On the Buddhism Beat: The week in Buddhist world news

From my perspective, it has been a pretty big news week. There are the stories you’ve probably seen covered broadly, and the ones you might not have heard about — though, in most cases, they are every bit as significant.

Let’s dig in…

* First, SEAArch – The Southeast Asian Archaeology Newsblog this week conglomerated several news items informing readers that, after thirteen months, the tense standoff between the Thai and Cambodian armies at Preah Vihear, an eleventh century temple on the border of their two countries, has ended peacefully. Although the temple was originally consecrated to honor Shiva, it was later converted to Buddhist use (much like Angkor Wat and other temples in Cambodia). Ever since the French departure from Indochina in the 1950s, sovereignty over Preah Vihear and the surrounding area has been in dispute. The conflict flared up again last July when UNESCO recognized Preah Vihear as a World Heritage Site, using a map drawn by the Cambodian government. (The most dramatic point in the renewed clash came in October, when soldiers on each side exchanged gunfire and launched rockets-a burst that ended in the deaths of two Cambodian soldiers.) The latest news is that representatives of the two countries have met, and “agreed to end hostilities and abide by a new border demarcating the territories.” Cambodian troops began pulling back today.

* After saying last week that the thriving tourist industry is one example of how global warming has “benefitted” Tibet, the Chinese government this week resettled nearly 50,000 Tibetan nomads into sedentary communities in “a drive to protect the remote alpine region’s fragile ecology from their herds.” As the Associated Press notes in their coverage and readers of this blog might expect, Tibetan activists view this move as the latest “destructive blow to the Buddhist region’s ancient culture under Chinese rule.”

* His Holiness the Dalai Lama arrived in Taiwan last night to console victims of the devastating Typhoon Morakot. Of course, the visit has political implications, like it or not: His Holiness is the exiled leader of the Tibetan people who advocates around the world for the autonomy of his Chinese-ruled homeland…and his visit to Taiwan puts him within sight of the mainland. Tensions are exponentially increased by the fact that Beijing claims Taiwan is part of China. (Officially, the two countries have been ruled separately for the past sixty years.) Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou says he has no plans to meet with His Holiness. Though His Holiness insisted this week that his visit was “purely humanitarian,” he told the press today that “Taiwan should have very close and unique links with mainland China, close of economy and close of defense…But at the same time, Taiwan already enjoys democracy and economic prosperity…most important, you achieved democracy that you must preserve.”

* The Chinese government has had a busy week this week outside of Taiwan and Tibet: Burma has given them some problems lately too. After defending the ruling military junta’s 18-month extension of Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest against overwhelming international outrage, Beijing yesterday was forced to get tough with the generals about the explosive situation in Burma’s Kokang region of the Shan state. The latest skirmish between the Han Chinese minorities in the region and the military has pushed over 30,000 refugees into China. Many of those who fled returned today, though, as the junta ostensibly regained control of the area. (Time Magazine helpfully explains the flare-up for those unfamiliar with the situation.)

* In other Burma related news, both Rep. Jim Webb (D-VA) and John Yettaw, , have spoken about their recent Burma experiences. Yettaw is unapologetic for his actions, which resulted in Suu Kyi’s trial for violating the terms of her house arrest, saying that he’s “grateful that she’s alive, grateful that the entire world is watching and [that] there’s no way these generals are ever going to try to assassinate her.” Webb called sanctions against Burma “overwhelmingly counterproductive” and asked Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party to consider participation in the 2010 election. The directors of both the U.S. Campaign for Burma and the All Burma Monks’ Alliance have spoken out against Webb and his suggestions.

* Meanwhile, Suu Kyi’s lawyer reports that the condition of her house arrest have “worsened” since her sentencing. Her legal team is currently appealing the conviction.

* The Washington Post reports that “a growing number of educated, middle-class Burmese are pinning their hopes [for the future] on what they call ‘community-based organizations’ finding outlets for entrepreneurship and room to maneuver politically”-sometimes with the help of local Buddhist monasteries.

* On Sunday, Amnesty International observed the International Day of the Disappeared, and called special attention to enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka, where the more-than-a-quarter-century civil war recently ended. From 1983 until their defeat this past May, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a separatist militia composed of Hindu Tamil minorities, fought the Sri Lankan government (representing the Sinhalese Buddhist majority) for the creation of an independent state.

* Lastly, on a happier note, the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawai’i will host a public event on peace at Foster Botanical Garden in Honolulu later this week. The event will serve as both the 750th memorial for Shinran Shonin and the 120th anniversary of the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawai’i itself.