When Xi Jinping went to Lhasa last week most people saw him read off the standard list of anti-Dalai and anti-Tibet movement talking points, and concluded that it was a sign he plans to follow the same operating procedures the current leadership has established. Claude Arpi tries to find a different interpretation, though:
At the time of the first celebration, many had concluded that Zhang Qingli, the party boss in Tibet, was out of favour with Beijing. The point is that Zhang’s term 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). One of the stakes of Jinping’s visit to Tibet is the selection of a successor for Zhang Qingli.
Zhang has been one of the most unpopular Chinese leaders to serve in Tibet in recent years (as was one of his predecessors called Hu Jintao, who served in the ‘autonomous region’ between 1989 and 1992).
The selection of a more popular party secretary could go a long way to appease the resentment of the Tibetan population vis-a-vis the Han Chinese. It could radically change the atmosphere, if not pave the way for a better understanding with the Dalai Lama and his followers.
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.
After his visit to Lhasa, Jinping is bound to have a clearer picture (and larger say) in the selection process.
Gyaincain Norbu, the Panchen Lama selected by Beijing did not appear on the stage beside Jinping during the celebrations. It is probably a sign of appeasement towards the Tibetans who do not believe in the legitimacy of the candidate selected by Beijing. It could be considered as a small gesture, which may have some important consequences for the future of the Roof of the World.
‘Stability’ has been the leitmotif of the visit, for the simple reason that Tibet has never been so unstable since 60 years.
For the future boss of China, the tour has been successful as he managed not to antagonise any groups, including India (though the issuance of visas on stapled paper to karatekas from Arunachal occurred at the time of Jinping’s visit). At the same time, he may have realised that the past policy of repression can’t solve the long-pending Tibetan issue.
Maybe he did? It would be nice if that were true, but I don’t see any evidence for it whatsoever. For now I’m going to chalk this article up to wishful thinking.