The Exiled Tibetan government on Tuesday released a video of politicians around the world wishing Tibet’s Panchen Lama – who has been missing since he was a boy – a happy 28th birthday.

The Panchen Lama is the second highest Tibetan spiritual leader, after the Dalai Lama. Only six years old at the time, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was named as the 11th Panchen Lama by the Dalai Lama in 1995 and detained by Chinese authorities, along with his family, soon after his appointment. The government selected its own 11th Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu, in the same year.

Gedhun Choekyi Nyima
Gedhun Choekyi Nyima. Photo: Screenshot.

“The world misses him and wishes to have him back in the free world,” the video said. It contained greetings from politicians and ex-politicians from India, France, Switzerland, Australia, Italy, and Canada – including Arno Kompatscher, governor of the semi-autonomous region of South Tyrol in Italy, and Consiglio Di Nino, a retired Canadian senator.

Chinese officials said in 2015 that Gedhun Choekyi Nyima has attended school, is “living a normal life” and does not want to be disturbed.

YouTube video

Tibet has been under Chinese control since the 1950s. Beijing claims that Tibetans enjoy extensive freedoms and has long denied accusations of political and religious repression. The current Dalai Lama was exiled in 1959 after a failed uprising against the Chinese occupation.

The occasion of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima’s 28th birthday was marked by groups in Dharamsala, India – the location of the exiled Central Tibetan Administration – with commemorative events, according to US-backed Radio Free Asia.

Tsering Tsomo, the executive director of the NGO Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, told RFA at a seminar held by the Tibetan Women’s Association on Tuesday: “The Panchen Lama is already 28 years old, but why is the Chinese government still hiding him? If what the Chinese authorities said about the Panchen Lama ‘receiving an education like other children, and growing up healthily,’ is true, then they should reveal his whereabouts to the world.”

The Dalai Lama and the Chinese government have long disagreed on who has the authority to appoint the next Tibetan leader. Traditionally, the Panchen Lama is partly responsible for finding the next incarnation of the Dalai Lama – and vice versa. But the officially atheist Communist Party maintains that they have the sole authority to made the decision about the reincarnation.

The appointment of two different leaders could split Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama’s death.

The 81-year-old Dalai Lama, who Chinese authorities see as a dangerous separatist, has not given a definite answer with regards to the question of his succession. He said it is possible that he may be the last Dalai Lama. He also said that he may be reincarnated outside Chinese Tibet.

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.