The Dalai Lama, who is the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, on Monday said it was possible his successor could be found in India after his death, Reuters reported. The Dalai Lama warned that a successor chosen by China would not be respected.

The 14th Dalai Lama spoke to the news agency a day after Tibetans in Himachal Pradesh’s Dharamshala marked the anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s escape from Tibet’s capital of Lhasa in 1959. He fled to India during the Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule and has since called for linguistic and cultural autonomy in Tibet.

“China considers Dalai Lama’s reincarnation as something very important,” the Dalai Lama said. “They have more concern about the next Dalai Lama than me. In future, in case you see two Dalai Lamas come, one from here, in free country, one chosen by Chinese, then nobody will trust, nobody will respect [the one chosen by China]. So that’s an additional problem for the Chinese! It’s possible, it can happen.”

According to Tibetan tradition, the Dalai Lama reincarnates after his death – and the new person is appointed his successor. China, however, claims it has the authority to decide who succeeds the religious leader. China considers the 14th Dalai Lama to be a separatist promoting an independent Tibetan state.

The Dalai Lama said contact between Tibetans living in their homeland and in exile was increasing. He, however, added that there have been no formal meetings between China and his officials since 2010.

He said the role of the Dalai Lama following his death, including whether to continue having it, could be discussed during a meeting of Tibetan Buddhists in India later this year. “If the majority of [Tibetan people] really want to keep this institution, then this institution will remain,” he said. “Then comes the question of the reincarnation of the 15th Dalai Lama.”

The Dalai Lama said he was not expecting to go to China while it remained under Communist rule. “China – great nation, ancient nation – but its political system is totalitarian system, no freedom,” he said. “So therefore I prefer to remain here, in this country.”

‘Dalai Lama’s successor has to be approved by China’

China, however, rejected the Dalai Lama’s claims saying the next spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism has to be approved by its government. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said reincarnation has fixed rituals and systems in Tibetan Buddhism.

The Chinese government has promulgated the “Regulations on Religious Affairs” and the “Administrative Measures on the Reincarnation of Living Buddhism in Tibetan Buddhism” to protect the inheritance of Tibetan Buddhism, he added.

“The 14th Dalai Lama himself also made a search for the custom according to religious rituals and history, and reported to the then central government to approve the succession,” Geng said at a press briefing. “Therefore, the reincarnation of living Buddhas, including the Dalai Lama, should abide by national laws and regulations, and follow religious rituals and historical customisation.”