BEIJING (Reuters Life!) - China does not keep track of the Dalai Lama's birthday, which fell on Tuesday, preferring to remember the date of Tibet's "peaceful liberation" and "serf emancipation day", a government spokesman said.
The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, now 75, has had health problems in recent years which have been closely followed by both exiles and the Chinese government, because of uncertainty about who will succeed him.
Beijing claims a historical right to final approval of any reincarnation of the Dalai Lama and other senior Tibetan religious figures, which is disputed by exiles.
But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said he was not keeping track of the Dalai Lama's age, and suggested people devote themselves to remembering other landmarks.
"I can only remember two dates," said Qin, when asked about the Dalai Lama's birthday.
"One is March 28, 1951, which was the day of Tibet's peaceful liberation; the other is May 23, 1959, when Tibet began its democratic reforms, and which we now call Serf Emancipation Day," he added. "Please remember to keep these two dates in mind." Chinese Communist troops marched into Tibet in 1950. The Dalai Lama fled in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, and has since campaigned for self-rule from exile.
China's Communist Party-run government says that Tibet has historically belonged to China, and it is spending generously there to develop a poor remote area. Officials accuse the Dalai Lama of fanning a violent campaign for separatism.
The Dalai Lama denies China's charges against him, and says he only seeks more meaningful autonomy for Tibet. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard, editing by Paul Casciato)