To date, there have been a total of 14 Dalai Lamas over a period of 700 years. Each time the current spiritual leader of Tibet dies, he is reincarnated into a young child who is then groomed to be the next Dalai Lama. This follows the Buddhist belief that all life is cyclical and everlasting. Except the current Dalai Lama, now 80 years old, says he may choose not reincarnate this time.
Given Tibet's political situation with China, this might be the only available option to him. China now wants to take part in the process of identifying the newly reincarnated Dalai Lama. This is because they want to raise the child to support the Chinese narrative of Tibet. They would then use the new Dalai Lama to help deny Tibet's quest for independence from China. However, if the Dalai Lama does not reincarnate then China won't be able to go through with this plan. This is why Chinese officials are infuriated by the Dalai Lama's decision, and have ordered him to reincarnate.
The absurdity in all of this is evident, especially because the Chinese government is officially atheist. They know this is one way they can have great influence over the Tibetan people. The Dalai Lama was made aware of China's extreme political power over Tibet in 1995 when he chose a young boy to accept a high position within Buddhism. China disagreed with his choice, chose another boy instead, and took the original boy into custody. 20 years later that boy is still missing.
For the Dalai Lama, choosing not to reincarnate is means changing something incredibly sacred to the Tibetan people. Yet he knows it might be the only way he can change the tremendous power China has over his country.
Watch more Seeker:
Why Iceland Is Building A Temple To Thor
Read more on the Dalai Lama:
LA Times: Why the Dalai Lama says reincarnation might not be for him
Independent: Dalai Lama says he might not be born again