The Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, says he is considering breaking with centuries of tradition and naming his own successor.
The Dalai Lama says Tibet would reject a Chinese-picked successor
Usually, following the death of a Dalai Lama, senior Tibetan Buddhist officials, guided by dreams and signs, identify a young child to succeed him.
But the Dalai Lama said he feared China would try to influence this process.
He said he was considering whether his successor should be picked by him, or elected by high ranking Buddhist monks.
"If the Tibetan people want to keep the Dalai Lama system, one of the possibilities I have been considering with my aides is to select the next Dalai Lama while I'm alive," he told the Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun during a visit to Japan.
Tibetans are concerned over what will happen when the 72-year-old Dalai Lama dies, fearing that Beijing will try to take control of the succession.
"If China selected my successor after my death, the people of Tibet would not support him as there would be no Tibetan heart in him," he said.
Beijing claims sovereignty over Tibet, which it has controlled since invading in 1950. However, many Tibetans remain loyal to the Dalai Lama, who fled in 1959.
China has opposed his involvement in politics, viewing him as a separatist, and has intervened before.
When he picked a six-year-old boy to be the second most important figure in Tibetan Buddhism - the Panchen Lama - China detained the boy and selected a replacement who was loyal to Chinese rule.
Beijing has denounced the Dalai Lama's many foreign trips, including recent visits to the US, Germany, and now Japan.
It says he should stay out of politics and restrict himself to a religious role.
Buddhists believe the current Dalai Lama is the reincarnation of his predecessors.
He was identified by a search party of High Lamas that scoured rural Tibet looking for a child born around the same time as the previous Dalai Lama died.
As a young child he successfully identified the prayer beads and relics that belonged to his predecessor.
The Dalai Lama has always said if he were reborn it would not be in a country ruled by China or anywhere that was not free.