Dalai Lama visits the US for medical checkup, no plans to meet world leaders gathering for UN

The Dalai Lama during a news conference on Sept 14, 2015.
The Dalai Lama during a news conference on Sept 14, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama was in the United States for a medical checkup on Thursday, and he had no plans to meet world leaders gathering in New York for the annual United Nations general assembly, officials at his office in India said.

The Nobel Peace Laureate is not ill, but was going to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, for a yearly health checkup, his secretary Tenzin Taklha said in an email.

Who the Dalai Lama meets is a sensitive issue for Beijing.

China's President Xi Jinping is also in the United States, where he will make his UN debut as China's leader.

The Dalai Lama's trip also coincides with the visit of Pope Francis, who met President Barack Obama and is scheduled to address the United Nations on Friday.

China has ruled Tibet with an iron fist since Communist troops took over the region in 1950. Beijing regards the Dalai Lama, who fled into exile in India in 1959, as a dangerous separatist who wants an independent Tibet.

The Dalai Lama has repeatedly refuted those claims and has advocated for seeking greater autonomy for Tibet within China through dialogue with Beijing.

During a visit to London earlier this week, the spiritual leader waded into controversy when he told a BBC journalist during an interview that if his successor were to be a woman, she should be "attractive", or it would be of little use.

Tibetan Buddhism holds that the soul of a senior lama is reincarnated in the body of a child on his death.

"He never meant any offence to anybody," said Mr Chhime R. Chhoekyapa, also a secretary in the India office. "At first sight, if somebody (looks) smart, it immediately brings attention, isn't it? It is as simple as that."

He added: "His command over English is very limited, like of all us, so that is something that people should understand."