A Tibetan youth named by Beijing as the 11th Panchen Lama but reviled by many Tibetans as a fake made his first trip outside mainland China on Thursday as he is groomed to become the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama dies.
Gyaltsen Norbu, 22, was selected as a boy by officially atheist Beijing in 1995 as the second-highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism in its drive to win the hearts and minds of Tibetans.
Tibet’s current spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, had announced his own choice of a six-year-old boy, who was taken away by authorities and has since disappeared from public view, creating a crisis of legitimacy for devout Tibetans.
China reviles the Dalai Lama, who fled into exile in India in 1959 after an abortive uprising against Chinese rule, as a separatist. The Dalai Lama says he is merely seeking more autonomy for his Himalayan homeland.