In a ceremony attended by senior Communist Party officials and Tibetan monks loyal to Beijing, the Chinese government on Friday formally installed a 6-year-old boy as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, second only to the Dalai Lama in the Tibetan Buddhist hierarchy.
The enthronement of the boy the Chinese government claims to be the 11th Panchen Lama was immediately condemned as "invalid and illegal" by representatives of the Dalai Lama in India, where the religious leader maintains an administration in exile.
"This so-called enthronement of the so-called Panchen Lama goes against the wishes of the Tibetan people," said Kalon Sonam Topgyal, an official in the Dalai Lama's organization in Dharamsala, India. The Tibetan exile organization claimed the ceremony took place Friday morning under heavy security, which included 500 soldiers of the People's Liberation Army, at the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Tibet.
The Dalai Lama and the Chinese government are locked in a dispute over the right to determine the 11th reincarnation of the Panchen Lama. The 10th Panchen Lama, a controversial figure who lived in China and publicly sided with Communist officials against the Dalai Lama, died in 1989.
In May, the Dalai Lama enraged Chinese authorities by unilaterally proclaiming the discovery of the true reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, who he said was a 6-year-old boy named Gedhun Choekyi Nyima from the Lhari district of Tibet.
The officially atheist Beijing government rejected the choice, claiming, among other things, that the Dalai Lama had failed to perform appropriate religious procedures, including the use of a golden urn, to determine the reincarnated soul of the Panchen Lama.
But the main issue of the controversy--pitting an atheist regime against the man many believe to be the world's most perfect living Buddha--was not religious but political. The Dalai Lama claims China illegally occupies Tibet and has no rights over his spiritual or temporal domain. The Chinese government claims its right to name the Panchen Lama dates to the 18th century.
Last month, the Chinese government convened a meeting of loyal Tibetan religious leaders and came up with its own selection for the reincarnated Panchen Lama, 6-year-old Gyaincain Norbu.
On Friday, Communist Party Politburo member Li Tieying represented the Chinese government at a formal enthronement that was broadcast on national television.
After Li presented Gyaincain Norbu with a certificate confirming him as the reincarnated Panchen Lama and a placard signed by Chinese President Jiang Zemin, the boy reportedly responded: "Thank you, Jiang Zemin. Thank you, government of China. I will study hard and love the motherland."