In a recent interview with German newspaper Welt am Sonntag, the Dalai Lama stated clearly that he saw no need for a 15th Dalai Lama to succeed him after his passing: “We had a Dalai Lama for almost five centuries. The 14th Dalai Lama now is very popular. Let us then finish with a popular Dalai Lama,” adding, “If a weak Dalai Lama comes along, then it will just disgrace the Dalai Lama.”
Analysts appear to disagree on the true meaning and import of the statement.
Al Jazeera quotes Richard Barnett, a leading Tibet scholar at Columbia University, as saying, “The Chinese have a real chance of winning over the Tibetan population if they allow the Dalai Lama to come back and treat him well, and he acknowledges them for doing that. This remains the main bargaining chip for the Dalai Lama — it’s hard for the Chinese to see a way forward without him, but it’s difficult to see a way with him.”
However, Ganden Thurman, Executive Director of Tibet House US, told the Huffington Post that the Dalai Lama may simply be laying the ground for a more democratic Tibet: “His Holiness is looking for the resolution to the China issue and for [the Tibetan people’s] own governance. Both of those issues are looking for what’s best for the Tibetan people.”
Following the Dalai Lama’s statements, Chinese leaders commented publicly that the Dalai Lama is obligated by history and culture to continue the traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, including his own reincarnation. A Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said, “The (present) 14th Dalai Lama has ulterior motives, and is seeking to distort and negate history, which is damaging to the normal order of Tibetan Buddhism.”
There has long been concern among Tibetans that China will attempt to use the issue of the Dalai Lama’s succession for their own gain, most likely by attempting to appoint the 15th Dalai Lama independently.