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Chinese officials are denying reports that they have imprisoned Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the 6-year-old boy selected by the Dalai Lama as the new Panchen Lama, the second-highest religious leader in Tibet. In an effort to lend legitimacy to its 45-year rule of Tibet, China has unearthed an obscure 1792 agreement they say gives the government, rather than the Dalai Lama, the right to choose the Panchen Lama. Wednesday, the government chose Gynincain Norbu, born six years ago when the 10th Panchen Lama died, as the "legitimate" 11th incarnation of the Panchen Lama. With the Dalai Lama in exile, the Panchen Lama is the chief religious leader in the country, and TIME's Meenakshi Ganguly reports that the battle for his position is one of enormous political significance: "In the absence of a Dalai Lama, the Panchen Lama becomes the spiritual head of the Tibetan community, although he has no political power. What interests China is his religious right to locate the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. The present incarnate is now 60, and they hope that by the time a new search has to begin, Gynincain Norbu would have completed his political education with his Chinese masters. Tibetans worship the Dalai Lama, and one controlled by China would mean an end of the Tibetan struggle for freedom."