Hu Jintao

Hu Jintao

Several recent national-level appointments on Party committees for Tibetan leaders and the transfer of the former head of Sichuan province to the important post of Minister of Public Security in Beijing are an indication of the Party’s current priorities on Tibet under the new Presidency of Hu Jintao, a former Party Secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).

The new positions coincide with general restructuring and shifts in leadership linked to the National People’s Congress (NPC), the legislature that approved the appointment of China’s new President and Premier. The 13-day session of the NPC closed on March 18 in Beijing.

Several leaders who have held prominent posts in Tibet, including Chen Kuiyuan, who was known for his hardline policies on Tibetan culture and religion during his tenure as Party Secretary of the region, have been rewarded for their loyalty to the Party with positions on the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and other committees. Zhou Yongkang, who was well-known for presiding over aggressive security policies in Sichuan and was in charge of the province at the time of the arrests and sentencing to death of the respected Buddhist teacher Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche and the monk Lobsang Dondrub, is now chief of Public Security in China. These new appointments are in line with current Party policy of maintaining tight control over Tibetan regions and suppressing dissent while pursuing policies of rapid economic development in order to assimilate Tibet further into the “motherland”.

Chen Kuiyuan, who was known for his hardline approach during his eight-year tenure as Party Secretary in the TAR in the 1990s, has been appointed to the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee and as one of 24 Vice-Chairs of the CPPCC. The CPPCC consists of representatives of the Communist Party and non-Communist Parties, including officials without Party affiliation and representatives from “ethnic minorities” who traditionally have some influence on society, but are excluded from the Party because of their ideological or class background. Chen has also been appointed head of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a high-level post at one of the most important academic institutions in Beijing. Chen’s standing and influence within the Party had been called into question following his departure from the TAR, as he was transferred to the post of Secretary of the Provincial Party Committee in Henan province, central China, far from the centre of power and privilege in Beijing. His new positioning on the CPPCC and Central Committee under the new Presidency of Hu Jintao, who was Party Secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) before Chen took over in 1992, is an acknowledgement of his continued contribution and influence, and can also be broadly interpreted as an indication that his hardline stance on Tibet and other “ethnic minority” issues is in accordance with the Party’s current position on Tibet.

The leadership of Chen as Party Secretary of the TAR signified the defeat of more moderate elements within the leadership who favoured a “Tibet-centred” approach to development. Hu Jintao before him had presided over the imposition of martial law in Lhasa in 1989, and Chen Kuiyuan continued this hardline approach by presiding over three major campaigns that have dominated religious and cultural life in Tibet since the mid-1990s – “patriotic education”, “spiritual civilisation” and “strike hard”. The campaigns, all of which were launched throughout China, were focused in Tibetan areas on undermining Tibetans’ loyalty to the Dalai Lama and “adapting” traditional Tibetan ideas, customs and religious beliefs to socialist society. Chen Kuiyuan also presided over a rise in political protest and detention from early 1992 to 1996, followed by an equally rapid decline in political imprisonment linked to the implementation of repressive campaigns and more sophisticated security and surveillance measures. Economic and security policies that were develop0ed under Hu Jintao’s tenure as Party Secretary and rigorously implemented during the Chen era are still at the heart of current central policy.

The loyalty and ideological stance of Ragdi, a senior Tibetan leader who has been deputy secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Regional Committee and chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) Tibet Autonomous Regional Committee since 1994, have also been recognised in his election to one of 15 Vice-Chairs of the Standing Committee of the NPC this month. The NPC Standing Committee, the executive organ of the NPC, is elected by the NPC and exercises state legislative power together with the NPC.

As one of the most senior Tibetan leaders in Tibet, Ragdi had continued to stress the importance of the twin priorities developed under Hu Jintao of fast-track economic development and safeguarding social “stability” through anti-separatism and struggle against the “Dalai clique”. In a speech in 1999, Ragdi referred to the need for “ideologically tough, politically strong, behaviourally upright, united and hard-working cadres” to work in Tibet, which he referred to as an “environment of acute and complicated struggle” (Tibet Daily, 15 January 1999). In an earlier speech given at a meeting in the TAR in January 1998, Ragdi said that “problems” among cadres were caused by some people who “sympathised with and supported the Dalai’s secessionist statements and activities in their minds”, indicating the awareness among the leadership of Tibetans’ continued loyalty to the Dalai Lama.

Ngapo Ngawang Jigme, a figure of some symbolism to Beijing as he was the Tibetan signatory to the “17-point agreement on the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet” in 1951, and Phagpalha Geleg Namgyal, Chair of the CPPCC Tibet Committee, and Vice-President and Honorary President of Buddhist Association of China since 1993, both maintain important ceremonial positions with their elections to the 10th National Committee of the CPPCC.

These national-level appointments on the CPPCC generally do not involve governance and high-level decision-making on policy, and are indications of prestige and reward following long careers in the Party, rather than appointments of real power and influence.

The former Chair of the Tibetan People’s government, Dorje Tsering, has lost his ministerial position under the restructuring. He has been succeeded as national-level Minister of Civil Affairs by Li Xueju, and takes on a less influential role as Chairman of the Ethnic Affairs Committee of the NPC. (This committee should not be confused with the more important Ethnic Affairs Commission under the State Council). Dorje Tsering, who is in his sixties and from Gansu province, was the first Minister of Tibetan nationality in the history of China. He was transferred to the TAR from Gansu in 1959, the year of the Lhasa uprising and the beginning of China’s “democratic reform”, to assist with its economic development. In his official biography, Xinhua reports that even though two of his ribs were broken during physical beatings during the Cultural Revolution, Dorje Tsering’s “work enthusiasm has never abated”. In the mid-1980s, he served as Chair of the Tibetan People’s government and Vice-President of the Tibetan Nationalities Institute.

Sichuan Leader’s Crackdown on Splittism

The former Chair of the Sichuan Party Committee, 60-year old Zhou Yongkang, was appointed to the senior role of national Minister of Public Security in December 2002. Although in strict hierarchical terms this new role is at a similar level to his post in Sichuan, his transfer indicates a significant increase in his power and authority. Zhou has also been made a State Councillor on the State Council and member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the CCP as well as 1st Political Commissar and First Secretary of the Party Committee of the Chinese People’s Armed Police Force.

As the Secretary of the Sichuan Provincial Committee from 1999 to 2002, Zhou, who has a background in the state-run oil industry, became known within the Party for his focus on aggressive security policies combined with a drive to encourage foreign and domestic investment in the province as part of China’s campaign to develop the western regions of China. He was in charge of the province at the time of the arrests and sentencing of the respected Buddhist teacher Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche and the monk Lobsang Dondrub. Tenzin Deleg (known in Chinese as A’an Zhaxi) and Lobsang Dondrub (Luorang Dengzhu) were taken into custody in April 2002 together with at least four other monks and accused of involvement in “splittism” and bombings in the area. Lobsang Dondrub was executed on 26 January following a closed trial, and Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche has been sentenced to death with a reprieve of two years. The sentencing and swift execution of Lobsang Dondrub may be linked to Zhou Yongkang’s powerful role in the region at a time of transition in his career from head of the province to Public Security Minister at national level. As a known hardliner, Zhou may have had a particular interest in ensuring that severe punishment was meted out in this case.

Chinese security policy and campaign against separatist activity has been stepped up further following the terrorist attacks in New York on 11 September 2001, which has led to the Chinese government branding many presumed “ethnic separatists” as “terrorists”, sometimes without any evidence of violent offences. One of the amendments to the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China adopted in December 2001, three months after the 11 September events, increases punishments for people who “organise or lead a terrorist organisation” from three to ten years imprisonment to between ten years and life imprisonment (Article 120 of the Criminal Law). The term “terrorist organisation” is not defined in Chinese law and it could be interpreted to cover religious or other groups that act in ways that are perceived as being in opposition to the state, but which have apparently not engaged in violent activities.

The emphasis of the recent National People’s Congress was on continuity with the policy line put in place by Jiang Zemin, the former President and Party chief, during his decade-long rule as China’s top leader, and Zhu Rongji, the departing prime minister. The positioning of leaders such as Zhou Yongkang and Chen Kuiyuan under the leadership of new Party President Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, who retains control of the military through his chairmanship of the Central Military Commission, indicates that the Party is determined to maintain a tight grip on Tibet, leaving little room for manoeuvre on genuine autonomy for the region, with the focus on the further integration of Tibetan areas into the rest of China.