The Slatest

China Says It Has “Decision-Making Power Over the Reincarnation of the Dalai Lama”

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama in 2013.

Photo by Keith Tsuji/Getty Images

The Dalai Lama and the Chinese government have never been exactly on the same page about anything really, but this week things took a turn for the absurd. The Dalai Lama is, of course, the Tibetan spiritual leader who fled China in 1959. Ever since, the Tibetan community and the Chinese government have been engaged in a simmering political standoff over the region. It’s serious stuff, but the acrimony got a bit surreal recently when a back-and-forth broke out between Communist Party leaders and the Dalai Lama over whether or not the Dalai Lama would be reincarnated. Confused? Exactly.

Tenzin Gyatso is the current Dalai Lama and since he is now 79 years old, questions have arisen about who will succeed him and become the 15th Tibetan Buddhist leader. The Dalai Lama has remarked that perhaps he won’t reincarnate and will pull the plug on the procession of the spiritual lineage. That remark has seriously tweaked China. Why? Because “that would confound the Chinese government’s plans to engineer a succession that would produce a putative 15th Dalai Lama who accepts China’s presence and policies in Tibet,” the New York Times reports. “Party leaders would prefer to insert themselves surreptitiously into a succession process that carries the full weight of Tibetan tradition than to install a new Dalai Lama by fiat, which would almost certainly undermine the new religious leader’s credibility inside Tibet.”

That cat seems pretty much out of the bag on the “surreptitious” part of this master plan. But, wait, there’s more. As if that weren’t all surreal enough, Zhu Weiqun delivers one of the better political quotes of all time (via the Times):

Zhu Weiqun, a Communist Party official who has long dealt with Tibetan issues, told reporters in Beijing on Wednesday that the Dalai Lama had, essentially, no say over whether he was reincarnated. That was ultimately for the Chinese government to decide, he said, according to a transcript of his comments on the website of People’s Daily, the party’s main newspaper.

“Decision-making power over the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, and over the end or survival of this lineage, resides in the central government of China,” said Mr. Zhu…

Zhu, and the Communist Party, went on to have what amounted to a tempertantrum trying to goad the Dalia Lama into reincarnating, before moving on to reverse psychology.