China says Dalai Lama appointee who disappeared is living ‘normal life’

Tibetans holding portraits of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima during a 1995 demonstration in New Delhi in 1995. (Twitter pic/freetibetorg)

BEIJING: A child who disappeared 25 years ago after being appointed as a Tibetan Buddhist leader by the Dalai Lama is now living a “normal life” after graduating from university, China said Tuesday following calls by the US to reveal his location.

The Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in India and enjoys a wide global following, in May 1995 identified Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, the second most senior figure in Tibetan Buddhism’s largest school.

The six-year-old boy was taken into custody three days later and has not been seen since, with human rights groups calling him the world’s youngest political prisoner.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday demanded that China “immediately” reveal his whereabouts.

“Tibetan Buddhists, like members of all faith communities, must be able to select, educate and venerate their religious leaders according to their traditions and without government interference,” Pompeo said in a statement.

China’s foreign ministry said Gedhun Choekyi Nyima had received “national compulsory education” before entering university, and that he and his family “don’t wish for outsiders to interfere in their normal lives”, in a rare statement.

“He has already started working,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a regular press briefing.

Zhao warned the US against “using Tibet matters to interfere in China’s internal affairs”.

Beijing appointed its own Panchen Lama, who has made a number of tightly scripted public appearances, even though many Tibetans do not recognise him.

China’s officially atheist government has made clear it could seek to name a successor to the 84-year-old Dalai Lama, whose charisma has brought global attention to Tibet for decades.