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Exiled living Buddha returns, snubs leader

A former senior member of the Dalai Lama clique, formerly exiled in India, has returned, which experts think indicates the declining influence of the group.

Achok Rinpoche,  the living Buddha, returned to China in May and has settled down in the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture in Southwest China's Sichuan Province after he gained approval from Sichuan in April, State-owned news site reported Saturday.

"It's a brave and praiseworthy move," Xiong Kunxin, an ethnic studies professor at the Minzu University of China, told the Global Times.

"Now I am a 'real' Chinese citizen," said Achok when he was visited by Cui Baohua, a member of the Standing Committee of the Sichuan provincial committee of the Communist Party of China. "And all I want to do is to fulfill my duty as a Chinese citizen."

He has ignored an invitation from the Dalai Lama to celebrate his birthday in July.

The life of a legal citizen is surely different from a life in exile with an illegal identity on a foreign land, Lian Xiangmin, director of the Modern Institute of China Tibetology Research Center, told the Global Times.

Born in 1944, Achok fled to India after a Dalai Lama-led uprising in which he participated failed when he was 15. He was appointed as head of a "Tibetan Hospital" and a library director for the Tibetan "government-in-exile."

Achok briefly returned to China in 1982 and made several visits to the country thereafter. However, it was not until after he fell and was injured in Nepal in December 2014 that he expressed his wish to return to China permanently.

He came back to China partly because China is stronger and more powerful with an increasingly significant position in the world, Xiong said.

His return indicates to some degree the futureless end of the Dalai Lama group with a dying momentum, Xiong said, adding that Achok's move also showed his recognition of China's religious policy as correct as well as the influence and breadth of China's policy towards returning Tibetan exiles.

Li Decheng, director of the Institute for Religious Studies under the China Tibetology Research Center, told the Global Times that although not many exiled Tibetans have returned, they live very hard lives abroad and have a strong attachment to their homeland.

China has formulated and practiced the policy of "free movement" since 1978. It forgives exiled Tibetans and Buddhists of their past misdeeds when they choose to come back to China, saying that "all patriots belong to one big family, whether they rally to the common cause now or later, and bygones can be bygones." A document released by the Tibet regional government has specified supporting policies on housing, employment and other aspects.

Many exiled Tibetans and Buddhists were fooled by separatists trumpeting "a better life overseas," while in fact their freedom is strictly limited and they are forced to protest and join in political activities against their will, Lian said.

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