China’s top leaders met in Beijing last week to determine Tibet policy for the 21st century prior to tomorrow’s 40th anniversary of the foundation of the Tibet Autonomous Region by the PRC. The closed meeting of the Politburo, presided over by Party Secretary and President Hu Jintao, stressed the importance of eliminating ‘separatism’ and accelerating economic development in Tibet. The direction of policies expressed at the meeting indicates a continued emphasis on hardline policies against Tibetan culture and religion, and the further assimilation of Tibet into the wider Chinese economic and cultural model.

A delegation of 52 senior Chinese and Tibetan officials arrived in Lhasa on Saturday (27 August) for the formal commemoration of the anniversary on 1 September, which represents a significant opportunity for Beijing to demonstrate its own representation of Tibetan autonomy and the PRC’s ownership of Tibetan areas.

Security in Lhasa has been tightened prior to the anniversary, with reports that armed police and soldiers have been increasingly visible on the streets of Lhasa in recent weeks.

Limited reports that have emerged of the high-level meeting in Beijing prior to tomorrow’s anniversary indicate the Party’s determination to consolidate control over Tibetan areas and increase the pace of economic development in the region, which has led to the increasing marginalization of Tibetans and a further influx of Chinese workers into Tibet. During the meeting, the Chinese government also reiterated the importance of opposing “separatist” (pro-independence) activities and confirmed the importance of their policies on religion. Measures to implement religious policy have been particularly harsh in Tibet because Tibetan Buddhism continues to be an integral element of Tibetan identity, and is often perceived by the Party as a threat to the authority of the state and unity of the PRC.

The ceremony to mark the anniversary tomorrow in Lhasa will be attended by a delegation of senior leaders led by Jia Qinglin, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People?s Political Consultative Conference. Many of the leaders have important Tibet connections and are involved in Tibet policy work. Zhou Yongkang, a member of the Politburo, was well-known for presiding over aggressive security policies in Sichuan province before his transfer to Beijing as chief of Public Security in China. Zhou was in charge of Sichuan at the time of the arrest on bombing charges of respected Buddhist teacher Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, now serving life imprisonment. Liu Yandong, head of the United Front Work Department in Beijing, and the senior Chinese official currently engaged in dialogue with the Dalai Lama?s envoys, is also in Lhasa this week. Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, has reported that Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing will also be at the anniversary celebration, to be held in the newly-revamped Potala Square.

Tibetans who are required to attend the ceremony tomorrow in Lhasa are given detailed instructions of what traditional Tibetan clothes to wear. It is normal in the buildup to such occasions for officials to threaten withdrawal of Tibetans’ pensions or pay if they do not attend.

The meeting of the Politburo on 26 August led by Hu Jintao concluded that “Tibet work holds an important place in the overall work of the Party and state” (Xinhua in Chinese, 26 August). The meeting emphasized that the Party “must resolutely oppose all kinds of separatists and sabotage activities, and uphold the motherland?s unity and Tibet’s stability”.

Politburo leaders fail to reflect economic reality

“Economic construction” was named as the “central task” of Tibet work, with the meeting stating that Tibet is now developing from “speeding up” development to developing “by leaps and bounds”. But even official Chinese statistics state that Tibetans are suffering from the highest poverty rates in the People’s Republic of China, the highest rural-urban inequality and by far the worst education indicators (see report at here). Analysis of the economy in Tibet shows that the main area of growth is in the administrative apparatus of the state, government and Party agencies, indicating that an expansion of the control apparatus of the state is seen as an essential pre-condition to the spending and investment under the fast-track economic policies currently being pursued in Tibet.

The Tibet Autonomous Region was formally founded at the First Session of the People?s Congress of the Autonomous Region on 1 September 1965. Since the establishment of the PRC, the Communist Party had agreed to set up Autonomous Regions in areas where the minority groups constituted a substantial percentage of the population, in keeping with Article Three of the 17-Point Agreement signed in Beijing in 1951, which had promised that ?the Tibetan people have the right to exercise national autonomy under the unified leadership of the Central People?s Government”.

The setting up of the TAR was only possible following the suppression of opposition in Tibet to Chinese rule five years after the Lhasa Uprising of 1959, the Chinese had managed to create a completely new administrative structure for control of central Tibet. According to historian Tsering Shakya, “The setting up of the TAR marked the final integration of Tibet” (“The Dragon in the Land of Snows: A History of Modern Tibet since 1947”, Columbia University Press 1999).

According to Xinhua, the meeting of the Politburo on 26 August led by Hu Jintao and held on the eve of tomorrow?s anniversary stated that ?the regional autonomy system has been continually consolidated and perfected? and that “it is necessary to seriously make a success of the celebrations for the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Tibet Autonomous Region”.

Revisions to the Regional National Autonomy Law in recent years by the Chinese authorities make little mention of the exercise of regional autonomy, and strengthen the rights of the state as opposed to those of Tibetans.

In proposing a “genuine autonomy” for Tibet, the Dalai Lama has proposed not to discard the system of autonomy for Tibetan areas, but to improve it.

The Politburo meeting makes it clear that the two main strands of Beijing’s Tibet policy will continue to be economic development and “social stability”, aimed at increasing central control by pursuing a policy of greater assimilation of Tibet into a “unified” Chinese state. The planned economic development is aimed at further integrating Tibet into the Chinese economy, while also providing greater cultural assimilation as a result of increasing migration and the importation of people, ideals and models from China. It is openly acknowledged by the authorities that the economic development of Tibet is a political as well as an economic issue, and lies at the centre of attempts to maintain “stability”.

Beijing’s current drive to develop Tibet, combined with the increasing influx of Chinese migrants into urban Tibetan areas, has led to increasing exclusion of the indigenous Tibetan population in the development of their land, and is a significant threat to the survival of the Tibetan culture and religion.