Why China Wants To Choose The Next Dalai Lama

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama and Tibet’s spiritual leader, will turn 86 years old on July 6, 2021. As the Tibetan spiritual leader becomes older, doubts about his succession resurface. China recently released a white paper demanding that the next Dalai Lama be chosen with Chinese official permission, claiming historical practices.

The Dalai Lama, one of Buddhism’s most known faces, is a significant aspect in disseminating Buddhist teachings to the international population. Senior monastic disciples have historically recognised the Dalai Lama’s successor, relying on spiritual indications and visions. However, the Chinese foreign ministry announced in 2011 that only the Chinese government can choose the next Dalai Lama, and that no other candidate ought to be acknowledged.


Even after six decades of occupation in Tibet, the Chinese government has failed terribly in its attempts to win the hearts and minds of Tibetans. Tibetans have never used violence in the course of their resistance, no matter what they’ve done.  The selection procedure for the next Dalai Lama is now in limbo. China’s communist regime annexed Tibet in 1950, claiming that it has always belonged to China. The Dalai Lama escaped in 1959 and established an exile administration.

Presently, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) is one of the world’s most well-established democratic exile governments. Many refer to it as a “bonsai democracy.” In reality, such an exile setup isn’t really a low-hanging fruit. It was envisaged by Tibet’s Dalai Lama and yielded fruition after six decades.

When he was six years old, the Chinese government arrested the Dalai Lama’s candidate for the 10th Panchen Lama’s successor, Gendun Choeki Nyima, in the year 1995. China has remained tight-lipped regarding his location since then. When the freshly elected 11th Panchen Lama was arrested, the Tibetan people revolted. In response, the Chinese government appointed its own Panchen Lama, the son of a Chinese security officer. Historically, the panchen lamas and dalai lamas have played important roles in identifying each other’s upcoming incarnations.


Because of the Chinese threat, the 14th Dalai Lama has made a series of remarks that would make a Chinese-appointed 15th Dalai Lama difficult to regard as genuine.

For instance, he has said that the institution of the Dalai Lama may no longer be required. However, he has also stated that it is up to the people to preserve this part of Tibetan Buddhism and the Dalai Lama lineage. Another possibility offered by the Dalai Lama is to announce his future reincarnation before he dies. In this situation, the Dalai Lama will pass on his spiritual enlightenment to the next Dalai Lama.

Tenzin Gyatso has also stated that if he dies outside of Tibet and the Panchen Lama remains absent, his reincarnation would be found elsewhere, probably in India.Lastly, he has suggested the idea of reincarnating as a woman — although he added in 2015 and 2019 interviews that he’d have to be an extremely attractive lady. After this remark drew considerable criticism in 2019, his staff issued an apology and expression of remorse for the harm he had caused.

The Dalai Lama is certain that no one would accept the Chinese government’s choice. As he has stated, the Tibetan population will never recognize a Chinese-appointed Dalai Lama.


The Tibetan elite tended to view the  world through the lens of India, and thousands of Tibetans fled to India as refugees in 1959. Today, India is home to the world’s biggest Tibetan community, with over 75,000 individuals.

Today, India’s land boundaries with China are largely those which exist between India and Tibet. China’s views on India are impacted in many ways by its Tibet policy. If a puppet Dalai Lama emerges from China, India could face significant geopolitical issues. Not only India, but also the entire Himalayan area. It is very likely that China would utilise the ‘Dalai Lama Institution’ as a political tool to encroach on these areas. China is skilled at fabricating tales that even history cannot follow. 

To discourage China’s politicisation of the Dalai Lama and leadership in Buddhism, New Delhi must give the  Dalai Lama more realistic attention, similar to US legislation on Tibet, which explicitly says that China must not intervene in the selection of the next Dalai Lama. So far, India has opted not to intervene in the matter.