In Brief

China reopens battle over next Dalai Lama

Communist Party says reincarnation must comply with Chinese law, after current Tibetan spiritual leader admitted to hospital

The next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama must comply with Chinese law, the Communist Party has said, setting the stage for a battle over who will be Tibet's next spiritual leader.

Asked about the current Dalai Lama’s hospitalisation, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Beijing was not aware of his physical condition, but added that there are “clear rules” regarding the reincarnation of “the living Buddha”.

“Reincarnation of living Buddhas, including the Dalai Lama, must comply with Chinese laws and regulations and follow religious rituals and historical conventions,” he said.

The Dalai Lama has been living in exile in India since 1950 after China took control of Tibet and an uprising against Chinese rule was thwarted by Chinese troops.

“His appeal for greater autonomy for Tibet earned him the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, but it has been rejected by Beijing, who has denounced the spiritual leader as a separatist”, says Voice of America.

In Tibetan Buddhist belief, the soul of its most senior lama is reincarnated into the body of a child but “who will succeed the Dalai Lama when he dies remains both unclear and contentious”, says the BBC.

Beijing has long claimed its right to choose a successor, but only last month the Dalai Lama reiterated that any leader named by China would not be accepted by Tibetans.

Beijing’s most recent intervention comes amid growing fears about the state of the present Dalai Lama’s health.

The 83-year-old was admitted to hospital in the Indian capital, Delhi, with a chest infection on Tuesday.

Doctors have described his condition as “stable” and he could be discharged as early as today, with his press secretary Tseten Samdup Chhoekyapa telling reporters. “He is more or less fully recovered. But, of course, the treatment and his medication will continue for a few days more.”

The Nobel peace laureate remains “a hugely popular speaker but has cut down his global engagements in recent years”, The BBC says.

However, CNN’s Ben Westcott says the health scare “has once again raised questions over what will happen to Tibetans and their religion when the Dalai Lama dies”.

Asked in a recent interview with Reuters what might happen after his death, the Dalai Lama anticipated a possible attempt by Beijing to foist a successor on Tibetan Buddhists.

“In future, in case you see two Dalai Lamas come, one from here, in a free country, one is chosen by Chinese, and then nobody will trust, nobody will respect (the one chosen by China). So that’s an additional problem for the Chinese. It's possible, it can happen,” he said.

These fears are not without foundation. In the 1990s the process to find the reincarnation of the 11th Panchen Lama ended in acrimony after the Dalai Lama’s chosen candidate disappeared and a successor selected by the Chinese government was put in his place.

“It isn’t completely clear whether the Dalai Lama will allow himself to be reincarnated after he dies,” Westcott writes, adding “the Tibetan spiritual leader has hinted in recent years that he might be the last person to hold the title.”

Without a successor, there is concern that the death of Tibet’s spiritual leader could provoke a renewed suppression of the region’s culture and people.

Although technically atheist, the Chinese regime claims to allow a certain level of religious freedom.

However, the authorities have increasingly taken a harder line against religious minorities, including Christians and Buddhists, while imprisoning up to two million Muslim Uyghurs who make up a majority in the western region of Xinjiang.

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