DHARAMSALA, India (Kyodo) --The president of the Tibetan government-in-exile said Thursday that it is not up to China to decide on a successor to the Dalai Lama after his eventual death, but instead the Dalai Lama himself.
"The institution of the Dalai Lama should continue and the reincarnation of Dalai Lama should be decided by only Dalai Lama himself," Lobsang Sangay said in an interview with Kyodo News.
"Especially not the Communist Party of China, which is an atheist organization, which says religion is a poison and discourages religious practice," he said.
Sangay was speaking on the sidelines of the three-day 3rd Special General Meeting of Tibetans that began Thursday in the northern Indian city of Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama has lived in exile for 60 years and where the Tibetan government-in-exile is headquartered.
Over 300 Tibetan people from around 24 countries have gathered to discuss the relationship between the lineage of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people.
"The Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people are inseparable. The great legacy of the Dalai Lama should continue," Sangay said.
China has repeatedly said it has the sole authority to select the reincarnations of Tibetan Buddhist religious figures, including the Dalai Lama, as a legacy inherited from China's emperors.
But the Dalai Lama, who is considered the 14th incarnation of the Tibetan Buddhism spiritual figure, has said a successor named by China would not be respected by Tibetans.
Sangay noted that the 84-year-old Tibetan spiritual leader has said it is for Tibetan people to decide.
He has also said that when he is about 90, he would consult the high lamas and Tibetan public and reevaluate whether the institution of the Dalai Lama should continue or not.
Sangay said the Dalai Lama is in good health "and he is always saying 'maybe I will live more than 100 years'."
Born on July 6, 1935, in northeastern Tibet, the exiled spiritual leader was recognized as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso, at the age of 2.
In March 1959, he fled to India following a failed Tibetan uprising against China's control of the Buddhist region high in the Himalayas and later set up the government-in-exile in Dharamsala.
He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his non-violent campaign for Tibetan freedom and greater autonomy, but the Chinese government regards him as a dangerous separatist.
Succession plans for the octogenarian have been an issue of interest in recent years.