November 05, 2017
China's new Politburo Standing Committee members, from left to right: Han Zheng, Wang Huning, Li Zhanshu, Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, Wang Yang and Zhao Leji.
Statements emanating from the recent Chinese Communist party congress suggest a calcified policy in Tibet, thus potentially increasing pressure on India with regard to the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala. The following analysis was written by colleague Jayadeva Ranade, former additional secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, is currently President, Centre for China Analysis and Strategy.
The week-long (October 18 to 24, 2017) 19th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, which was held in Beijing, concluded as anticipated with Xi Jinping emerging considerably stronger.
For those watching the congress for clues as to Xi's policies towards China's ethnic minorities and especially Tibet and Xinjiang, there appears little prospect of any relaxation of controls.
In fact, the emphatic assertions during the congress that China will safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity were reinforced by a letter publicized a couple of days ago and ostensibly written by two Tibetan village girls to Xi during the congress. The girls, Zhoigar and Yangzom, had written describing life in Yumai, Lhunze county, China's smallest town. Xinhua, China's official news agency, reported that Xi replied, asking them 'to set down roots in the border area, safeguard Chinese territory and develop their hometown'.
Saying 'Without peace in the territory, there will be no peaceful lives for the millions of families,' Xi expressed the hope that 'the family would motivate more herders to set down roots in the border area' and become 'guardians of Chinese territory and constructors of a happy hometown'.
Xi's reply, which contained the assurance that the Communist party would look after ethnic minorities, endorsed ongoing efforts by authorities of the Tibet Autonomous Region to co-opt villagers in guarding the border.
While neither Tibet nor the Dalai Lama were specifically mentioned in Xi's lengthy 32,000-character Work Report presented to the congress on October 18, there were repeated references to 'split-ism' and 'separatism'.
China's new and potentially tougher policy on the Tibet issue was, however, spelt out in the course of the congress.
Xinhua reported on October 21 that at a press conference on the sidelines of the congress, Zhang Yijiong -- vice minister of the Communist party central committee's United Front Work Department and its executive deputy head who was promoted at the congress as a full central committee member, reaffirmed China's opposition to the Dalai Lama's visits to foreign countries.
Asserting that 'the 14th Dalai Lama is not only a religious figure, but also a political one,' Zhang made a remark with implications for India.
'After fleeing China in 1959,' Zhang noted, 'he established a so-called government-in-exile, whose goal and core agenda is the independence of Tibet and to separate (from) China. For decades, the group headed by the 14th Dalai Lama has never stopped such attempts.'
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'As head of the group, the 14th Dalai Lama has never stopped his activities in this regard over the past decades,' Zhang added.
The statement suggests potentially increasing pressure on India with regard to the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala.
In an apparent toughening of the current policy, Zhang also warned foreign officials against meeting the Dalai Lama, saying they 'can't get away by saying they were meeting the exiled Tibetan leader in a personal capacity as they still represent their governments'.
Announcing that 'Any country, or any organization of anyone, accepting to meet with the Dalai Lama, in our view, is a major offence to the sentiment of the Chinese people,' Zhang expressed the Chinese government's 'firm opposition' to such meetings, adding, 'We consider such visits as a severe insult to the feelings of the Chinese people.'
Interestingly, amidst reports of restrictions imposed by authorities on the movement and teachings especially by Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns inside China, Zhang observed that Tibetan Buddhism was a special religion 'born in our ancient China. It is a Chinese religion. It didn't come in from the outside.'
Zhang, who worked in the Tibet Autonomous Region from 2006 to 2010 as a deputy party secretary, thus hinted that China's policy towards Tibetan Buddhists would endure.
His remark implicitly pointed to the authority of China's 'patriotic associations' which supervise all religions in China and the Chinese government's authority in religious matters concerning Tibetan Buddhism.
Cadres at the Chinese Communist party's new central committee secretariat and politburo with a background of Tibet affairs will have substantive inputs on China's policy on Tibet.
The secretariat is headed by Wang Huning who has in the past been a member of Tibet Autonomous Region delegations to the National People's Congress and is now a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, China's highest political unit.
Other members are Yang Xiaodu, till recently minister of supervision who served in the Tibet Autonomous Region from 1976 to 2001, and Guo Shengkun who as minister of public security is familiar with the Tibet issue and attended meetings of the leading small work group on Tibet.
Three of the secretariat's members are individuals with a background in security or the military -- Yang Xiaodu, Guo Shengkun and Huang Kunming, indicating a potential bias favouring progressively tougher Communist party controls.
Among others who will influence Tibet policy are Politburo member Chen Quanguo, handpicked by Xi in August 2011 to be Tibet Autonomous Region party secretary and now the party secretary of the Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region; Sun Chunlan who continues as politburo member and heads the United Front Work Department; Zhang Qingli, the central committee who made the infamous remark describing the Dalai Lama as 'a sheep in wolf's clothing and with the heart of a beast'.
Interestingly, while the number of ethnic minorities cadres in the central committee has dropped from 39 in the previous committee to 15 in the current committee, the Tibet Autonomous Region has been granted increased representation in the committee.
Tibet Autonomous Region Party Secretary Wu Yingjie is a full member of the central committee. The number of ethnic Tibetans has also increased with Qi Zhala (Chedak) and Luosang Jiangcun (Lobsang Gyaltsen) both being made full members of the committee.
Chedak or Qi Zhala -- who earlier this year replaced Lobsang Gyaltsen as chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region government and prior to that was party secretary of Lhasa municipality, a position usually occupied by a Han -- is a first-time member of the central committee.
Lobsang Gyaltsen or Luosang Jiangcun is perhaps the senior-most Tibetan in the Chinese Communist Party and is currently chairman of the standing committee of the Tibet Autonomous Region Congress. He was an alternate member of the previous central committee.