China's choice as one of the most important figures in the Tibetan religious hierarchy, aged just 16, has been given his first political appointment, state media said yesterday.
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 teenager has become the youngest member of the Tibet Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, according to China Daily.
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.
Following his appointment, the teenager told the state-run newspaper that he would "keep the Reting lineage of patriotism and the love for the religion".
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."
Beijing blames the self-immolations on separatist forces and the Dalai Lama, accusing the Nobel laureate of inciting the acts.
Many Tibetans accuse the government of religious repression and eroding their culture, as the country's majority Han ethnic group increasingly moves into historically Tibetan areas.
The fifth Reting Rinpoche played an important role in identifying the present Dalai Lama, who was enthroned in 1940, the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said.
Sonam Phuntsok was enthroned as the seventh Reting Rinpoche in 1999.