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By Associated Press

GAUHATI, India — The exiled Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader has said the next Dalai Lama could be a woman.

On Saturday during a visit to the northeast Indian town of Tawang — the second-highest seat of Tibetan Buddhism — the Dalai Lama also said that it's up to his followers to decide whether his office exists in the future.

He denied that he had any knowledge of where his successor would be born and when asked if the next Dalai Lama could be a woman, he said, "that might also happen."

The question of who will replace the 81-year-old spiritual leader has gained significance in recent years, with Beijing insisting that the next Dalai Lama be born in China.

Exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama arrives to deliver teachings in Tawang, in the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh on Saturday.Tenzin Choejor / AP

On Saturday, the Tibetan leader said the people should decide on the question of the next Dalai Lama.

"They will decide whether the tradition continues or not," he told reporters in Tawang, located in India's remote northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh.

The Dalai Lama is on a weeklong visit to Arunachal Pradesh despite objections by China, which considers the state a disputed region.

On China's claim on the next Dalai Lama, he said, "Let China first come clear on its theory on rebirth."

The Dalai Lama said that he has nothing to do with "politics," and that it was the Tibetan self-declared government-in-exile that handled all political matters, including the Tibetan cause.

"I retired from politics in 2011 and all political matters are handled by our government-in-exile," he said. "However, I am committed to promote and preserve Tibetan culture and ecology."

The Dalai Lama and his followers have been living in exile in the Himalayan town of Dharamsala in northern India since they fled Tibet after a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule.

China doesn't recognize the Tibetan government-in-exile, and hasn't held any dialogue with the representatives of the Dalai Lama since 2010.

China says Tibet has historically been part of its territory since the mid-13th century, and the Communist Party has governed the Himalayan region since 1951. But many Tibetans say that they were effectively independent for most of their history, and that the Chinese government wants to exploit their resource-rich region while crushing their cultural identity.

In Tawang, thousands of people thronged both sides of the road Saturday and broke into loud cheers and waved prayer flags as the Dalai Lama's motorcade entered a stadium where he addressed his followers.