Beijing, China (CNN)
-- Until recently, he had rarely appeared in public. But now, he has been named to China's top advisory body.
The appointment of the 11th Panchen Lama, the second highest Tibetan spiritual figure, to the Chinese People's Consultative Conference is largely symbolic. But it's politically significant.
When the advisory group's annual conference convened Wednesday, the focus turned to the 19-year-old bespectacled Tibetan monk who appeared among 2,000 politicians, religious leaders, businessmen, academics and celebrities.
The gathering is the government's attempt to showcase China's multi-ethnic national unity. Delegates meet in Beijing every year to discuss government reports, deliberate members' proposals and endorse government policies.
Beijing's critics, however, say that the inclusion of the Panchen Lama at the annual meeting is part of a stepped up effort to undermine the popularity of Tibet's exiled leader, the Dalai Lama.
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