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Kate Saunders is the Communications Director of International Campaign for Tibet.

Chinese Party bosses in Tibet are more like the Mafia

A worker carries a sack while walking past a power line construction site in Linzhou county of Lhasa, Tibet. Reuters

he Communist Party chief of the Tibet Autonomous Region, Zhang Qingli — known for his contemptuous rhetoric against the Dalai Lama — has finally been replaced.

His successor as Party Secretary in a region that remains under tight military lockdown is Chen Quanguo, an economist by training, whose initial statements have been less overtly confrontational in tone. While the style may be different, though, there is no indication of a policy shift by Beijing on Tibet.

The new Party boss is tasked with the continuing rollout of China's ambitious strategic and political objectives in Tibet, with economic objectives front and centre. These plans are systematically reshaping the fragile high-altitude Tibetan plateau, despite well-founded concerns that it is climatically unable to bear such intensification.Image 2nd

These plans involve the industrialisation of Tibet, replacing predominantly rural, nomadic land use with heavy industrialisation concentrated in intensive urbanised zones. The elaborate Chinese government plans are aimed at the complete integration of Tibet into the Chinese state and economy, further undermining Tibet's religious, cultural and national identity. As a Chinese scholar in exile said at a conference in London recently, the issue now is of the sheer survival of Tibet's national identity, or not. The primary focus is on the extraction and removal of specific commodities, notably copper, gold and silver, electricity and water, for use by Chinese industries far from Tibet, not for the benefit of Tibetans in Tibet.

The appointment of regional Party Secretaries in the PRC is a highly secretive process carried out by the Party's Central Committee in Beijing. Since the establishment of the regional Chinese Communist Party in Tibet in 1965, no Tibetans have been appointed to this most senior post.

As Party Secretary until his transfer a few weeks ago, Zhang Qingli zealously reinstated mechanisms of social and political control that owed their roots — both historically and ideologically — to the political extremism of the Mao era. Zhang followed in the footsteps of previous hardliners in Tibet such as Chen Kuiyuan. Chen had formerly served in Inner Mongolia, now dominated culturally and economically by ethnic Chinese, and arrived in Tibet at the beginning of the 1990s with a similar ideological mission, reflecting the Chinese state policy to tighten political control of Tibetan areas. The final year of Chen's tenure in Tibet was marked by a crackdown on religion, including raids of people's homes for shrines and a ban on some religious festivals.

Zhang took these policies still further, asserting that he was engaged in a "life and death" struggle with the Dalai Lama.

Ultimately of course the Politburo in Beijing runs Tibet. When Chen's appointment was announced, the well-known Tibetan essayist and blogger Woeser made a wry comment on Twitter about the men in suits who run policy on the plateau, saying: "Someone from Henan called Chen Quanguo replacing someone from Shandong called Zhang Qingli to come and rule the TAR. He was the Governor of Hebei before. It is like a play where the main protagonists come and go, while Tibet is nothing more than their stage and Tibetans can do nothing but passively accept."

But still, Zhang Qingli was powerful, in the same sense as a Mafia boss, and his influence was known to be behind some long sentences imposed on Tibetans working in the broader community whom he sought to cut down and silence. The impact of a rigorous "patriotic" education campaign and its stifling of religious practice were among the grievances of monks whose 10 March demonstration in Lhasa began the unprecedented wave of demonstrations and expressions of solidarity that swept Tibet from 2008 onwards.

hang Qingli's approach alienated the Tibetan elites in the TAR, serving and retired Party and government officials who the Chinese authorities have tended to rely upon to lend a degree of legitimacy to the power structures in Tibet. I am told too that he was regarded as an embarrassment by some progressive Chinese intellectuals in official positions.

He was even ticked off by the International Olympic Committee when the torch was brought to Lhasa in June 2008 for "politicising" the Olympics. Zhang had said that the Chinese authorities could "bring more glory to the Olympic spirit" by "firmly smashing" the Dalai Lama's plans to "ruin" the Games.

Zhang Qingli followed up his description of the Dalai Lama as "a wolf in monk's clothes, a devil with a human face" with the surreal claim that the Chinese Communist Party, which promotes atheism, was a "living Buddha" for the Tibetan people. He has now been transferred to a new post as Party Secretary of Hebei Province, a relatively poor agrarian province despite its proximity to Beijing. Hebei is home to roughly a quarter of China's 8-12 million Roman

Catholics, and it is likely that Zhang Qingli will take a similarly aggressive approach to matters of religion there. Heaven knows what he will say about the Pope.

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