Beijing: An angry China on Monday said that any successor chosen by the 14th Dalai Lama would be "illegal", days after the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader asserted that he and not Beijing had the right to identify his next incarnation.

"There is a complete set of religious rituals and historical conventions in reincarnation of the Dalai Lama and a Dalai Lama identifying his own successor has never been the practice," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters here at a briefing.

"The title of Dalai Lama is conferred by the (Chinese) Central government and is illegal otherwise," Hong said, reacting angrily to the Dalai Lama's statement on Saturday on the issue of his succession.

The 76-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winning monk had said that if he is to be reincarnated he will leave clear written instructions about the process.

He said in a statement that when he is "about 90" he will consult Buddhist scholars to evaluate whether the institution of the Dalai Lama should continue at all. In his reaction, Hong said, "China adopts a policy of religious freedom which includes respecting and protecting the form of succession of Tibetan Buddhism."

"The reincarnation of any living Buddha, including the Dalai Lama, should respect the religious rules, historical standards and state laws and regulations," he said.

In 1995, China handpicked its own reincarnation of Panchen Lama, the second-highest ranking Tibetan Buddhist, rejecting the Dalai's Lama choice -- Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, who was detained by Beijing.
 
The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet following a failed uprising against the Communist rule in 1959, had already given up his responsibility as political head and Harvard scholar Lobsang Sangay was in August sworn in as new Prime Minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile based in Dharamshala.

China describes the Dalai as a "separatist" who incites violence in Tibet, while he insists his aim is a peaceful campaign for genuine autonomy for his Himalayan homeland.

(Agencies)