By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing
Communist China has introduced new rules that appear aimed at controlling the selection of the next Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhism's spiritual head.
The Dalai Lama travels the world promoting Tibet's cause
Most Tibetans believe that eminent monks, such as the Dalai Lama, are reincarnated after death.
China, which governs Tibet, will now have the final say over who can be selected as a reincarnated monk.
The current Dalai Lama is a thorn in China's side, which is probably why it is keen to select his reincarnation.
Seal of approval
Although the new regulations do not mention the Dalai Lama by name, they effectively prevent his followers in exile from choosing his reincarnation.
"No outside organisation or individual will influence or control the reincarnation of living Buddhas [eminent monks]," states one article of the new regulations.
They also say that any reincarnation has to be approved by various levels of government.
In the case of the most pre-eminent monks, who would include the Dalai Lama, China's cabinet has to give its seal of approval.
Officials at China's State Administration for Religious Affairs declined to be interviewed by the BBC about who these new rules are directed against.
But it appears China wants to control the selection of the next Dalai Lama. The current, 14th Dalai Lama, is now 72.
Since he fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, he has travelled the world.
He promotes the idea that Tibetans deserve real autonomy from Beijing.
This annoys China, which claims Tibet has been part of the motherland for eight centuries.
Chinese officials routinely refer to the Dalai Lama as a "splittist" intent on separating Tibet from China, which reasserted its control of the region in 1951.
Tibetans outside China say the new regulations will not affect the selection of next Dalai Lama.
"We believe this ruling by the Chinese government will not go down well with Tibetan monks," says Thubten Samphel, spokesman for the Tibetan government in exile.
He says choosing the child who is a reincarnation of an eminent monk can only be done by an organisation with spiritual authority, and that does not include China's Communist government.
Also, the spokesman, based in Dharamsala, India, says that the Dalai Lama has already said he will be born outside Tibet if he is not allowed to return there during his lifetime.
The new regulations raise the prospect of two Dalai Lamas in the future, a situation that already has a precedent.
When the Dalai Lama selected the 11th Panchen Lama - Tibetan Buddhism's second-most important monk - in 1995, China followed suit by naming its own and placing the Dalai Lama's choice under detention.