In the latest regional leadership transition, Wu Yingjie, a 59 year Han party cadre was named the Party Secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region, replacing Chen Quanguo. Wu was a deputy Party Secretary of the TAR before his new appointment. He spent over 40 years of his political career in TAR and served as a teacher similar to his predecessor. The difference that Wu brings to the job is a vast Tibet experience. But it would be unwise to expect a new policy shift after his takeover since Wu must take (partial) ownership of at least the last 15 years of Party policies in Tibet.
His immediate predecessor Chen Quanguo, a 61 year Han Party secretary of the TAR was rewarded with a promotion to become Party Secretary of Xinjiang Autonomous Region. Though the TAR and XAR are both autonomous regions, however, the Party secretary of the restive autonomous region of Xinjiang usually holds a seat in the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. Chen’s loyalty to Xi Jinping was reflected during this year’s National People’s Congress where TAR delegates wore two badges; one having a photo of Xi Jinping talking to a Tibetan woman and the other carrying a photos of his predecessors.
In line with the pattern that has perpetuated since the establishment of the TAR in 1965, the top job has been exclusively reserved for Han cadres except one. Wu Jinghua, a member of Yi nationality, was the only one to have been given the task in 1985. It appears to me that Wu Jinghua’s appointment was a compromise within the party power as political climate dramatically changed following Hu Yaobang’s visit to the TAR in 1980, who was said to be a relatively liberal and pragmatic leader. Many speculated that Baba Phuntsok Wangyal, a revolutionary Tibetan Communist leader, would be appointed to the top job, but instead Wu was brought in. This of course implies the lack of trust in Tibetans by the Chinese authorities in giving the highest and most important job.
Now, the question is who will step in to occupy the position left vacant by Wu Yingjie?
Technically, Wu eclipsed Pema Thinley, a Tibetan party cadre, in terms of party seniority to become the Party Secretary of the TAR. Pema is 5 years older and holds a national level position as a full member of the 18th Party Congress of the Central Committee of the CCP where Wu is an alternate. However, Wu will become a full member of the Central Committee in the next Party Congress scheduled in 2017. Although very little is known about Wu, we can logically speculate that Wu speaks Tibetan given the fact that he spent nearly 42 years in the TAR.
Considering the previous composition of the TAR party committee, it would be most likely that a Han party cadre would step in to become the Executive Deputy Party Secretary. It has been speculated that 56-year-old Ding Yexian, who currently sits at number 14 in the TAR Party standing committee and concurrently is a vice-chairmen of the TAR government would go on to become Deputy Party Secretary of the TAR party committee. If this speculation turns real then he will jump from his number 14 position to probably number 5 (below Deng Xiaogang) in the TAR Party Standing Committee leaving behind 4 Chinese and 4 Tibetan party cadres.
Like Wu Yingjie, Ding also has 38 years of working experience in the TAR. It remains to be seen whether two Chinese at the top with vast knowledge of the TAR will prove different from their predecessors.
*Tenzin Tseten is a research fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Tibet Policy Institute.