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TAWANG, India (Reuters) - Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama said on Saturday the Tibetan people should decide if they wanted to continue with his institution, adding that he wanted to convene a meeting of senior monks this year to start discussing his succession.
China, which brands the Nobel Peace laureate a dangerous separatist, says the tradition must continue and its officially atheist Communist leaders have the right to approve the Dalai Lama's successor, as a legacy inherited from China's emperors.
"Whether this very institution of Dalai Lama should continue or not is up to Tibetan people," the Dalai Lama told a news conference in the remote hill town of Tawang near the Chinese border in India's northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh.
"So, consult people, if people feel now this institution (is) no longer relevant then this institution (will) automatically cease," the 82-year-old said, adding he wanted to start this year "some sort of preliminary discussion" on his succession.
A final decision on the fate of the institution would be taken when he reaches late 80s or 90, the Dalai Lama said.
Tibetan Buddhism holds that the soul of a senior lama, or Buddhist monk, is reincarnated in the body of a child on his death.
The Dalai Lama, who fled into exile in India after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959, denies espousing violence and says he only wants genuine autonomy for Tibet.
His week-long trip to Arunachal Pradesh, an eastern Himalayan region administered by New Delhi, but claimed by China as "southern Tibet", has raised hackles in Beijing.
The Dalai Lama also said he disagreed with U.S. President Donald Trump's "America First" policy and the recent curbs on immigration saying that he admired America as a leader of the free world and expected the country to lead by that example.
The Dalai Lama now resides in the Indian hill town of Dharamsala, where his supporters also run a small government in exile. He has renounced any political role in leading the Tibetan diaspora.
Editing by Devidutta Tripathy and Hugh Lawson