BEIJING A Tibetan youth named by China as the 11th Panchen Lama is too young to be a parliament deputy, a spokesman said, quashing speculation he would soon become the country's youngest cabinet minister-level official.
China's atheist Communists and Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, in 1995 chose rival reincarnations of the 10th Panchen Lama, the second-highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism.
Sources had said Beijing's choice, Gyaltsen Norbu, who turned 18 last month, could become a member of the elite Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, or parliament, as early as this month.
But parliamentary spokesman Jiang Enzhu said on Tuesday that the youth was not 18 when elections were held.
"According to our country's laws and regulations, members of the National People's Congress must be at least 18 years old," Jiang Enzhu told a news conference.
"As far as I know, the Panchen Lama was not yet 18 when elections ... were held. So he is not on the list of deputies this time," Jiang said.
China's state media have not mentioned elections, and Jiang did not elaborate on when they took place.
In a sign China was grooming Gyaltsen Norbu for higher political office, he met Wu Bangguo, chairman of the parliament, in January.
Tibetans regard Beijing's choice, who made his debut on the world stage at the World Buddhist Forum in Hangzhou in China's east coast in 2006, as a sham.
The Dalai Lama's choice, 6 years old in 1995, disappeared from public view, leading international human rights watchdogs to call him the world's youngest political prisoner.
China denies accusations the boy is under house arrest and insists he and his family do not want to be disturbed.
Parliament convenes its annual session on March 5.
(Reporting by Benjamin Kang Lim; Editing by Chris Buckley and Alex Richardson)