An international collaboration between India and ‘like-minded’ states on Tibet beyond humanitarian concerns is yet to be formed. This requires recalibration considering the geopolitical impact of the issue.

  • The 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso remains one of the most recognized and beloved spiritual leaders of contemporary times. By China, he is viewed in unflattering terms, ranging from being termed a “splittist”  to a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”.  
  • The question over the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation reflects the larger polemic ideological and political debates about the Central Tibetan  Administration (CTA) versus the Communist Party of China (CPC), religious freedom versus materialism, the sovereignty of Tibet versus  China’s occupation of it, and history itself. 
  • The CPC has put strategies in place to manage the post-Dalai era:  From temple management rules and education policy changes to restrictions on travel by Tibetans, the Party’s strategies have laid the foundation for preparations to mitigate uncertainties associated with the succession process.  
  • Such a post-Dalai strategy has massive implications not just for China’s international relations, but also the Tibet-China-India dynamic. 
  • Geopolitically, Tibet’s invasion by the People’s Republic of China  (PRC) unequivocally altered India-China relations, particularly impacting their boundary dispute, which is further connected to the  Sino-Tibetan conflict. The continued political refuge of the 14th Dalai  Lama and, by extension, the Tibetan Government-in-Exile (TGiE) in  India has for decades impacted and strained their bilateral relations. 
  • Delhi’s official Tibet policy is ambiguous with the intention of engaging with the Tibetans without enraging China. Amidst mounting pressure on India to take a firmer stance against Chinese intentions, New  Delhi will need to cautiously sharpen its Tibet policy and capitalize on Beijing’s weaknesses, including lack of credibility vis-à-vis its reincarnation politics. 
  • Not only is China worried about India leveraging its diplomatic influence for the Tibetan cause internationally, but when it comes to  Tibet and its demands for independence, China seeks to control the institution of the Dalai Lama with the twin goals of protecting the One  China principle and ensuring that there is no threat to Party loyalty.  
  • Historians and Buddhist scholars have debated the veracity and influence of the reincarnation method vis-à-vis the tulkus system, but the Chinese government steadfastly claims that the latter remained subject to the approval of the Qing Empire, and thus stakes its historical assertion on the right to approve any future reincarnations.  
  • The CPC’s historical assertion, supplemented with policy implementation, can be seen as an attempt to replace the authority of the religious institution of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism with that of the Party. Apart from the question of the historical or religious legitimacy of the CPC’s assertion, it is imperative to engage with its intent, beyond the reality that Beijing is increasingly curbing religious and cultural freedoms in Tibet and elsewhere.  
  • Notwithstanding the Dalai Lama’s position in the reincarnation process, the Tibetan people in all probabilities will have two Dalai  Lamas—one designated by their spiritual and temporal leader and the other by the PRC. 
  • In the new era under Xi Jinping, the three core demands, which are  those of the Dalai Lama “accepting Tibet as an inseparable part of  China, abandoning ‘Tibet independence’, and stopping activities to  split the motherland” have been reiterated and the Dalai Lama has  been advised to “discard any illusion, face reality squarely, correct  mistakes, and choose an objective and rational path.”  
  • Xi Jinping’s confidence in his Tibet policy and its implementation might be insufficient in the wake of possible post-Dalai Lama radicalized politics. Beijing’s ‘Machiavellian’ calculus when it comes to dealing with the Dalai Lama’s influence in Tibet can be witnessed through the CPC’s strategy of marginalizing the Dalai Lama and the promotion of ‘red ideology’.
  • An international collaboration between India and ‘like-minded’  states on Tibet beyond humanitarian concerns is yet to be formed.  This requires recalibration, especially as actors like Japan, Mongolia,  Taiwan, Britain, the United States (U.S.), and the European Union (EU)  have great interest in the Dalai Lama institution and will be impacted by its future. 
  • Japan has not yielded to Chinese pressure regarding the Dalai Lama and Tibet, which is essentially due to the wide public reverence the  Dalai Lama enjoys amongst the Japanese. Despite such veneration by the public and putting out policies on Tibet, the Japanese government provided limited assistance to Tibetans in exile, keeping in mind  Japan’s relations with China.  
  • Although politically there has not been much engagement between  Taiwan and the TGiE, the Taiwanese government strategically allows for the democratically inclined civil society to form several non-governmental groups that openly support the Tibetan cause, which is perceived by the PRC government as a threat to Chinese national unity.  
  • For Mongolia, the introduction of an eight-year-old Mongolian boy born in the U.S. as the reincarnation of Khalkha Jetsun Dhampa  Rinpoché has thrust the nation into a state of collective anxiety surrounding the future succession of the Dalai Lama—a highly sensitive issue for China—and has challenged the very foundation of the independence of present-day Mongolia.  
  • For EU nations, not only has the Tibet question boiled down to human rights in Tibet, but European governments do not have a  particular view of Tibet’s future after the Dalai Lama and the TGiE was compelled to concede the demand for full independence.  
  • In Sweden, how to manage relations with China and best affect its human rights situation are questions that are ever important in forums of public debate and for the Swedish government. Strong public concern for Tibet and admiration for the Dalai Lama would catapult the Tibet issue into the forefront and translate into policy in Sweden. 
  • The Czech Republic has capitalized on the long term affinity with the Dalai Lama and Tibetans in exile by facilitating a string of high-level meetings with the representatives of the TGIE, public outreach activities and co-sponsorship of a seminal blueprint for action on  “geopolitics of reincarnation” at the United Nations. 
  • Successive British governments have consistently expressed concerns about human rights in Tibet. Yet, despite Britain’s increasingly cool relations with China, the UK government has not taken a proactive stance against potential interference in the succession of the Dalai  Lama by the CPC.  
  • Washington has more actively pre-empted attempts by Beijing to meddle in the succession process and The Tibet Policy and Support  Act, which was signed into law in 2020, codified this position. 
  • China’s official media indicate that China now routinely calls on foreign governments to acknowledge China’s sole authority in the selection process for the next Dalai Lama and probably requires assurances that those nations will not host any candidate for 15th Dalai  Lama on their soil. 
  • China’s attention has also focused on Tawang, India, where the 6th Dalai Lama was born in 1683. China frequently claims that India and  the exiles plan to recognize a successor to the Dalai Lama in Tawang,  and presents each visit by the current Dalai Lama to the area as a  signal of such a plan.  
  • In the past, negotiations between Dharamshala and Beijing have taken  place with the latter insisting it has always been about the personal  status of the Dalai Lama and his possible return from exile to the  homeland. The absence of any negotiations for more than a decade  and the hardline stance by Communist party officials leave very little  room for sincere dialogue and possible return of the Dalai Lama.  
  • The fact that the TGiE still resides in India theoretically offers New  Delhi a never-exercised, but not impossible, option of supporting the  Tibetan independence claims to some degree.
  • To recognize the TGiE as the formal government of Tibet, New Delhi  would have to first recognize Tibet as a state. None of these two levels  of recognition have been attempted by even the staunchest of China’s  rivals and thus would be an unfair expectation to have from India.  
  • Between playing a card and not playing it all, the Indian government  has a spectrum of choices, such as resorting to diplomatic grey-zone  tactics by using ambiguous language on Tibet’s status; issuing stapled  visas for Tibetans; and, ramping up engagement with the TGiE. 
  • Dharamshala should show more interest in the boundary issue (for  example, in providing historical records showing that the Indian  stand is correct) and Delhi should take the initiative to regularly brief  the TGiE about the border situation. 
  • India’s approach towards refugees from Tibet must also incorporate  local communities’ sensitivities while ensuring that domestic frictions  do not deter its foreign policy interests. 
  • It is imperative for stakeholder governments in Asia, Europe, and the  U.S. to have more focused Tibet policies and outlooks, especially in  the backdrop of the geopolitical complexity that will arise with the  succession of the 14th Dalai Lama.  
  • On its part, the TGiE does not have high expectations of the EU,  especially if it translates to jeopardizing the EU’s relations with China.  
  • The public recognition of the 10th Bogd Khan by the Dalai Lama  only serves as a way to establish a new Tibetan-Mongolian Buddhist World and catapulting Mongolian Buddhism to a greater global role,  it also strategically enlists Mongol support for the Dalai Lama against  China’s Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism.  
  • Japan needs to counter Chinese interference in the reincarnation  process of the Dalai Lama and champion the right for Tibetans to  freely choose for themselves. In this regard, Japan must harness public  opinion in support of Tibet and build strong partnerships with the  Tibetan community.  
  • Notwithstanding the European Union’s growing skepticism of China as a partner in light of the China-Russia “no limit” friendship, the  succession issue would require broader international coordination in  order to amplify support for Tibet. 
  • Engaging with the Tibet issue more morally and democratically could  help Beijing win the world’s trust and respect while simultaneously  bringing Xi Jinping closer to his aspirations of being a global leader.  
  • Under Xi Jinping, there are limited signs of positive moderation in  Beijing’s stance towards Tibet, particularly concerning talks with  the Dalai Lama. Beijing’s core position has only grown stronger and  is unlikely to change without external mediation or attention; the  recognition of a ‘Chinese’ Dalai Lama by the CPC is guaranteed, and  while he will not enjoy the spiritual support of the Buddhists, he will  still have the state-given mandate to execute the practice of Tibetan  Buddhism in Tibet as the CPC sees fit. 
  • Despite China’s monumental arrangements in preparation for the  coming succession struggle, its final goal of obtaining the support of  the Tibetan population within Tibet and of world opinion, remains  distant and uncertain. 
  • The Dalai’s successor is most likely going to be found in India,  from amidst the sixth generation of Tibetan Buddhist families in the  country. There is an emergent need for New Delhi to have a clear  policy on Tibet, and for the CTA to have a clear policy on its approach to India. 
  • Succession, reincarnation, the ‘Tibet Question’, Tibetan identity and historical debates over the complex roles the three sides of India,  China and Tibet have played: All these factors in themselves are highly contested topics, especially vis-à-vis terminology used. For instance,  the usage of the words ‘refugee rehabilitation’ may itself be accepted by some and rejected by others. This volume has sought to keep these sensitivities in mind, and adhere to commonly used phrases in the scholarship of Tibet studies while allowing the contributors to express research/views that are personal to their brand of study and analyses. 

    The Dalai Lama’s Succession: Strategic Realities of the Tibet Question is a joint publication of the Stockholm Center for South Asian and Indo-Pacific Affairs (SCSA-IPA) of the Institute for Security & Development Policy (ISDP, Sweden) and the Organisation for Research on China and Asia (ORCA, India).This Special Issue was first published on ISDP’s website which can be accessed here.


Access the Full Issue Here




Dr. Jagannath Panda is a Senior Fellow at The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies (HCSS). Currently, Dr. Panda is based in Stockholm, and is the Head of Stockholm Centre for South Asian and Indo-Pacific Affairs (SCSA-IPA) at the Institute for Security and Development Policy (ISDP), Sweden. In addition to his primary appointment at ISDP, Dr. Panda is also the Director for Europe-Asia Research Cooperation at the Yokosuka Council on Asia-Pacific Studies (YCAPS); International Research Fellow at the Cannon Institute for Global Studies (CIGS) in Japan; a Senior Fellow at East Asian Security Centre at Bond University, Australia; and a Senior Research Fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies (JFSS), Tokyo. He was a fellow at India’s premier think-tank, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (now, Manohar Parrikar-IDSA) for one and half-decade [2006-2022]. Dr. Panda co-edited the ORCAxISDP Special Issue "The Dalai Lama's Succession: Strategic Realities of the Tibet Question."

Eerishika Pankaj is the Director of New Delhi based think-tank, the Organisation for Research on China and Asia (ORCA), which focuses on decoding domestic Chinese politics and its impact on Beijing’s foreign policymaking. She is also an Editorial and Research Assistant to the Series Editor for Routledge Series on Think Asia; a Young Leader in the 2020 cohort of the Pacific Forum’s Young Leaders Program; a Commissioning Editor with E-International Relations for their Political Economy section; a Member of the Indo-Pacific Circle and a Council Member of the WICCI’s India-EU Business Council. Primarily a China and East Asia scholar, her research focuses on Chinese elite/party politics, the India-China border, water and power politics in the Himalayas, Tibet, the Indo-Pacific and India’s bilateral ties with Europe and Asia. In 2023, she was selected as an Emerging Quad Think Tank Leader, an initiative of the U.S. State Department’s Leaders Lead on Demand program. She co-edited the ORCAxISDP Special Issue "The Dalai Lama's Succession: Strategic Realities of the Tibet Question" and edited the ORCAxWICCI Special Issue "Building the Future of EU-India Strategic Partnership: Between Trade, Technology, Security and China." She can be reached on

Subscribe now to our newsletter !

Get a daily dose of local and national news from China, top trends in Chinese social media and what it means for India and the region at large.

Please enter your name.
Looks good.
Please enter a valid email address.
Looks good.
Please accept the terms to continue.