BEIJING - It is up to the Dalai Lama to decide whether he will be reborn, a top Tibetan religious leader said late on Wednesday, after Chinese officials said repeatedly that the exiled Dala Lama had no right to abandon reincarnation.
Ogyen Trinley Dorje, one of Tibet's most senior exiled religious leaders, told Radio Free Asia in an interview that he had "complete belief" in the ability of the Dalai Lama to decide his fate after death.
The controversy over reincarnation started when the Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, told a German newspaper last year that the tradition of the post could end with him.
The 79-year-old spiritual leader has said that he will not be reborn in China if Tibet is not free, and that no one, including China, has the right to choose his successor for "political ends".
Tibet's China-appointed governor has accused the Dalai Lama of profaning Buddhism for doubting reincarnation.
Tibetan Buddhism holds that the soul of a senior lama is reincarnated in the body of a child on his death. China says the tradition must continue and it must approve the next Dalai Lama.
Tibetans fear that China will use the issue of the Dalai Lama's religious succession to split Tibetan Buddhism, with one new Dalai Lama named by exiles and one by China after his death.
In 1995, after the Dalai Lama named a boy in Tibet as the reincarnation of the previous Panchen Lama, the second highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism, China put that boy under house arrest and installed another in his place. Many Tibetans spurn the Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama as a fake.