Tawang - China has no authority at all to get involved in choosing the next Dalai Lama as it does not believe in religion and the succession plan is entirely a spiritual matter and not a political issue for the Tibetan people, the head of the Tawang monastery in Arunachal Pradesh has said.
Gyangbung Rinpoche, the Abbot of the nearly 350-year-old monastery near Bharat's border with China, also said that it is important to counter Beijing's "policy of expansionism" and New Delhi must maintain a strict vigil over the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with that country, in an oblique reference to the eastern Ladakh standoff.
Referring to China's aggressive posturing along the LAC, Rinpoche said though Bharat believes in peace and prosperity, its approach in dealing with such belligerence has to be based on the ground reality.
"It is important to counter China's growing assertiveness. It is necessary for Bharat to keep a strict vigil over the border (with China)," he told PTI in an interview.
The head of the second largest monastery in the world after the Potala Palace in Tibet's Lhasa said only the current Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people have the right to decide about the successor to the Tibetan spiritual leader and China has no role to play in the matter.
"The Chinese government does not believe in religion. How can a government that does not believe in religion decide the next Dalai Lama. The succession plan is a matter of religion and faith; it is not a political issue," Rinpoche said.
"China does not have any right to even get involved in the process of choosing the next Dalai Lama. Only the current Dalai Lama and his followers have the right to decide on the issue," he said.
The comments by the Abbot of the monastery that is located in a region claimed by China came amid strain in ties between the two countries following the eastern Ladakh border standoff. Bharat maintains that its state of Arunachal Pradesh is an integral and inalienable part of the country.
Rinpoche said the Tibetan people will never accept any decision on the issue by China and that Beijing's attempt to get involved is part of efforts to "capture" the Tibetan heritage and "hold control" over the Tibetan people.
"It will be difficult for China to win the hearts of the people of Tibet. China is tightly controlling Tibet. The authorities do not even allow people from outside to meet Tibetans. There are so many restrictions. It is important that countries like Bharat support the Tibetans," he said.
The issue of a successor to the 14th Dalai Lama, who has been living in exile in Dharamshala in India since 1959, gained traction as he turned 86 in July. The Dalai Lama is believed to be a living Buddha who is reincarnated after his death.
China has been insisting that the selection of the next Dalai Lama has to be decided within Chinese territory and that it has to have a say in the matter.
Referring to China's aggressive posturing along the LAC, Rinpoche said, "Bharat believes in peace and prosperity. Bharat does not like to fight or to have hatred against any country. Bharat believes in living in peace with the countries which share a border with it."
"Bharat needs to maintain a strict vigil over the border. Though Bharat believes in peace and prosperity, its approach has to be based on the ground reality. Regions like Tawang and Ladakh are part of India," he said.
The religious leader said it is important to counter China's policy of expansionism.
The monastery headed by Rinpoche is located in Tawang at an altitude of around 9,000 feet, a region that has significant political, spiritual and strategic dimensions.
After a failed anti-Chinese uprising in 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama fled Tibet and came to Bharat where he set up a government-in-exile.
Beijing has in the past accused the Dalai Lama of indulging in "separatist" activities and trying to split Tibet and considers him as a divisive figure.
However, the Tibetan spiritual leader has insisted that he is not seeking independence but "genuine autonomy for all Tibetans living in the three traditional provinces of Tibet" under the "Middle-Way approach".
The Chinese government officials and the Dalai Lama or his representatives have not met for formal negotiations since 2010.