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China says it must approve Dalai Lama reincarnation

BEIJING (Reuters) - A top Chinese official warned on Friday that the central government in Beijing must approve the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation, and would not recognise any candidate that it had not endorsed, the official Xinhua agency said.

Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama waves as he leaves Lilavati hospital in Mumbai, file photo. REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe

The Dalai Lama’s succession has become a prickly issue, as the Nobel Prize winner ages and his health declines.

He has suggested that his incarnation might be found outside China, or even that Tibetans themselves could order a vote on whether to continue an institution that once gave one monk both spiritual and temporal sway over Tibet.

But the Chinese leadership appears determined not to cede any kind of authority to a candidate beyond their control.

Qiangba Puncog, chairman of the Tibetan regional government, said that the selection of the next Dalai Lama must follow “historical conventions” including an endorsement from Beijing.

“If the Dalai Lama does not follow the convention for political or other purposes, I believe his reincarnation would not be acknowledged by religious people in Tibet, and the central government will never approve it,” Qiangba Puncog said.

“The conventions were formed in history, and have a set of comprehensive, complicated and strict rules,” he said on the sidelines of China’s Parliament, where he is a delegate.

According to Beijing, the Dalai Lama’s incarnation must be chosen by drawing lots from a gold urn given to Tibetans by the ethnic Manchu emperors of the Qing dynasty.

Only the central government can exempt a prospective lama from the ritual, laid out in 1793 in the “29-Article Ordinance for the More Efficient Governing of Tibet”, Xinhua added.

“The Dalai Lama’s ever-changing stances are against the historical and religious traditions,” Qiangba Puncog said.

However if the Tibetan government-in-exile and the monasteries associated with it chose a Dalai Lama not recognised by the Chinese government, Beijing may struggle to win the allegiance of Tibetans in China for its candidate.


China chose a rival incarnation to succeed the late 10th Panchen Lama shortly after the Dalai Lama announced his choice in 1995. China’s Panchen Lama is spurned by most Tibetans as a fake.

The whereabouts of the Dalai Lama-recognised Panchen Lama remain unknown. Chinese authorities in the past have insisted he is safe, healthy and wants his privacy.

Many Tibetans fear that the death of the Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile in India since 1959 when he fled after a failed uprising, may create a leadership vacuum that Beijing could exploit to tighten its grip over the restive Himalayan region.

Others fear the loss of their most recognised leader could weaken the unity of the Tibetan movement, and potentially trigger widespread unrest in ethnic Tibetan regions across China.

Many exiled Tibetans reject the Dalai Lama’s “Middle Way” approach that advocates greater autonomy for Tibet within China, and have called for more aggressive confrontation with Beijing, even armed struggle.