Other Tibetans fear that the loss of their most recognised leader could weaken the unity of the Tibetan movement and potentially trigger widespread unrest in ethnic Tibetan regions in mainland China, after an outburst of anti-Han violence prompted a tight security clampdown in March 2008.
Conscious of the problem, the current Dalai Lama has already talked about his succession. For the Nobel Prize laureate, his next incarnation might be found outside the country and could even be a woman. He also suggested that Tibetans might vote for his successor or even hold a referendum on whether to continue an institution that gave one monk both spiritual and temporal sway over Tibet.
Qiangba Puncog, chairman of the Tibet Regional People's Congress, said the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama must meet all four traditional requirements: religious rituals, historical conventions, lot drawing from the Golden Urn in the face of the Buddha Sakyamuni, and approval of the central government.
As it does for all other official religions, China’s officially atheist government claims the right to intervene in religious matters (like appointing Catholic bishops).
On the Tibet question, the Chinese government is in the driver’s seat. Having abducted the real Panchen Lama, Tibetan Buddhism's second-highest-ranking figure, it now hopes to pick the Dalai Lama’s successor.
Informed by such an attitude, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi has defended China’s foreign policy. In his view, “China is becoming tougher and tougher on the external front” because it needs to defend its national interests. As for tensions with the United States, blame lies squarely with Washington.
Speaking on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress currently underway in the capital, Mr Yang said, “Should one view the actions taken by a country to defend its own dignity and core interests as being tough and take for granted that the interests of other countries can be infringed upon? If that is the case, how can there be justice?”