BEIJING (Reuters) - Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama has ridiculed China's Communist Party for wanting to control his reincarnation, saying the government is "pretending" to know more about the system than he does, the New York Times reported on Thursday.
Tibetans fear that the Chinese government will use the issue of the Dalai Lama's succession to split Tibetan Buddhism, with one new Dalai Lama named by exiles and one by the government after his death.
The Dalai Lama's comments are likely to draw an angry response from China.
"The Chinese Communist Party is pretending that they know more about the reincarnation system than the Dalai Lama," the Dalai Lama, who recently turned 80, told the New York Times in an interview.
Tibetan Buddhism holds that the soul of a senior lama is reincarnated in the body of a child on his death. China says the tradition must continue and it must approve the next Dalai Lama.
However, the Dalai Lama has said he thinks the title could end when he dies.
Chinese officials, however, have stressed that the government must approve the next Dalai Lama and the current Dalai Lama has no right to abandon reincarnation.
China, which regards the Dalai Lama as a dangerous separatist, has ruled Tibet with an iron fist since Communist troops took over the region in 1950.
The Dalai Lama fled into exile in India in 1959 after an abortive uprising against Chinese rule.
The Nobel Peace laureate said his biggest concern was that China would name the next Dalai Lama, saying "the precedent has been set", the New York Times said.
In 1995, after the Dalai Lama named a boy in Tibet as the reincarnation of the previous Panchen Lama, the second highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism, China put the boy under house arrest and installed another in his place.
Many Tibetans spurn the Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama as a fake.
The Dalai Lama "hinted that he would hold some kind of referendum among Tibetan exiles, and consultations among Tibetans within China" about his succession, saying the issue would be formally resolved around his 90th birthday, the newspaper said.
The Dalai Lama praised Chinese President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign, the newspaper said. He also said Xi's mother was "very religious, a very devout Buddhist," and noted Xi himself had spoken positively of Buddhism.
(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Robert Birsel)