THE Chinese government's web portal has an odd-looking entry on its page listing laws that came into force in September. Buried among new regulations on issues ranging from registering sailors to monitoring pollution is one on how to manage the reincarnations of living Buddhas. Violators are threatened with prosecution. China's Communist Party—though avowedly atheist—does not hesitate to pontificate on religious matters that it sees as having a political dimension. Living Buddhas make up the senior clergy of Tibet's religion. They are traditionally selected from among boys considered to be reincarnations of deceased office-holders. Controlling the selection process, in the party's view, is crucial to controlling Tibet.
Tibet's exiled leader, the 14th Dalai Lama, who is 72, knows this too. China, already enraged by his recent high-profile meetings with George Bush and Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, is now incensed by his proposal that in selecting the most critical reincarnation of all, his own, new procedures may apply—his, not China's.
He has long has said he may not be reincarnated at all, or, if Tibet is not free, that he may be reborn outside China. This would do much to undermine any attempt by China to appoint its own Dalai Lama in the way it chose a new Panchen Lama, the second highest-ranking leader of Tibetan Buddhism, in 1995. (A rival reincarnation endorsed by the Dalai Lama, a boy living in China, has not been seen since.) Recently the Dalai Lama has gone further, proposing that his successor be chosen while he is still alive, by himself or by senior monks. And this week he even suggested that Tibetans could hold a referendum to decide on the Dalai Lamas' future.
-The Dalai Lama