Jampa Phuntsok (Ch: Qiangba Puncog), Chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Regional Government, is heading an eight-member delegation on a five day visit to the Kalmyk Republic in the Russian Federation. The delegation arrived in Elista on June 21 and is scheduled to depart on June 25, 2004.

The delegation is accompanied by the Chinese Ambassador to the Russian Federation, Liu Guchang. On June 22, 2004 they paid a brief visit to Geden Sheddul Choy Korling, the main Buddhist monastery in Kalmykia. The delegation was informed about the Kalmyk people’s deep reverence to the Dalai Lama.

This visit seems to be part of an effort to woo the Kalmyk people, numbering over 300,000, who are predominantly followers of Tibetan Buddhism and revere the Dalai Lama. Kalmykia is situated in the South East of the European part of the Russian Federation. The Dalai Lama has visited Kalmykia and has also been instrumental in the revival of Buddhism there following the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Today, several young Kalmyk students are sent to study in the Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in India.

During Jampa Phuntsok’s Elista stay, Chinese Ambassador Liu Guchang was quoted as saying that China is opposed to the Dalai Lama making any kind of trip to Russia. Kalmyk President Kirsan Nikolayevich llyumzhinov has visited the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan refugee community in India several times. In October 2003, Ilymzhinov was invited to visit China and Tibet and while in Beijing, he was met by Liu Guchang who was then the Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister. Liu was appointed China’s Ambassador to Russia in November of 2003.

While the Chinese Ambassador returned to Moscow on June 23, Jampa Phuntsok’s delegation is scheduled to go to Moscow on June 25. They are expected to visit St. Petersburg in Russia as also Malta and Portugal before returning to China.