the direction and reflection of global politics. Furthermore, China belongs to “the distinguished” member of UN Security Council’s five permanent members, which has so far strong and great influence on world politics.

On the other hand, the international position held by Taiwan is considerably intricate. The question regarding the statehood of Taiwan remains a matter of unsettled dispute, given the absence of any universally recognized body empowered to render definitive judgments regarding the status of a nation-state.

Since the adoption of Resolution A/RES/2758 by the UN General Assembly on October 25, 1971, Taiwan has lost its international “stage”. This is because the resolution affirms China as the sole legitimate representative of China to the United Nations and consequentially nullifies Taiwan’s membership from the organization.

It is a well-documented reality that numerous nations have forged informal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, particularly in the realm of trade and investment. The United States, for instance, has solidified such relations through the Taiwan Relations Act. To the present day, a limited number of 22 nations have formally acknowledged and established official diplomatic intercourse with Taiwan. A notable aspect is that the majority of these nations lack any substantial sway or significant leverage on the international political sphere. Specifically, countries of comparatively small size in the African and Latin American regions, namely Haiti, Belize, and Tuvalu.

Taiwan has indeed met the three constitutive elements or absolute requisites deemed necessary for a country as exemplified by the 1933 Montevideo Convention. These components include the presence of a defined territorial boundary, a functioning populace, and a duly constituted government. However, Taiwan lacks a crucial element in its diplomatic status, namely the recognition from the international community through a declarative act.

The restricted global acknowledgement of Taiwan undoubtedly carries considerable political and legal ramifications. Recognition is widely regarded as the key component in modern international politics that has the potential to enhance the legitimacy and sovereignty of a given state.

Taiwan faces formidable challenges in achieving recognition. In order to attain successful governance, Taiwan must display adeptness in efficiently managing both internal and external political dynamics. Otherwise, the current state of affairs will persist, leading to Taiwan’s classification as a “subnational entity” Or “A country within a country”.

Ultimately, the resolution of the China and Taiwan conflict proves to be a formidable challenge. In order to mitigate potential future crises and uphold regional and international stability, it is necessary for China and Taiwan to refrain from engaging in provocative actions. It is imperative to adopt a cooperative approach through negotiations and concessions that are all-encompassing and pertinent, in order to attain a sustainable resolution that caters to the interests of both China and Taiwan’s populace of 23 million, while acknowledging and adapting to their respective challenges and circumstances.

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East Asia

The Sino-Russian-led World Order: A Better Choice for the Globe?

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Photo: Grigoriy Sisoev, RIA Novosti

International forums, which were once established to promote cooperation and dialogue among the world’s states, are now increasingly being used as platforms for confrontation and accusation. The recent example of G20 and G7 summits, where China and Russia faced criticism and isolation from Western countries over the Indo-pacific and their actions in Ukraine, plus India’s accusation of Pakistan as a terrorist sponsor state in the SCO summit, illustrate these trends. Instead of working towards finding a solution to pressing global problems, these meetings have devolved into platforms for airing grievances and pointing fingers – this shift in focus has undermined the effectiveness of these forums in addressing the very issues they were created to solve.

At their recent summit in Hiroshima, Japan, the G7 leaders issued their strongest-ever condemnation of Russia and China. They accused them of using economic coercion and militarizing the South China Sea and urged them to push Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine. Furthermore, at the G7 summit, leaders of the significant democracies pledged additional measures targeting Russia and spoke with a united voice on their growing concern over China.

Similarly, in Feb 2023, at the G20 finance minister’s summit held in Bengaluru, Russia and China declined to sign a joint statement condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and of course, as a sovereign state, Russia has the right to defend its territory and combat threats that pose a danger to its survival. These are just a few instances that illustrate how the Western world reacts to the actions and policies of China and Russia on the global stage.

Consequently, this recent condemnation and blaming at the Hiroshima summit demonstrate that international forums can no longer address serious global issues; instead, they have become arenas for blaming and accusing one another. This shift in the nature of international forums has significant implications for global governance and cooperation – It highlights the need for the failure of the current global system dominated by the Western bloc.

Besides, accusing states such as China and Russia at international forums is not a solution to global problems; instead, it can exacerbate regional tension and promote anti-sentiment against influential states. Furthermore, instead of promoting cooperation and dialogue, such accusations can foster an environment of mistrust and hostility, making it more challenging to find common ground and work towards resolving global issues.

In one of my previous papers, I argued that “the contemporary geopolitical landscape is characterized by escalating tension between the United States and its allies and China and Russia. This can be attributed to the absence of transparent and inclusive unipolar world order that effectively addresses the interests and concerns of all nations.

I further elaborated that the US and its allies are not inclined to recognize the emergence of a Sino-Russian-led world order, as evidenced by the recent summit development. The West has frequently chastised China and Russia for their autocratic governments, breaches of human rights, and expansionist ambitions. Such claims, however, are based on a skewed and obsolete understanding of the global system that ignores the two countries’ legitimate interests and aspirations. Instead of making allegations, the Western world should be grateful for the Sino-Russian-led international system, which provides a more democratic, multipolar, and peaceful alternative to the US-dominated regional hegemony.

To begin with, the Sino-Russian-led international order is more democratic than the Western one since it recognizes the globe’s diversity of political systems and cultures. China and Russia do not push their ideals or ideologies on other countries but instead encourage them to exercise their sovereignty and self-determination. They also reject any influence or intervention in the domestic affairs of other countries, particularly by the United States and its allies. In contrast, the Western world has frequently employed economic and military force to compel or remove governments that do not share its interests or tastes. Iraq, Libya, Syria, Venezuela, and Iran are a few examples. Such operations have breached international law and generated insecurity and misery in several places.

Second, the Sino-Russian-led international order is more multipolar than the Western one because it balances the strength and influence of many global players. With expanding economic, military, and diplomatic capacities, China and Russia have emerged as crucial powers in the twenty-first century. They have also formed strategic alliances with other growing nations, including India, Brazil, South Africa, Turkey, and Iran. They have joined forces to oppose the US-led unipolar system and call for more egalitarian and inclusive global governance. On the other hand, the Western world has attempted to preserve its domination and hegemony over other countries, particularly in regions such as Europe, Asia-Pacific, the Middle East, and Africa. Many countries seeking greater autonomy have expressed displeasure and hostility to such a system.

Third, the Sino-Russian world order is more peaceful than the Western one because it values discussion and collaboration above confrontation and war. China and Russia have settled their historical differences and formed a comprehensive strategic alliance based on mutual trust and respect. They have also collaborated on several regional and global concerns, including counter-terrorism, non-proliferation, climate change, energy security, and pandemic response. They have also backed international institutions and procedures such as the United Nations (UN), Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa), Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and others. In contrast, the Western world has frequently instigated or intensified tensions and disagreements with other countries, particularly China and Russia. A few examples are NATO expansion, missile defense deployment, sanctions system, and commerce.

Finally, international forums have the potential to promote cooperation and dialogue among nations; however, their effectiveness is hindered when they become platforms for confrontation and accusation. In contrast, the Sino-Russian-led world order is a superior choice for the globe to the Western one. It is more democratic because it values diversity; multipolar because it balances power; and more peaceful because it promotes dialogue – thus, rather than criticizing, the Western world should commend the international order led by Sino-Russian cooperation.

In conclusion, while international forums have the potential to promote cooperation among nations, they are increasingly being used for confrontation. In this context, the Sino-Russian-led world order offers a more democratic and peaceful alternative to the US-dominated hegemony and may be a better choice for promoting global cooperation.

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