China said on Monday that any successor chosen by the Dalai Lama would be "illegal" after the Tibetan spiritual leader announced that he, and not Beijing, would decide whether he should be reincarnated.
The Dalai Lama, who is 76, said on Saturday he would decide when he was "about 90" whether he should be reincarnated, in consultation with other monks, and that China should have no say in the matter.
Under Tibetan tradition, monks identify a young boy who shows signs he is a reincarnation of a late leader, but many predict China will simply appoint its own successor to the Dalai Lama.
"China adopts a policy of religious freedom which includes respecting and protecting the form of succession of Tibetan Buddhism," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told journalists at a briefing.
"The title of Dalai Lama is conferred by the central government and is illegal otherwise.
"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."