Sunday, January 15, 2017

New Governor for Tibet: no big incidents, no medium incidents, no small incidents, but tourists

Che Dralha (left) takes over from Lobsang Gyaltsen
The People's Daily and several Chinese official websites announced the appointment of a new Governor of Tibet (head of the local Government).
Che Drahla (or Qi Zhala in Chinese), who has served in Tibet areas for the past 35 years, was till recently the Party Secretary of Tibet’s capital Lhasa; since December, he is of the four deputy secretaries of the Tibet Autonomous Region.
Che is 58 years old.
According to the same short announcement,the outgoing Governor Lobsang Gyaltsen was named Chairman of the regional National People's Congress.
What has happened to Pema Thinley (alias Padma Choeling) who officiated at this post is not clear.
Reuters commented on Che's new job: “Managing the remote Himalayan region of Tibet remains a difficult issue for China, which has struggled with decades of often violent unrest in protest at Chinese rule, which started when Chinese troops marched into Tibet in 1950.”
But Che has some experience.

Lobsang Gyaltsen swearing on the Constitution
Che Dralha behind (right)

Promoting Tourism
Che come from the Tibetan-inhabited part of Yunnan province.
He was posted in this province before his transfer to Tibet in 2010 when he took over the Lhasa Municipality.
In one of the Wikileaks cables, in September 2007, John Hill, the Acting Consul General, Chengdu, Sichuan wrote: “Ethnic Tibetan areas of Sichuan and Yunnan are under increased security pressure from government authorities in the wake of demonstrations in the town of Litang in western Sichuan's Ganzi [Kartze] Prefecture that were set off by the arrest of a man calling for the return of the Dalai Lama at a major public gathering in early August. ...Despite the growth of the tourist economy in some towns, contacts stressed to us during our recent swing through the region their continued concerns over economic marginalization of Tibetans and environmental degradation."
But Che Dralha found the trick (he later applied it to Lhasa): bring millions of tourists to increase the local revenue and 'pacify' the the Tibetans.
Hill mentioned the visit of a US delegation in Tibetan areas of Sichuan and Yunnan from August 22-28, 2007. He was accompanied by a Bangkok-based USAID official and the representatives of U.S.-based NGOs Winrock International (Winrock) and The Mountain Institute (TMI).
The delegation went to Zhongdian (in northwest Yunnan's Dechen Prefecture)
The US Consul General reported: “The small city of Zhongdian (or Shangri-la) sits at an altitude of 3,340 meters (approx. 11,000 feet) in an alpine valley in northwestern Yunnan. The seat of the Diqing [Dechen] Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, it (and the county in which was located) was renamed Shangri-la in 2000, from the famous James Hilton novel of the 1930's, in an effort to market itself as a 'lost paradise' for tourists. According to local officials, the area attracted over two million tourists in 2006, about 90 percent of whom were Chinese domestic tourists on package tours.”
The report continue: “Both local officials and tourist industry contacts attribute Shangri-la's successful marketing to the Prefecture's Party Secretary and Governor, an ethnic Tibetan named Qi Zhala [Che Dralha]. Qi has been in the post of Party Secretary for only a few months, but has served as Governor or in other leadership positions in Zhongdian for a number of years. (Note: According to our information it is rare for an ethnic Tibetan to serve simultaneously as both the local party secretary and government head. End note.) By all accounts, early in his official career Qi focused on the development of Zhongdian as a natural tourist destination, and in testament to his efforts the streets of the town are filled with attractive souvenir shops and restaurants and bars catering to both Chinese and western travelers. Construction in and around the town is booming - in addition to numerous small wooden shops and houses in the old section of town, the city also boasts a brand-new five-story cultural center, a new prefecture administrative building, and a large horseracing arena.”
Che would only have to replicate this policy in Lhasa to boost his political career.

Che Dralha visiting the site of the new airport in Lhasa
Che rewarded
But tourism is only one part of the recipe.
The other is discreet repression.
In March 2012, Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) based in Dharamsala quoted who announced that those wanting to enter Tibet were required to carry their government-issued identity cards.
Che Dralha, then Party Secretary of Lhasa, declared that the move was aimed at "establishing and improving coordination among the four provinces [Qinghai, Gansu, Yunnan and Sichuan]".
While on an inspection tour around Lhasa on January 29, 2012, Che told the police officers that they should strive to realize the goal of “no big incidents, no medium incidents and no small incidents to occur” and to “strike hard at all the separatists.”
Che also mentioned  the importance of stepping up security and increasing the number of police officials along national roads and 'key monasteries'.
TCHRD said that even the Beijing branch of Public Security Bureau had issued a notice asking all hotels and steam-bath houses in the capital to be more attentive about the presence of Tibetan clients. Hotel employees in Beijing are required to check the identities of Tibetans staying in the capital and to immediately inform the police station.
In November 2015, when a group of journalists visited Lhasa, local officials (including Che) credited the peace in the city to the infamous grid management.
The Financial Times (FT) reported: “The mass troop deployment that followed a 2008 riot was no longer visible, although local residents said the heavy security presence was reinstated during Tibetan holidays or sensitive anniversaries. As well as small police booths that stud residential blocks in Lhasa, there are police booths at the entrance to villages around the city, as well as much larger checkpoints set up like tollbooths on the roads leading into larger towns.
The FT quoted Che Dralha “The masses manage themselves and serve themselves, this is a Chinese characteristic.”
He has now been rewarded.

Brief CV
Che Dralha is born in August 1958 in Shangri-La, Yunnan Province.
In May 1982, he joined the Communist Party of China
In December 1979, Che graduated from the Central Party School.
He has served in different positions in the Tibetan-areas of Yunnan: Deputy Secretary of the Communist Youth League of Zhongdian County (Shangri-La); in Dechen Prefecture’s Standing Committee; Party Secretary of Zhongdian County; in the Yunnan’s Provincial Party Committee; Dechen Party Secretary.
Later he was shifted to the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) where he served as major of Lhasa and in the Standing Committee of the regional Party Committee. He also worked with the United Front Work Department.
He is presently Deputy Secretary of the TAR’s Party Committee.

As Governor, he is the most powerful Tibetan in the TAR and the second-most powerful official, after Wu Yingjie, the TAR Party boss.
Wu, a Han Chinese, has spent 40 years of his career in Tibet.

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