BEIJING - A man Beijing has named as one of the most senior figures in Tibetan Buddhism met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, state media said Thursday, as Communist authorities seek to win support for their policies in the region.
Gyaincain Norbu, who China appointed as its choice of 11th Panchen Lama, was asked by Xi to carry on the "patriotic tradition" of Tibetan Buddhism during Wednesday's meeting, the China Daily newspaper said.
Many Tibetans do not recognise Norbu as the Panchen Lama - the second most revered figure in the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism.
Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama's choice for Panchen lama, Gendun Choekyi Nyima, was detained by Chinese authorities in 1995 at the age of six and has not been seen since.
China's Panchen Lama has been labelled by Tibetan groups as a symbol of Beijing's efforts to exert control over local religious practices.
"Panchen Lama promised .... to unswervingly safeguard national unity and ethnic harmony," the China Daily said.
"He also said he would bear in mind President Xi's advice, to learn hard and work vigorously to make his contribution to Tibetan Buddhism and socialist construction," the report added.
China often uses terms such as "patriotic" to mean allegiance to political authorities.
The Dalai Lama is still widely revered by Tibetans in China and the meeting came just a month before his 80th birthday.
The spiritual leader fled to India in 1959 after an aborted uprising against Chinese rule and is accused by Beijing of seeking independence for Tibet.
Xi said he expected the Panchen Lama to grow into "a Tibetan Buddhist leader with great religious acumen, deeply loved by the monks and secular followers," the report said.
China's Panchen Lama - who is thought to be in his mid-twenties - has made numerous tightly scripted public appearances since he turned 18, and he made his first trip outside of the Chinese mainland with a visit to Hong Kong in 2012.
The 10th Panchen Lama died in 1989 after a tumultuous relationship with China's communist leaders which saw him lauded and later imprisoned.