August 16, 2006

Tibet: Beijing Pledges

Chinas new top official in Tibet Zhang Qingli has embarked on a fierce campaign to crush loyalty to the exiled Dalai Lama and to extinguish religious beliefs among government officials.
Chinas new top official in Tibet has embarked on a fierce campaign to crush loyalty to the exiled Dalai Lama and to extinguish religious beliefs among government officials.

Zhang Qingli was appointed Communist Party secretary of the Tibetan Autonomous Region in May. An ally of President Hu Jintao, Mr Zhang, 55, has moved swiftly to tighten his grip over this deeply Buddhist region. He was previously head of the paramilitary Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps in that mainly Muslim western region, overseeing migration of ethnic Han Chinese as well as border security.

Mr Zhangs drive to stamp out allegiance to the Dalai Lama, who fled to India during an anti-Chinese uprising in 1959, has adopted a tone rarely seen since the mid-1990s. Then Beijing began a barrage of rhetoric against the regions god-king and banned his photograph after he enraged China by unilaterally announcing the discovery of the reincarnation of Tibets second holiest monk, the Panchen Lama.

In May Mr Zhang told senior party officials in the region that they were engaged in a fight to the death against the Dalai Lama. Since then he has implemented several new policies to try to erode the influence of the 71-year-old monk who Chinas rulers believe is waging a covert campaign to win independence for his Himalayan homeland.

Ethnic Tibetan civil servants of all ranks have been banned from attending any religious ceremony or from entering a temple or monastery. Previously only party members were required to be atheist, but many of them quietly retained their Buddhist beliefs. Patriotic education campaigns in the monasteries that have been in the vanguard of anti-Chinese protests have been expanded. Ethnic Tibetan officials in Lhasa as well as in surrounding counties have been required to write criticisms of the Dalai Lama. Senior civil servants must produce 10,000-word essays while those in junior posts need write only 5,000-character condemnations.

Non-governmental organisations in Tibet have not been spared as Mr Zhang tightens the partys grip. Previously, these organisations involved in aid, healthcare, education and building preservation had been able to sign five-year contracts with the Government to work in the region. But this has been cut to two years and several have been refused a new contract and must leave.

The latest denunciations cast into doubt the future of secretive negotiations between envoys of the Dalai Lama and Beijing over his possible return to Tibet. The talks resumed in 2002 but have so far made scant progress.