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Thursday, 5 July, 2001, 14:55 GMT 15:55 UK
Panchen Lama visits Shanghai
11th Panchen Lama
The Panchen Lama spent six weeks on tour
By Duncan Hewitt in Shanghai

China has taken its choice as the Panchen Lama, the second most important religious figure in Tibet, on a tour of Shanghai and eastern China.

State media reported that the 11-year-old monk spent over six weeks touring the area visiting urban centres as well as religious sites.

Panchen Lama in Shanghai
Shanghai city leaders escorted the 11-year-old
It is thought to be the first such trip by the controversial figure whose legitimacy is disputed by Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

The move comes as China pledges major investment to speed up Tibet's economic development.

Television appearance

Since he was chosen by China after it rejected the Dalai Lama's candidate in 1995, the 11th Panchen Lama has lived much of his life shrouded in secrecy.

Panchen Lama at religious ceremony
The Panchen Lama is key to Chinese plans
He is shown only occasionally meeting senior leaders or taking part in religious ceremonies in Beijing or at his monastery in Tibet.

But China's official media reported that in May and June he spent 45 days touring Shanghai and nearby Zhejiang province.

State television showed the Panchen Lama dressed in orange robes being escorted by Shanghai leaders around the city's television tower and museum.

He is also reported to have visited a number of Buddhist monasteries.

'Impressed'

State media said he had been impressed by the region's development. He was quoted as saying his tour had shown him the greatness of the Communist Party and had given him full confidence in China's future.

Dalai Lama (l) with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee
The Dalai Lama (l) disputes the Panchen Lama's legitimacy
The visit appears to be a part of the careful education which China is giving the Panchen Lama, who it is grooming as a symbol of its control over Tibet.

China was shaken last year when another leading young Lama, the Karmapa, fled into exile in India.

The visit also fits in with Beijing's media campaign to boost the status of the Panchen, whose legitimacy is still challenged by supporters of the Dalai Lama.

Investment

China recently concluded a major work conference on Tibet at which it pledged close to $4bn extra investment in the region over the next five years.

Beijing is thought to see enhanced economic development as the best way of limiting the influence of the Dalai Lama on Tibet's young generation.

Work began last week on the first railway linking Tibet to eastern China. Tibetan exile groups say there are fears that it will lead to a further large influx of ethnic Chinese into Tibet, diluting the region's traditional culture.

The last Chinese Government work conference on Tibet in 1994 led to a tougher line by Beijing on religious affairs in the region.

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See also:

23 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Dalai Lama: Spiritual leader in exile
23 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
US backs Dalai Lama
23 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Tibet: Flashback to the Chinese 'deal'
26 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Taiwan's Lee postpones US trip
09 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
China renews attack on Dalai Lama
30 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Dalai Lama braves Chinese protests
11 Mar 99 | From Our Own Correspondent
Tibetans keep their faith
23 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Tibet anniversary: Contrasting views
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