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China indicates hard line on Dalai Lama succession

March 8, 2010

By Dan Martin
Agence France-Presse (AFP)
March 7, 2010

BEIJING -- China indicated Sunday it would take a
hard line on the selection of a successor to the
ageing Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama in
rare comments on the sensitive issue.

The final decision on the reincarnated successors
to the Buddhist region's top lamas lies with
Beijing, insisted Qiangba Puncog, Tibet's former
governor and a delegate to the national parliament.

"It must get the approval of the central
government otherwise the reincarnation will be
illegitimate and invalid," he told reporters on
the sidelines of China's National People's Congress session.

Traditionally, the search for the figure's
reincarnated successor was conducted by the region's high lamas.

But China's officially atheist Communist
Party-ruled government has claimed the right to
intervene, citing a precedent set by a past emperor.

The issue of who will succeed the monk looms as
potentially explosive after an outburst of
anti-Chinese violence tore through the region in
March 2008, prompting a tight security clampdown, which continues.

China vilifies the exiled monk as a separatist.
He denies this and remains hugely popular in his
Himalayan homeland. Many Tibet experts believe
China is waiting for him to die and then install
its own Tibetan spiritual leader.

Amid such worries, the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize
winner said last month he would have no
misgivings ending the centuries-old spiritual tradition if Tibetans so choose.

"(Its) ultimately up to people, I made clear,
whether this very institution should continue or
not," the 14th Dalai Lama told National Public Radio on a visit to Los Angeles.

"If majority of Tibetan people feel the Dalai
institution is no longer much relevant, then this
institution should cease -- there is no problem.

"It looks like the Chinese are more concerned
about this institution than me," he said with a laugh.

The Dalai Lama, who fled his Chinese-ruled
homeland in 1959, turns 75 in July and is believed to be in good health.

He has said his successor could be appointed
before his death or democratically elected. The
Dalai Lama could also, he has said, be
reincarnated in exile -- out of Beijing's reach.

"Right now there is no need to excessively
discuss this issue of reincarnation," Tibet's
regional chairman Padma Choling told journalists.

"At this moment the Dalai is still alive, let's
wait until he is dead and then we can talk about it."

Controversy emerged over the reincarnation issue
in 1995 when China selected Gyaincain Norbu as
the 11th Panchen Lama, Tibet's second-highest ranking figure.

In doing so, the Communist Party rejected a boy
selected by the Dalai Lama. The child, Gedhun
Choekyi Nyima, has disappeared from public view
and is believed to have been put under a form of house arrest.

Asked at the same press conference about the
boy's whereabouts and why he disappeared, Padma
Choling said he was being kept out of public view at his own request.

"As far as I know he and his family are now
living a good life in Tibet," he said.

"He and his family are reluctant to be disturbed
and want to live an ordinary life," he added.

China has been raising the profile of its
20-year-old choice as Panchen Lama in an apparent attempt to legitimise him.

Gyaincain Norbu was recently appointed vice
president of China's national Buddhist
association and as a delegate to a body that
advises the main parliament, which is the midst of its March 5-14 session.

He has been quoted by state media praising Chinese control of Tibet.
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