China blocks Buddha rally to Shanghai Expo

Indo-Asian News Service, July 19, 2010

Kathmandu, Nepal -- While announcing plans to boost tourism along the Nepal-Tibet border, China has blocked a Buddha rally from Nepal to the ongoing Shanghai Expo 2010 due to jitters that it may trigger fresh anti-China feelings in Tibet.

Implementing Experts' Group (IEG), a Nepali organisation specialising in trade expositions, had planned a car rally from Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha in southern Nepal, to Shanghai, the venue of the world's largest trade fair, via Tibet.

The rally, IEG told IANS, was to have carried a "Peace Lamp", lit in Lumbini, for display in the Nepal Pavilion at the expo.

The rally was to have passed through nearly five Chinese states and the organisers sought permission from the Chinese government nearly two months ago.

However, Beijing refused to allow the rally to go through Tibet, the Buddhist kingdom it attacked and annexed in the 1950s, for fear it could lead to fresh "Free Tibet" demonstrations in the region that has been under unprecedented security after a wave of crackdown on unarmed Buddhist protesters.

The Buddha rally was organised to dispel public ignorance about the birthplace of the Buddha, IEG said.

Many people mistakenly think the Buddha was born in India. A large number of Chinese also harbour the mistaken notion and this month, a group of Nepali traders based in China began a campaign to explode the myth.

The car rally through China would have contributed to the campaign as well as made visitors to the expo aware, IEG said. The Shanghai Expo, inaugurated by Chinese President Hu Jintao May 1, will continue till Oct 31.

China has invited Nepal's President Ram Baran Yadav as well as Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda to the fair.

With the car rally shot down by Beijing, IEG said it will now have to fly the flame from Lumbini, a revision that will cost a delay of nearly two months.

China continues to be jittery about its control over the Buddhist kingdom and potential threats from Nepal though Nepal says it regards Tibet as an inalienable part of the Chinese republic.

In the past, China, in an unprecedented move, blocked mountaineering expeditions to Mt Everest through Tibet to ensure there were no pro-Dalai Lama demonstrations during the Olympic Games it hosted in 2008.

In public, the dragon continues to say it is opening up Tibet to tourists. This month it inaugurated the Gunsa Airport in Tibet's Ngari prefecture to boost pilgrims headed towards Mt Kailash and the Mansarovar lake.

It also plans to inaugurate a Peace Airport in Tibet's Xigaze later this year.

However, air travels can be controlled while road journeys are difficult to monitor.

Though China signed with much fanfare a direct bus service between Kathmandu and Tibetan capital Lhasa, it has been paralysed due to China's reluctance to allow visas, especially to individuals.