Tibet is a long way from Dharamsala and not merely in terms of distance. Judging by the critical yardstick of what they call periodisation of history, President Xi Jinping’s visit to Tibet is historic not the least because it is the first by a Chinese president to the region in 30 years.
Mr Xi last visited the region 10 years ago as Vice-President, and the last sitting Chinese leader to officially visit Tibet was Jiang Zemin in 1990. Unmistakable was the shroud of secrecy in 2021 over an unannounced visit; Xi was in Tibet from last Wednesday to Friday, but state media reported the event after it ended. China has been accused of suppressing cultural and religious freedom in the remote and predominantly Buddhist region.
The government denies the accusations and says Tibet has developed considerably under its rule. In footage released by state broadcaster CCTV, Mr Xi was seen leaving his plane and greeting a crowd wearing ethnic costumes and waving the Chinese flag. In Lhasa, Mr Xi visited the Potala Palace, the traditional home of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
People in the city had “reported unusual activities and monitoring of their movement” ahead of his visit, the advocacy group, International Campaign for Tibet, has alleged. State media reported that Mr Xi took time to learn about the work being done on ethnic and religious affairs and the work done to protect Tibetan culture.
Many exiled Tibetans have accused Beijing of religious repression and eroding their culture. As a result, there has been a bout of protests, including self-immolations, making the topic of Tibet very sensitive to Beijing. Campaign groups have accused China of political and religious repression, saying it continues to violate human rights.
Beyond the optics of visiting the Sichuan-Tibet railway, the operations in the Lhasan-Nyingchi section ~ functioning since June 25 ~ and the visit to Lhasa by the recently launched high-speed train, the trip underscored the sensitivity of the Himalayan region when last Friday, the Chinese President met troops stationed in Tibet.
Significant, therefore, must be his call to strengthen military training and preparations “in all aspects and make contributions to the lasting stability, prosperity and development of Tibet” in accord with the certitudes of the Chinese Communist Party. It is pretty evident that he underlined the development imperative in an effort to play to the local gallery.
“The local soldiers,” he said, should fully strengthen the work of training soldiers and war preparation and contribute positive strength to promote the long-term stability and prosperity of Tibet”. Profoundly critical is the timing of the visit ~ in parallel to the India-China military tensions.