China plans to help Nepal develop Buddha’s birthplace at Lumbini
A Chinese-backed foundation and Nepal's government plan to transform Lord Buddha's birthplace in southern Nepal into a magnet for Buddhists in the same way as Mecca is to Muslims and the Vatican for Catholics.
The Asia Pacific Exchange and Cooperation Foundation plans to raise $3 billion at home and abroad to build temples, an airport, a highway, hotels, convention centres and a Buddhist university in the town of Lumbini, about 171 km (107 miles) southwest of Nepal's capital Kathmandu.
The foundation, blessed by the Chinese government, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Nepalese government last month to jointly develop and operate Lumbini, where Buddha was born Prince Gautama Siddhartha about 2,600 years ago.
Buddhism was virtually wiped out in China during the chaotic 1966-76 Cultural Revolution when temples were shut, Buddhist statues smashed, scriptures burned, and monks and nuns forced to return to secular life and marry.
The town attracts nearly 500,000 tourists each year.
Xiao hopes Lumbini can bring together all three schools of Buddhism -- the Mahayana, or "Greater Vehicle" which is dominant in China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan; Tibetan Buddhism; and the Hinayana, or "Lesser Vehicle" which is popular in Cambodia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
China's expanding ties with countries in South Asia has stoked concern in giant neighbour India which fears encirclement, but Xiao said there were no political motives behind the push to develop Lumbini.
But the government has little tolerance for groups that challenge its control -- earlier this year security forces detained members of a Christian "house" church in Beijing that sought a permanent place of worship.
Hangzhou, capital of China's eastern coastal province of Zhejiang, hosted the first World Buddhist Forum in 2006, thanks to incumbent Vice President Xi Jinping, then the provincial Party boss who pulled out all the stops to stage the landmark event.
The second meeting of the forum was held in Wuxi in nearby Jiangsu province in 2009. China plans to hold the third forum in Xian, home of the terracotta warriors, next year.
But China maintains tight control especially in Tibet where monks and nuns have been jailed for supporting independence or their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lamao won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.