The Chinese government is trying to secure the backing of enough senior Tibetan lamas to announce a rival Panchen Lama to the one chosen earlier this year by the Dalai Lama. More than 70 senior lamas yesterday were still ensconced in the military's Jingxi Hotel, after being summoned to Peking last weekend for a meeting at which a final choice is supposed to be settled. President Jiang Zemin is due to leave for South Korea on Monday, and the government wants to finalise the decision, or at least an accord to proceed, before his departure.
The Panchen Lama is the second holiest figure in Tibetan Buddhism and, according to theology, a young boy will emerge as the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama, who died in January 1989. In May, the Dalai Lama announced that a six-year-old Tibetan, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, was the reincarnation, prompting a furious riposte from Peking which insisted that religious rituals had been flouted and that China had the final say on reincarnations. He has been under detention in Peking ever since.
According to reports, the Chinese have sanctioned three candidates, but not Gedhun. Peking insists that only through a divination ceremony using a historic golden urn can the true reincarnation be identified.
The urn is believed either to be in Lhasa or Peking. Some scholars say the ritual would only be plausible to Buddhists if it took place within Tibet.