Choekyi Nyima is living in Tibet with his family, said Raidi, the executive deputy Communist Party secretary of the region in western China. The young man is about 13 years old. "He's living a very happy life," Raidi said in response to a Western reporter's question at a party congress news conference. "He is now 5-feet-3 and weighs 143 pounds. He studies well at school. His parents and entire family are happy," said Raidi, who like some Tibetans uses only one name.
The Chinese government would never have brought up the issue on its own, especially during the high-profile party congress. It scorns the Dalai Lama more than almost any other figure except possibly Taiwan's president. Even discussing the issue makes officials uncomfortable; Raidi's face tightened and he glared at the reporter when the question was translated for him.
The boy, born Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, was one of several identified as being the possible reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama, who died in Tibet under mysterious circumstances in 1988. Hearing that the Chinese were preparing to name a rival candidate, the Dalai Lama named Nyima, then 6, as the true reincarnation on May 14, 1995. The boy disappeared several days later. The Chinese government ordered a group of Tibetan monks to name another boy, Gyaltsen Norbu, as the reincarnation, and installed him at the Panchen Lama's monastery in Tibet.
Norbu was in Beijing for the opening of the party congress. The exact whereabouts of Nyima are not known.
The Dalai Lama fled Tibet after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959 and now lives in exile in Dharmsala, India. Chinese communist forces occupied Tibet in 195,1 and Beijing says the Himalayan region has been Chinese for centuries. The Dalai Lama visited Mongolia last week and held prayer services there, much to the chagrin of the Chinese government, which lodged a complaint with Ulan Bator.
Raidi said the proper procedures were followed for the selection of the Panchen Lama - an odd claim considering his implication that the government can institute procedures for an ancient religious ceremony. "The entire thing has been done in accordance with strict religious rituals," he said.
"This boy," he said, referring to Choekyi Nyima, "was announced as the reincarnation by the Dalai without official approval. His pronouncement is totally null and void."
The Panchen Lama ranks second to the Dalai Lama in Tibetan Buddhism's dominant Gelugpa sect. The 10th Panchen Lama openly criticized China's policies in Tibet in 1962 and was imprisoned for years. China's ruling Communist Party is officially atheist but allows religious expression under close state scrutiny.