The Chinese government insisted they should have a say in the anointing of all senior religious figures in Tibetan Buddhism just days before the Dalai Lama announced his plans to step down.
Padma Choling, the Chinese-appointed governor of Tibet, said this week that the Dalai Lama had no right to abolish the institution of reincarnation. "I don't think this is appropriate. It's impossible," said Mr Choling, a Tibetan and a former soldier in the People's Liberation Army.
"We must respect the historical institutions and religious rituals of Tibetan Buddhism. I am afraid it is not up to anyone whether to abolish the institution of reincarnation."
The Dalai Lama's announcement separates the succession issue between the religious and the political. The Chinese authorities yesterday dismissed the move as a trick. In 1995, the Communist Party hijacked the succession issue for the Panchen Lama, the second-in-command in Tibetan Buddhism, by kidnapping Gendun Choekyi Nyima, who was discovered by the envoys of the Dalai Lama. He has since disappeared from public view and is under house arrest in Beijing.
Instead the Communists installed their choice as Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu, and it looks like he is being groomed to become the public face of Tibetan Buddhism. The young monk has appeared with party leaders and publicly praised Chinese rule in Tibet, vowing to contribute to "the blueprint of the compatible development of Tibetan Buddhism and socialism".
However, Tibetan exiles now face the problem of finding a successor for the Dalai Lama, who has kept the Tibetan independence movement high profile through sheer force of personality.