China has said that any successor to the Dalai Lama should be chosen from within the country and India’s interference in the matter will affect bilateral ties, Hindustan Times reported on Monday.

“There are established historical institutions and formalities for the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama and the position of the Chinese government is clear cut and resolute,” said Wang Neng Sheng, director general of the People’s Government Information Office of the Tibet Autonomous Region of China. Wang, who is an official with the rank of vice minister, made the statement on July 8 to a group of Indian journalists who were invited for a tour of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

“[The Dalai Lama’s] reincarnation will not be decided by his personal wish or some group of people living in other countries,” Wang said. “The current Dalai Lama was recognised by Beijing and his successor must be found through the ‘draw of lots in golden urn process’ within China,” PTI quoted Wang as saying. The official said the Dalai Lama does not have a legal status without recognition by the Chinese government.

According to Tibetan tradition, the Dalai Lama reincarnates after his death – and the new person is appointed his successor. China, however, claims the next spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism has to be approved by its government. In March, the Dalai Lama had said it was possible his successor could be found in India after his death. He had also warned that a successor chosen by China would not be respected.

Wang, however, said religion “can’t interfere in politics, justice, administration and education” and that “religions in China must be independent from foreign influence”.

Zha Luo, director of the Beijing-based China Tibetology Research Centre, told Indian journalists that if India formally recognises any successor to the Dalai Lama who has not been accepted by China, it will become a political difference between the two countries “that would affect bilateral relations”.

When asked what would happen if India refuses to recognise the next Dalai Lama chosen by China, Zha said: “Since the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama is an important issue for China, any friendly country or friend of China would not interfere or meddle on the issue.” Zha, however, called it a hypothetical answer to a hypothetical question.