Dharamshala — The spiritual leader of Tibet His Holiness the Dalai Lama said on Monday more research was needed to settle the fate of the Panchen Lama, who was swept up by Chinese authorities and never seen from again.
Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was declared by His Holiness the Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of 10th the Panchen Lama, the second most senior figure in the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, at the age of six in 1995.
On May 17, 1995, three days after he was anointed by the Dalai Lama, the boy was detained by Chinese authorities and promptly disappeared. Beijing subsequently named another child, Gyaincain Norbu, to the position.
Nyima "is receiving education, living normally and growing healthily. He does not want to be disturbed by anyone", the official Xinhua news agency earlier this month quoted Norbu Dondup, an official at Tibet's United Front Work Department, as saying.
The Chinese Communist Party appointed Gyaincain Norbu as its own 11th Panchen Lama, who is now a deputy to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, a national debating chamber, but Beijing seeks to use Norbu as a political tool, a policy that is aimed at absolute authority in both political and spiritual matters.
He has made numerous tightly scripted public appearances since he turned 18, and visited Hong Kong, his first trip outside the Chinese mainland, in 2012.
The Chinese Communist Party has long maintained that Gendun Choekyi Nyima is not the real Panchen Lama, and in 1995, the government selected Gyaltsen Norbu as the 11th Panchen Lama.
The Chinese government also sees the appointment of the next Dalai Lama as key to consolidating state control over Tibet, where Tibetan movements have flared since the 1940s, and to undermining the present Dalai Lama's influence.
"I think the Chinese government is more concerned with the Dalai Lama institution than myself," the Dalai Lama said on Monday at a news conference at Oxford University.
The Dalai Lama acknowledged reports on Gendun Choekyi Nyima, but said evidence was needed to make them credible.
"Some friends say that my Panchen Lama is still alive ... and he has also had the opportunity to make a family," he said.
But he added: "We need more research. Unless we do the research, it's no use to make a comment like that."
"As long as people are not given free access to meet him, we will consider him as missing and held against his will," Dicki Chhoyang, minister for information and international relations, told AFP.
"He's the youngest political prisoner in the world and we continue to see his forced absence as a symptom of Chinese repression."
The 80-year-old Dalai Lama fled to India after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. Beijing says he is a "violent separatist" but the Buddhist monk denies espousing violence and says he only wants "genuine autonomy" for Tibetan people.
However more fundamental questions remain unanswered, and increasingly unasked, if the Tibetans in Tibet really have such a new good story to tell, why doesn't the Chinese government let them freely tell it and why doesn't the world media and international fact-finding delegations let in and see it by themselves.