The Chinese leader has made his first visit to Tibet as president as authorities tighten controls on the traditional Buddhist culture of the Himalayan region, accompanied by an accelerating push for economic development and modernized infrastructure.
State media reported on Friday that Xi Jinping had visited sites in the capital Lhasa, including the Drepung Monastery, Barkhor Street, and the public square at the base of the Potala Palace that was home to the Dalai Lamas, the spiritual and temporal leaders. traditional Tibet.
Xi’s visit was not previously publicly announced and it was unclear whether he had already returned to Beijing.
He visited it in 2011 before being promoted to president. The latest visit is believed to be the first by the country’s leader in more than three decades.
In recent years, China has tightened controls on Buddhist monasteries and expanded education in Chinese rather than Tibetan. Critics of such policies are routinely detained and can face long prison terms, especially if they have been sentenced for association with the 86-year-old Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile in India since he fled Tibet during a failed uprising against the Chinese government in 1959.
China does not recognize the self-proclaimed Tibetan government-in-exile based in the hillside town of Dharamshala, and accuses the Dalai Lama of trying to separate Tibet from China.
Meanwhile, domestic tourism has expanded massively in the region during Xi’s nine-year tenure, and new airports, rail lines and roads have been built.
China’s official Xinhua news agency said that while in Lhasa on Thursday, Xi had sought “to learn about the work on ethnic and religious issues, the preservation of the ancient city, as well as the heritage and protection of Tibetan culture.”
On Wednesday, he visited the city of Nyingchi to inspect the ecological preservation work in the Yarlung Zangbo river basin, the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra, where China is building a controversial dam.
He also visited a bridge and inspected a project to build a railway from Sichuan province in southwest China to Tibet, before traveling on Tibet’s first electrified railway line from Nyingchi to Lhasa, which entered service last month. .
Xi’s visit may be timed to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the 17-point agreement that firmly established Chinese control over Tibet. The Dalai Lama says he was forced to sign the document and has since repudiated it.
It also comes amid deteriorating relations between China and India, which share a long and disputed border with Tibet.
Last year’s deadly encounters between Indian and Chinese troops along their high-altitude border dramatically altered the already strained relationship between nuclear-armed neighbors.
That seems to have prompted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to wish the Dalai Lama the best on his birthday this month on Twitter and say he also spoke to him on the phone. That was the first time Modi has publicly confirmed speaking to the Dalai Lama since he became prime minister in 2014.
In a statement, the advocacy group International Campaign for Tibet called Xi’s visit “an indication of how high Tibet still ranks in Chinese policy considerations.”
The way the visit was organized and the “complete absence of any immediate state media coverage of the visit indicates that Tibet remains a sensitive issue and that the Chinese authorities do not trust its legitimacy among the Tibetan people,” he said. . the Washington DC-based group.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism