The much speculated 20th Party Congress of the Communist Party of China was concluded with the new members of the Politburo Standing Committee who will rule China alongside Xi Jinping for the next five years. Despite Hu Jintao, former general secretary, who was forcefully taken away from his seat sitting next to Xi Jinping which caught everyone’s attention, the well-choreographed meeting went smoothly.
Since the removal of the constitutional term limit on the presidency in March 2018, Xi Jinping was believed to continue to head CCP. Xi not only defy the norms for the selection of China’s paramount leader set in place by Deng Xiaoping since 1982, but he also chose to define his era under a single authoritarian leader. Xi entering his third term as the President of China and appointing individuals loyal to him within the Standing Committee and its ruling circle was to ensure the endurance of his rule. The parameters that define the strength of his rule and survival of legitimacy in China include Tibet and the political stability of the region. Although Xi’s repressive policies have produced a semblance of “stability” in Tibet, as a recent article in the Economist so aptly frames it, why is China so worried about Tibet?
The Zero-Covid policy and the adversity that people faced were all filmed and reported abroad. The desperate cry for help in social media (weibo), a widely circulated graphic video of a person jumping from a building in Lhasa during lockdown, reports of five Tibetans committing suicide in just a span of three days, number of videos showcasing the dire condition under which people were kept and increasing number of videos with people pouring their frustration over the handling of the pandemic was summed up by a banner in Beijing that protested against the slave like treatment reminding them of the Cultural revolution. The banner unfurled on a flyover in Beijing was the latest in many rare protest against Xi’s ‘Zero-covid’ policy right before the Communist Party Congress. The covid outbreak in Lhasa on August 8 and the series of shocking events that followed has caught the attention of international community. These incidents that took place at a time of extreme political sensitivity with 20th Party Congress around the corner not only tells the ruthlessness and cruelty under which Xi rules but also explained the extreme measures he undertook. Although the municipal government of Lhasa City on September 17 admitted to the mishandling the Covid outbreak in Tibet, however, the Chinese leader assured that there is no change in the Zero-Covid policy. Xi Jinping has become too adamant over Zero-Covid policy that Xi declared it as a personal priority and a personal agenda to succeed. The consequences of such priority and personalized policy is what Vivian Wang of the New York Times notes the call for ever-harsher quarantine and censorship rules.
Whether Xi Jinping’s rule resemble Mao Zedong or not is question that might need further reading, however, Xi’s approach and mechanism in some part echoed Mao’s strategic importance placed on Tibet. Tibet and its people continue to exist within the contours of the colonialist Mao-inspired policies of Xi Jinping and which is reflected in how he has invested in Mao’s understanding of the importance of securitization of the region. Mao maintained that Tibet was the backdoor for China’s expansion and dominance in Asia and following that perspective, Xi has built a chain of border defense villages on the Himalayan frontiers’, which serve as border watch-posts for monitoring cross-border migration.Under the policy of developing “well-off villages in border areas”, several border villages, under construction, are located right across Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh which is claimed as part of Chinese territory. Xi Jinping’s first visit to the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) as the general secretary of the CPC not only raised the importance of the region but the ‘focus of the visit was to examine the development of connectivity to border areas. It is indeed evident, therefore, that Xi’s rule in Tibet stresses high-quality development and lasting stability.
Despite China being a one-party state, with a handful of individuals monopolizing power at the helm, however, the members of the Party and its leaders do not always share the same ideology, political association, or policy preferences. Notwithstanding, these internal factions, within the overall bureaucratic structure, do not seem to pose much of a problem to Xi since he has already placed many loyalists in important positions within the government. Yet, the Party continues to find it difficult to trust Tibetans with higher positions and therefore they are institutionally marginalized throughout China’s administrative structure. For instance, under the current 19th CPC leadership, two Tibetans, Lobsang Gyaltsen (Chinese: Luosang Jiangcun) and Che Dalha (Qizhala), are full members of the Central Committee, with two others, Yan Jinhai and Norbu Thondup, serving as alternate members. It is most likely that Yan Jinhai and Norbu Thondup will be promoted to full membership in the 20th Central Committee. According to International Campaign for Tibet, 38 delegates (see appendix) listed as Tibetans are expected to participate in the 20th Party Congress out of 2,296 delegates. Statistically, Tibetans represent a mere 1.65 percent of the total strength of the Congress. However, the Tibetan region makes up more than a quarter ofthe People’s Republic of China, which highlights the severe underrepresentation of Tibetans within China’s decision-making circles. In other words, there exists an inherent contradiction, seen not only during Xi Jinping’s reign but throughout China’s modern political history, which is how Tibet has been a highly sensitive issue for the Party, but it refuses to open any channels for dialogue with the Tibetan Government in exile nor allow any semblance of representation of Tibetans within the uppermost bureaucratic structure of China. The securitization of Tibet and the subsequent influx of finance into developing Tibet was part of the ubiquitous claim that Tibetans are happy, well-represented, and taken care of by the government. The contradiction between the portrayal of an “inclusive” China and the reality of an insecure China is reflected at the institutional and national levels.
Likewise, Xi Jinping has focused on fostering a greater sense of hyper-nationalism in China, placing the Chinese Communist Party at the center of this rejuvenated Chinese Nation. His poverty alleviation and anti-corruption campaigns along with his hard stance against the US-led world order, Hong Kong and Taiwan need to be comprehended within his objective of realizing the ideas behind slogans such as “China Rise” or the “rejuvenation of China”.
China has come under much scrutiny in the past three years, from the outbreak of the covid pandemic to its mass internment of Ugyurs, the handling of the Hong Kong protests, and the management of the Tibet issue. The upcoming 20th National Party Congress will feature the Party-appointed representatives from these regions, as they singularly praise Xi Jinping’s handling of the pandemic and his role in maintaining “stability” in China. However, it would be foolhardy to ignore the real-time internal insecurity that Xi’s governance faces, as Tibetans, Ugyurs, Hong-Kongers, and Chinese continue to question the government’s heavy-handedness and outright repression. Therefore, it is pertinent to observe how the Party continues to handle these challenges and criticism of its rule, without the safety valve of new leadership that has been in place since Deng Xiaoping’s era. The reality is that with Xi at the helm for the foreseeable future, the Party’s policies will continue to foster disillusion and resentment among those living under its rule and there will be no one else left to blame except its President.
Appendix: Thirty-eight Tibetan delegates expected to participate in the upcoming 20th Party Congress
Tibet Autonomous Region
1. Tenzin Dhundup (Chinese: DanzangDunzhu)
2. Pema Thinley (Bama Chillin)
3. Nikyi (Ni Ji, female)
4. NyimaLhazom (NimaLazong, ethnic identification not given, female)
5. Penpa Dolma (BianbaZhuoma, female)
6. Shilok Dolma (XiluoZhuoma, female)
7. Choetso (Qu Cuo, female)
8. TseringLhamo (CirenLamu, female)
9. TseringThondup (CirenDunzhu)
10. Yan Jinhai
11. Dolkar (Zhuoga, female)
12. TseringWangmo (CirenWangmu, female)
13. LobsangGyaltsen (LuosangJiangcun)
14. SonamNyima (SilangNima)
15. PhurbuThondup (PubuDunzhu)
16. KalsangChoedon (GasongQuzhen, female)
17. Yasha (female, Lhoba)
18. SonamDekyi (female, Monpa)
19. Tsering Thar (Cairang Tai)
20. Choeyang Kyi (Qieyang Shi, female)
21. Ba Tselo (Ba Cailuo)
22. Pekho (Banguo)
23. Chen Wanghui (female)
24. Chime Dorji (QimeiDorje)
25. Luo Zhenhua
26. NorbuYangzom (NongbuYangzong, female）
27. DhondupPheldup (DunzhuPeichu)
28. Yang Wu
29. LumoTsering (LumaoCairang, female)
Central and state organs
30. Tselo (Ciluo)
31. Li Ying (female)
PLA and PAP delegates
32. Dakpa (Zhaba)
33. JamyangNgodup (Jiayang Ouzhu)
34. DawaDolkar (DawaZhuoga, female)
35. Namgyal (Langjie）
36. Cui Yuying (female)
Central financial system
37. Loten (Luo Dan)
38. Dechen (Deqing, female)
source: International Campaign for Tibet (https://savetibet.org/38-tibetan-delegates-at-chinas-20th-party-congress/)
 The Economist (2021), Why has China’s president, Xi Jinping, visited Tibet? The Economist, access on 10/11/2022 at 3:09 pm, URL: https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2021/07/23/why-has-chinas-president-xi-jinping-visited-tibet
 International Campaign for Tibet (2022), Lhasa authorities admit mishandling COVID outbreak, silence Tibetan outrage, access on 10/31/2022 at 4:26 pm, URL: https://savetibet.org/lhasa-authorities-admit-mishandling-covid-outbreak/
 Wang, Vivian (2022), ‘At the Breaking Point’: Tibetans, Under Lockdown, Make Rare Cries for Help, The New York Times, access on 10/31/2022 at 4:31 pm, URL: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/16/world/asia/tibet-covid-lockdown.html
Dorji, Tsewang (2022), Border villages in Tibet: why India should be wary of China’s new ‘eyes and ears’ in himalaya, Tibet Policy Institute, access on 10/11/2022 at 10:10 am, URL: https://tibetpolicy.net/border-villages-in-tibet-why-india-should-be-wary-of-chinas-new-eyes-and-ears-in-himalaya/
Krishnan, Ananth (2021), Xi Jinping visits Tibet border region, first by Chinese leader in years, The Hindu, access on 10/11/2022 at 3:04 pm, URL: https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/xi-jinping-visits-tibet-border-region-first-by-chinese-leader-in-years/article35481755.ece
 International Campaign for Tibet (2022), 38 Tibetan delegates at China’s 20th Party Congress, International Campaign for Tibet, access on 10/11/2022 at 4:00 pm, URL: https://savetibet.org/38-tibetan-delegates-at-chinas-20th-party-congress/