Yang Chuantang shares a background in the Communist Youth League with China’s Party Secretary and President Hu Jintao, who is also a previous TAR Party Chief (1988 to 1992-3). His new appointment, following ten years of experience in Tibetan areas, is likely to reflect Hu’s personal interest in Tibet, and direct involvement in controlling Tibetan areas of the PRC.
The position of Party Secretary of the TAR, the most senior role in the region, has never been held by a Tibetan, which is resented by many Tibetan cadres in the Lhasa government. While there is a constitutional requirement for the chairman of an autonomous government to be a national of the region, there is no such legal obligation on the Party.
Fifty-nine year old Yang Chuantang, from Yucheng in Shandong province, became Vice-Chair of the TAR government in 1993 and was moved to the neighbouring province of Qinghai (which incorporates most of the north-eastern Tibetan region traditionally known as Amdo) as governor in October 2003. His appointment as TAR Party Secretary, which was rumoured to be taking place as early as last spring 2003, reflects a trend of appointing more highly educated and competent administrators as provincial leaders. It also reflects Beijing’s continuing focus on economic development in the region – Yang Chuantang’s previous career was in the petrochemical industry, and during his career in the TAR has emphasized the importance of fast-track economic development in order to tackle the “backwardness” of the farming and animal husbandry industry and the underdeveloped infrastructure and communications network.
In an interview in Beijing Review in July 1998, Yang outlined a “blueprint” for tackling the obstacles to Tibet’s economic growth, including the “natural resources converted into profit strategy” and “development and opening up strategy”. The third part of the blueprint outlined by Yang was the modernisation of Tibet through developing science, technology and education, where Yang referred to the need to train and educate Tibetans. Yang concluded that he was “confident that Tibet will be progressing into a modernised society along with all the Chinese people by the middle of the next century.”