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The Dalai Lama's announcement that he would relinquish his political role was ridiculed by Beijing. "We think these are his tricks to deceive the international community," said Jiang Yu, a spokeswoman for China's Foreign Ministry.

Frustrated by the Dalai Lama's global popularity, the Communist Party has sought to portray the monk instead as a dangerous separatist and a tool of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

The Dalai Lama's move comes days after China reiterated that his successor would be reincarnated, rather than chosen by the current Dalai Lama. "We must respect the historical institutions and religious rituals of Tibetan Buddhism," Padma Choling, the Chinese-appointed governor of Tibet, said this week. "I am afraid it is not up to anyone whether to abolish the reincarnation institution or not."

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Tibetan activists anticipate that after the current Dalai Lama's death, Beijing will declare to have discovered his "successor," just as it did with the 11th Panchen Lama, the second-highest ranking figure in the Tibetan Buddhist hierarchy.

Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the boy identified by the Dalai Lama as the legitimate Panchen Lama, disappeared in China in 1995 at the age of six. Gyaincain Norbu, Beijing's chosen Panchen Lama, has been effectively raised by the Communist Party, and supports China's presence in Tibet.

With a series of sensitive anniversaries looming, including the third anniversary of deadly 2008 monk-led riots against Chinese rule, Beijing announced this week that Tibet would be closed to foreign tourists for the month of March, citing dangerously cold weather. The temperature peaked at 12 in Lhasa on Thursday.

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About the Author
Senior International Correspondent

Mark MacKinnon is currently based in London, where he is The Globe and Mail's Senior International Correspondent. In that posting he has reported on the Syrian refugee crisis, the rise of Islamic State, the war in eastern Ukraine and Scotland's independence referendum.Mark recently spent five years as the newspaper's Beijing correspondent. More

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