China furious at Dalai Lama plan to name successor

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The Independent Online

China has accused Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, of violating the religious rituals and historical conventions of Tibetan Buddhism by suggesting he might appoint a successor before his death instead of relying on reincarnation.

Beijing's latest broadside against the Dalai Lama is a sign of heightening tensions between the central government and the man Tibetans see as a god-king. While reincarnation sounds like an esoteric concept to those of other belief systems, it is a deeply political issue in the isolated Himalayan enclave.

The Dalai Lama said Tibetans would not accept a successor who was selected by China after his death, prompting an angry response from Beijing. "The reincarnation of the living Buddha is a unique way of succession of Tibetan Buddhism and follows relatively complete religious rituals and historical conventions," said Liu Jianchao, a Foreign Ministry spokesman . "Dalai's remarks obviously violated the religious rituals and historical conventions."

The Chinese see the Dalai Lama, 72, as a dangerous separatist. They accuse him of continuing to inspire demands for independence among the 2.7 million Tibetans living in the Tibetan Autonomous Region and refuse to allow him back inside its borders.

The Tibetan leader, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 and is based in Dharamsala in northern India, insists he is a moderate who preaches a "middle way", which seeks special autonomy for Tibet within China, not independence. He has asked to be allowed to come to China to visit holy sites such as Wutaishan, a sacred mountain devoted to Tibet's Buddha of Wisdom. He also wants to see for himself the astonishing economic progress that China has made.

Even though Tibetans remain fiercely loyal to the figure they regard as a god-king, who fled the capital Lhasa in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, there is a younger breed of hard-line Tibetan nationalist emerging to fill the power vacuum his death will inevitably leave. The Communists have ruled the religious life of the remote territory with an iron fist and the selection of lamas has been a crux issue between the two sides.

The second most important figure in Tibetan Buddhism, the 11th Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu, was anointed by Beijing while still a child in 1995. The six-year-old picked by the Dalai Lama was whisked away by the government and is thought to be under house arrest.

China has been accused of simply waiting for the Dalai Lama to die, avoiding any real discussions over the future of the region. When he dies, they can simply install a replacement of their choosing. China is keen to ensure whoever succeeds the Dalai Lama is someone it can do business with and on its terms.

Mr Liu said Beijing was respectful of the conventions of Tibetan Buddhism, as it had demonstrated by "a recent rule on the reincarnation of great lamas," referring to new laws released on 1 September, which require reincarnations of "living Buddhas" to have official approval.

Relations between the Beijing leadership and the Dalai Lama have been under serious pressure following a number of high-profile appearances for the Dalai Lama, including the award of the United States' highest honour, the Congressional Gold Medal, by George Bush last month.