In the run-upto to the 20th Party Congress expected to be convened in late 2022, the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and other Tibetan areas witnessed a high-level leadership transfer/promotion.
Yan Jin Hai (b.1962) has been transferred to TAR from Qinghai province (link in Chinese) and Ding Ye Xian has been transferred to Qinghai province from TAR (link in Chinese). While it is not completely clear yet, it very much looks like Yan and Ding simply have exchanged positions with each other (lateral transfers).
Yan is a Tibetan born in Tsoshar Kamalog in Tsongon (མཚོ་སྔོན་མཚཽ་ཤར་བཀའ་མ་ལོག།). He joined the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1983. He has built his career in Qinghai province in the span of over 30 years. Prior to his transfer to the TAR party committee as a deputy secretary, Yan held important positions in Qinghai province. He was a standing committee member of Qinghai provincial party committee and a vice-governor of Qinghai provincial government. In the national level, Yan is one of the two Tibetan alternate members in the 19th central committee of the CCP. The other one is Norbu Dhondup (b.1960), who is currently a member of the standing committee of the TAR party committee and the party secretary of Chamdo prefectural city.
The inclusion of Yan in the TAR party committee has increased the number of Tibetans in the TAR’s apex body. There were only two Tibetans, Lobsang Gyaltsen (b.1957) and Che Dalha (b.1958), among five people in the TAR party committee, including its party secretary Wu Yingjie. It is quite likely that Che Dalha, who is currently a full-member of the 19th central committee of the CCP and also the governor of TAR, would replace Lobsang Gyaltsen as the chairman of TAR’s People’s Congress in the next reshuffle. Considering age and party seniority (two important factors in the leadership transfer/promotion in China’s political system), Lobsang Gyaltsen sits on top of the TAR promotion list to replace Pema Thinley as a member of the standing committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC).
Similarly, Pema Thinley (b.1951), a veteran Tibetan party cadre in TAR with military background and one of the two Tibetan members of the standing committee of the NPC, remains the safest bet to replace Jampa Phuntsok (b.1947) as a vice chairman of the NPC. On the other hand, Jampa Phuntsok would join the group of retired Tibetan party elders like Ragdi, who still yields enormous influence in TAR. The other Tibetan member in the standing committee of the NPC is Jamyang Shepa Rinpoche, who is the head of Labrang Tashi Khyil monastery in northeastern Tibet (Amdo) in present day Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu province. He holds several ceremonial positions namely, deputy director of the ethnicity committee of the NPC, chairman of the Buddhist Association of China and the president of China’s Tibetan Language Buddhism Institution.
According to an unverified source, Jamyang Shepa Rinpoche appointed Jamyang Gyatso Tsang, one of the top Geshes (erudite scholar) from his monastery to become the tutor of Gyaltsen Norbu, China’s handpicked 11th Panchen Lama.
It is still unclear about Yan’s other roles in TAR apart from a deputy party secretary. Usually the deputy party secretaries hold the chairmanship of several leading small groups in TAR. Leading small groups are where the TAR party committee formulates Tibet-specific policies. More importantly, Yan would likely become a full member of the central committee of the CCP at the next Party Congress. It is important to note that the number of Tibetan representation in the full and alternate categories in the 20th central committee of the CCP may vary. This has been clearly seen from previous compositions of the Tibetan representation in the central committee of the CCP from both categories.
On the other hand, Ding Ye Xian has become a deputy party secretary of Qinghai provincial party committee and the acting governor of Qinghai provincial government. Sooner or later he will take up the post of governor succeeding Liu Ning (Ch), who was transferred to Liaoning province. Ding would most likely follow the path of Hao Peng, who was a TAR’s vice governor before he was transferred to Qinghai and eventually promoted to the chairman and party committee secretary of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC). While he was in Qinghai, Hao served as the provincial governor between 2013 and 2016 succeeding Luo Huining.
Another interesting transfer cum promotion (link in Chinese) coming out of TAR is of a Tibetan party cadre Penpa Tashi (b.1964), who is from Lhodrag in Lhoka. He has been transferred to Beijing to take up the post of deputy director of the State Ethnic Affairs Commission (SEAC). During his long stint in TAR, he held many significant positions such as party secretary of Nagchu prefectural city, TAR vice governor, member of the standing committee of the TAR party committee and head of the TAR propaganda department. His early career was largely spent in Beijing working in the United Front Work Department (UFWD) and eventually heading its Tibet Bureau.
This begets an important question. Who would replace Penpa Tashi as a member of the standing committee of the TAR party committee? Considering the party tradition, the replacement has to be either come from TAR government or People’s Congress.
The appointment of Penpa Tashi in the SEAC (མི་རིགས་ལས་དོན་ཨུ་ཡོན་ལྷན་ཁང་།) as its deputy director could be speculated in a way that the party is grooming him to become the head of the Commission. In that case, he would become the first Tibetan to head the Commission since its inception in 1949. However, the importance and visibility of the SEAC and the State Administration for Religious Affairs (ཆོས་ལུགས་ལས་དོན་ཨུ་ཡོན་ལྷན་ཁང་།), the two key government agencies responsible for “ethnic” and religious affairs have been diminished substantially by virtually making them subordinate to the UFWD, where the SEAC will report to the UFWD, while the SARA and Overseas Chinese Affairs Office (OCAO) will be absorbed into the UFWD as two internal bureaus.
It remains to be seen a major reshuffle in TAR and other Tibetan areas ahead of the 20th Party Congress, particularly in the TAR People’s Political Consultative Conference.
*Mr. Tenzin Tseten is a research fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute. Ms. Phentok of Tibet Policy Institute contributed to this article. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Tibet Policy Institute.