One of the stakes of Vice-President Xi Jinping’s visit to Tibet is the fate of Zhang Qingli, the CCP Party Chief of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR).
Zhang has also been one of the most unpopular Chinese leaders to serve in Tibet in the recent years (so was his predecessor Hu Jintao, the present President who served in the ‘Autonomous Region’ between 1989 and 1992).
Interestingly, Xi’s visit to Lhasa was the second occasion to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of signature of the 17-Point Agreement considered by Beijing as the crucial document proving that Tibet has been ‘liberated’ peacefully and not invaded in 1950-51.
It is strangle and rare in the annals of the PCR that a second celebration is organized, nearly two months after the anniversary day (May 23). Chinese are usually meticulous about dates. Some observers have presumed that it was due to the tight schedule of Vice-President Xi Jinping. Perhaps!
Or was it an after-thought? Many analysts had earlier been wondering why the May celebrations were on such a low key?
International Campaign for Tibet (ITC), a Washington-based group commented at that time: “The most senior figure reported to be in attendance for the May 23 Lhasa celebrations was Zhang Qingli, the combative Party Secretary of the TAR. If any significance were to be placed on the fact that no central government officials were in Lhasa for the anniversary celebrations, the most obvious conclusion would be that their absence was intended as a deliberate snub to Zhang.”
It was only a speculation as in any case the term of Zhang is soon coming to an end as he has been serving in Tibet since November 2005 (and he officially became Party Secretary in May 2006).
For ITC: “Speculation about Zhang Qingli’s future in the TAR has remained intense since the unprecedented protests of March 2008. His open hostility towards the Dalai Lama and his determination to push through deeply unpopular security and social policies are regarded by many Tibetans and other observers as key causes of the resentment that led to the protests of 2008. Compared to his predecessors in the position of Party Secretary of the TAR, Zhang Qingli has appeared relatively frequently in the national and international media, repeatedly asserting the official line that the 2008 protests were instigated by the Dalai Lama and his supporters, and that the vast majority of Tibetans continue to readily embrace China’s policies.”
It is true that Zhang did not endear the Dalai Lama’s supporters when he accused the Tibetan leader of being ‘a wolf in monk’s garb’.
The rather low-key visit of Zhang Qingli in New Zealand and Australia attracted also commentaries as it occurred a few days before May 23. Some believed that Beijing did not want to highlight their ‘liberation’ of Tibet at a time when the situation was tense on the Roof of the World.
ITC commented: “Zhang’s visits to New Zealand and Australia were so low-key that several parliamentarians in New Zealand with a keen interest in Tibet weren’t even aware he was in the country, and they were said to be ‘furious’ that they didn’t have an opportunity to meet him”.
According to some sources Zhang left Lhasa for Beijing in early May with a large contingent of senior people from the TAR Standing Committee and local Government. Had he gone to discuss his promotion or retirement? It appears now that he most probably went to prepare Xi Jinping’s present visit to Tibet.
Many speculated about the presence of Padma Choling with Zhang to Beijing. Was he here to lobby for a post? Would he replace Zhang and be the first Tibetan to become the Party boss in Tibet?
These are only speculations.
The visit of Zhang to Australia and New Zeeland (with TAR General Secretary Gongbo Tashi) can also be seen from another angle.
As a friend put it: “This is the standard gift by the Party to senior officials about to leave their post after achieving a high performance rating. The Governor of Sichuan, Jiang Jufeng recently visited India prior to retirement”.
Zhang and Gongbo Tashi came back from New Zeeland via Hong Kong. They were there a day before the fateful Day (May 23). They probably flew the same day to Lhasa to be in time for the first part of the ‘celebrations'.
That day a forum was also organized in Beijing with all the military and PAP commanders as well as the surviving Party Secretaries and Deputy Party Secretaries of the TAR.
Only after the second ‘celebration’ of 17-Point Agreement was announced, one could understand better the low-key level of the first one, especially as the ‘real’ celebration was to be presided by the PRC’s Vice-President himself (like the then Vice-President Hu Jintao presided over the functions in Lhasa and Shigatse in May 2001 for the 50th anniversary).
It is however significant that for the first time such an important event (at least for Beijing) is celebrated two months after the proper date (July 18, instead of May 23). In 1980, the then Party General Secretary Hu Yaobang arrived in Lhasa on the right date.
ITC’s theory of that Zhang Qingli’s ‘stock is rapidly falling in Beijing’ might not be correct; the truth is probably that Zhang has completed his term.
ITC however admitted: “Well-placed observers in discussions with ICT have urged caution when attempting to interpret these and other indicators of politicians’ standing in the PRC. For example, the 60th anniversary fell during a period when the Chinese authorities have reduced the levels of aggressive propaganda across the PRC compared to previous years, and in the specific case of Tibet, there’s bound to be an awareness at the highest levels of the Party and government that aggressive propaganda has the potential to stir up resentment and undermine rapid development policies domestically, as well as create distrust, resentment and fear of China internationally.”
One of the main outcomes of the visit will be the selection of a new Party Secretary for Tibet. Will Padma Thinley (alias Pema Choling), the present Chairman of the Tibetan Autonomous Region be the first ethnic Tibetan to run the affairs of the region?
It remains doubtful that Beijing could trust a Tibetan for such an important job. However after his visit in Lhasa, Xi Jinping is bound to have a larger say in the selection process.
As I noted in previous postings, the Chinese Panchen Lama did not appear on the stage on the side of Xi during the celebrations. Is it a sign of appeasement for the Tibetans who do not believe in the legitimacy of the candidate selected by Beijing?
Possibly, though the visit to Raidi’s hosue is bound to appease the hardliners amongst the Party in Beijing.
Xi is walking on a tight rope before his elevation to the supreme job in October 2012. He has probably to please all the parties involved in the Great CCP Game.