Born Gyancain Norbu, he was handpicked by the Chinese government as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama and has largely lived in seclusion in Beijing, tutored by Tibetan and Chinese mentors.
He now is being positioned as the representative of Tibetan Buddhism.
Last month, he was elected vice president of the Buddhist Association of China and at its recent conference, he said he "would uphold the leadership of the Communist Party of China, adhere to socialism, safeguard national reunification, strengthen ethnic unity and expand Buddhist exchanges on the basis of adherence to law and love for the nation and Buddhism," the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Comments like those further fueled questions of his legitimacy among Tibetans. The Dalai Lama's Web site says the Chinese-named Panchen Lama is "spurned" by most Tibetans.
The Dalai Lama, sent into exile in India after an aborted rebellion against Chinese rule, says he would like to see greater autonomy for the Tibetan people. But Beijing considers him a separatist.
In 1995, the Dalai Lama anointed another boy of the same age as Norbu, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, as the latest reincarnation of the Panchen Lama. But he disappeared shortly afterwards.
Suspicions that the boy had been kidnapped were heightened in May 1996 when the Chinese leadership admitted to holding him and his family in "protective custody." Pro-Tibet groups labeled him as the world's youngest political prisoner.
China Tibet Online says:
Living Buddhas of Tibetan Buddhism attending the 3rd Session of the 11th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political and Consultative Conference said the 11th Panchen Lama's new membership in the National Committee of CPPCC was a great honor not only for himself but also for the whole Tibetan Buddhism circle.
The 11th Panchen Lama Bainqen Erdini Qoigyijabu was among 13 people who on Feb. 28, 2010 became new members of the National Committee of CPPCC, the country's top advisory body.
Dupkang Tupden Kedup, head of the Tibet Branch of the Buddhist Association of China as well as a member of CPPCC, said the 11th Panchen Lama was well educated in religious knowledge and "had demeanour of a senior living Buddha".
"He asked me many questions. Through his words, I can see a very knowledgable living Buddha both in religious and social aspects," Shinza Tenzin Choeta, who once contacted with the 11th Panchen in 2005, believed that he would become an outstanding religious leader in the future.
"He can speak Chinese and Tibetan languages and is also very good at English." The 11th Panchen Lama impressed people with his fluent English at the Second World Buddhist Forum held on Mar. 28, 2008, in Wuxi, east China's Jiangsu Province.
It would not surprise me if the Chinese-chosen 11th Panchen Lama is indeed very knowledgeable of the Dharma as well as an able practitioner. There are many serious Buddhist clergy in China; and this fact tends to be overlooked in the West where issues of the past regarding China and Tibet often veer into racism.
I have written to the office of the Dalai Lama asking him if, as a Buddhist, he would say he still thinks most Tibetans "spurn" the Chinese-chosen 11th Panchen Lama. Of course how he knew most Tibetans think, or how he thinks he could speak for them reminds me of Republican politicians claiming they know what "Americans" think. I'll publish any reply.
I'll also try to contact the Chinese-chosen 11th Panchen Lama.