DHARMSALA, India — The exiled Tibetan government said it saw no cause for celebrating 50 years since China formed the Tibetan Autonomous Region, insisting that Tuesday instead marked a half-century of occupation and control over the once-independent Himalayan kingdom.
It also warned China against proceeding with its plans to choose the next Dalai Lama from inside China, home to some 5.4 million Tibetans, when the present spiritual leader dies.
The Tibetan government-in-exile issued the statement as China was reveling in lavish celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of Japan's World War II defeat. Earlier this year, China released a military strategy statement again declaring Tibet has been an integral part of China since antiquity.
The exiled Tibetan community's elected prime minister, Lobsang Sangay, flatly denied the claim, and warned that such a position would pit China against millions worldwide who support the Dalai Lama and other Tibetans forced to flee in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
"Tibet was an independent country, and Tibet is under occupation today," said Sangay, who was elected prime minister in 2011 by some 150,000 exiles after the Dalai Lama abdicated political duties in favor of focusing on his role as Tibetan Buddhism's spiritual leader.
Tibetan Buddhists believe the Dalai Lama himself choses his own successor through reincarnation. The next Dalai Lama, who would be the 15th incarnation over some 500 years, would then reveal himself to monks and oracles. The current Dalai Lama has downplayed expectations, however, saying he could even be the last of his line.
"The pushback will not only come from the Tibetan people, but from millions of Buddhists who traditionally share Tibet's spiritual heritage and millions more in the rest of the world who have benefited from the teachings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama," the statement said.
The current Dalai Lama was enthroned when Tibet was a feudal Himalayan kingdom that remained deeply isolated until well into the 20th century.