BEIJING (AFP) - China's choice as one of the most important figures in the Tibetan religious hierarchy has been given his first political appointment, state media said today.
China enthroned Sonam Phuntsok in 2000 as the seventh Reting Rinpoche, a line of figures who have traditionally taken charge between the death of Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and the identification of his successor.
His selection was seen as an attempt by Beijing to increase its control over reincarnations of Tibetan lamas and to legitimise its rule over the region, with monks at the Reting monastery protesting at the time.
Now, as Tibet is roiled by ethnic tensions, the 16-year-old teenager has become the youngest member of the Tibet Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the China Daily said, and has pledged to uphold "patriotism".
The CPPCC is a nominated advisory body which plays a key role in policy debate in China and officially performs "democratic supervision" of the ruling party.
In an interview with the state-run newspaper following his appointment, the teenager was quoted as saying he would "keep the Reting lineage of patriotism and the love for the religion".
The newspaper listed his interests as learning languages, surfing the Internet and posting on his online blog.
"I have more than 5,000 fans. I talk about Buddhism with people online quite often," he was quoted as saying.
There was no mention of the Dalai Lama in the article and his latest blog post was quoted as saying: "Don't care about who is the leader, but care about who treats the people well." The China Daily interview ran in a prominent position on page three, at a time when nearly 100 Tibetans have set fire to themselves since 2009 in protest against the Chinese government.
Beijing blames the self-immolations on separatist forces and the Dalai Lama, accusing the Nobel laureate of inciting the acts.