President Xi Jinping is back in Beijing from an “inspection tour” of Central and Southern Tibet. He went to Lhasa after a gap of ten years, though he had visited Amdo—one of the three provinces of Tibet and where the Dalai Lama was born and Sikyiong Pempa Tsering originates from—in June this year.
An interesting aspect of the visit is that “unofficial” videos of Xi Jinping at Barkhor Street, being greeted by “cheering” crowds, were leaked a day before the official announcement of Xi’s presence in Tibet.
The purpose of the well-orchestrated leakage was obviously to show the world — and India — that all is stable and well in Tibet. But the videos were too obviously stage-managed to be credible as expressing the Tibetans’ genuine love for Xi Jinping. The other places visited by Xi were strictly restricted and high security could be seen everywhere.
It probably means that all is not too well in Tibet, and all this has serious implications for India.
Members of Xi's Delegation to Tibet
A glance at Xi’s delegation gives away the general purpose of the visit. It is, therefore, necessary to look at the list of those who made the trip from Beijing with the President. It is also important to note Xi’s hosts in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and the generals, including those who came from Chengdu to attend the encounter between Chairman Xi and the Tibet Military District’s officers.
Let us remember that Xi is the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC), President of the People’s Republic of China and Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC). Each attending official had undoubtedly been selected for a purpose.
Ding Xuexiang usually accompanies Xi on his visits/inspection tours. He is the CPC’s General Secretary and a member of the Politburo. Concurrently, he is Secretary of the Party Secretariat and Director of the National Security Commission. In other words, he is an indispensable official to keep a close liaison with the Communist Party.
Next is Liu He, a member of the Politburo and Vice-Premier. Liu is also the director of the Central Financial and Economic Affairs Commission; he heads the Financial Stability and Development Committee. He is a trusted lieutenant of Xi and usually accompanies him on his visits/inspection tours, being responsible for the funding of the new projects, such as the new railway line between Lhasa and Nyingchi, which Xi used to travel to the Tibetan capital.
Yang Xiaodu is the Director of the National Supervisory Commission and a member of the Politburo. He is also Deputy Secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), which means that he is the one who catches errant cadres and officials. Interestingly, Yang served in Tibet during his early career first as a Deputy Commissioner in Nagchu Prefecture (1986-1992), then Deputy Secretary of Chamdo Prefecture (1992-1995), and finally as Vice-Chairman of the TAR government (1998-2001). His knowledge of Tibet was unquestionably useful to Xi.
Gen Zhang Youxia is Vice-Chairman, Central Military Commission and a member of the Politburo. His presence is explained by the “important” meeting between Xi and hundreds of officers of the Tibet Military District (TMD).
Each member of Xi’s entourage brought specific expertise that will help Beijing further tighten the screw on the Tibetans and “develop” Tibet, particularly the infrastructure
Chen Xi is head of the CPC’s Organization Department, a member of the Politburo, and President of the Central Party School. He had earlier served as a Vice-Minister of Education and Vice Chairman of the China Association for Science and Technology. In other words, he knows the Communist ideology at his fingertips, which is something useful for Tibet. Further, he is a graduate from the Tsinghua University like Xi Jinping, and they know each other since that time.
He Lifeng is the Minister-in-charge of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), which is similar to the Planning Commission in India. His presence is explained by a number of large projects, including the railway line between Lhasa and Chengdu and the soon-to-be-undertaken hydropower plants on the Yarlung Tsangpo river. The last is a project that should worry India, as it ends near the frontier of the Upper Siang District of Arunachal Pradesh.
Each member of Xi’s entourage brought specific expertise that will help Beijing further tighten the screw on the Tibetans and “develop” Tibet, particularly the infrastructure.
Delegation From the WTC
As serious as it may be for India, Xi Jinping met the top brass of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) stationed in Tibet, including a large number of lieutenant and major generals.
Gen Xu Qiling, the newly promoted Commander of the Western Theatre Command (WTC) based in Chengdu and Gen Li Fengbiao, his Political Commissar, both overlooking the Tibet and Xinjiang fronts (particularly Ladakh), had come to meet the Chairman.
In his speech, Xi did not mention the borders with India, but several issues may have come up during a closed meeting — it is important to note that Xi had toured the Indian border the previous day.
The strategic importance of several new infrastructure projects, such as three new airports in Lhuntse (north of Arunachal Pradesh), Purang (at the trijunction Tibet-Nepal-India) and Tingri (north of Nepal) and the new railway line between Lhasa and Chengdu (Sichuan), were certainly presented to Xi. The PLA’s efforts to recruit more Tibetans to match the Special Frontier Force, which is composed of Tibetans serving under the Indian Army, may also have been highlighted. In the months to come, new developments will certainly take place, and they should be watched.
The visit of the Chairman was certainly a great morale booster for the Chinese officers and troops posted on the plateau; the message was, “The Chairman cares for you”.
The PLA Tibet Military District (TMD) delegation was led by Lt Gen Zhang Xuejie, the Political Commissar, and Lt Gen Wang Kai, the Commander, with two Tibetan major generals in attendance.
Who Received Xi Jinping in Tibet?
Wu Yingjie, Secretary of the Party Committee of Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), a member of the CPC’s Central Committee and the senior-most Chinese cadre officiating in Tibet, accompanied Xi during the entire visit.
Lobsang Gyaltsen, number-two in TAR, is a Tibetan who is TAR Deputy Secretary and Director of the Regional People’s Congress. He was rarely seen, except during the cultural performance on July 22 evening.
Che Dalha is number-three in TAR, a Tibetan, and Chairman (Governor) of the TAR government. He is also a member of the Central Committee. He was with the President during the entire visit.
Xi Jinping wanted to be seen with Tibetan cadres to prove that the TAR enjoys some sort of autonomy. Unfortunately in day-to-day affairs, that is not the case
Yan Jinhai, also a Tibetan Deputy Secretary, was seen at Barkhor Street, at the Potala Square and at Drepung monastery.
Danko, the Minister of the United Front Work Department received Xi Jinping in Drepung monastery.
Clearly, Xi wanted to be seen with Tibetan cadres to prove that the TAR enjoys some sort of autonomy. Unfortunately in day-to-day affairs, that is not the case.
'Red Cadres' of Tibet Given Prominence
Another important trait of the tour was the fact that some Tibetan Red Cadres were given prominence during the cultural performance and were offered a seat near Xi, who seems to have a strong nostalgia for the Mao days.
Pasang’s rise to the top dates from the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution; she came into prominence in May 1966, when she wrote an article in The People's Daily praising Mao Zedong’s thought. In 1969, when the TAR Revolutionary Committee was established to replace the regional government, she was elected Vice-Chairperson. In 1971, she was made a Deputy Secretary in the TAR Party Committee, a position she held until her retirement in 2002.
Legchok was born in Gyantse in 1944. He joined the Communist Party of China in 1972. He was the Chairman of the TAR government between 1998 and 2004, and from 2003 to 2010, he was the Chairman of the TAR Congress. On July 1 this year, he was awarded the “Commemorative Medal of the Glorious 100 Years of the Party” by Wu Yingjie.
Phakpalha Delek Namgyal, an incarnate Lama, is popularly known as Chamdo Phakpalha. Though born in Lithang (Kham province), he was recognised as the Head Lama of the Galden Jampaling Monastery in Chamdo. The Rinpoche has been supporting the Communist regime for more than 65 years. Phakpalha is presently a Vice-Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and the Honorary President of the Buddhist Association of China. He also formerly served as a Vice-Chairman of the National People's Congress.
Born in December 1942 in Lhasa, Samding Dorje Phagmo, is the highest female reincarnation in Tibet. She is presently Deputy Director of the Standing Committee of the People’s Congress of the TAR and Vice-Chairperson of the All-China Women’s Federation.
People Missing in Action
The most prominent member of the Politburo that one would have expected to be present was Hu Chunhua, who was at one time Xi’s heir apparent. Hu is also Vice-Premier. He served in the TAR from 1983 to 2007 and is the only member of the Politburo who speaks Tibetan fluently. Why was he not on board for the visit?
Simply because he was looking after a toilet project. Xinhua reported on the same day, “The National Rural Toilet Revolution Conference was held in Hengyang, Hunan. The meeting learned from important instructions from Xi Jinping. Hu Chunhua attended the meeting and delivered a speech. He emphasised that it is necessary to earnestly study … and take the rural toilet revolution as an important work for rural revitalisation.”
Another important absence was that of Gyaltsen Norbu, the Chinese-selected (and rejected by Dharamsala) 11th Panchen Lama. He is the head of the Buddhist Association of Tibet and a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). It appears that Gyaltsen was preaching in the Gansu province. Why was he not invited? Why did he not take the Chinese President to Drepung or other religious places in Lhasa? It appears that he may not be in the good books of the Beijing leadership.
All this tends to show that though for Chinese propaganda the visit was a great success, from the Indian perspective, it might not have been so. as Many aspects, including the discussions regarding the Indian border, have remained hidden. This does not augur well for the Tibetan refugees in India and the defence of the borders in the Northeast and in the other sectors. India needs to take appropriate measures to tackle these issues.
(Claude Arpi, journalist and historian, is the director of the Pavilion of Tibetan Culture at Auroville. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the authors’ own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)