China’s communist regime very recently moved to dispel any lingering doubts as to Beijing’s future course of action on the issue of the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation. On 6 August 2015, China’s authoritative, official news agency Xinhua reported that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee (CC)’s highest body convened in Beijing on 30 July 2015. Presided over by CCP CC General Secretary and President of China, Xi Jinping, the “closed-door” meeting of the 25-member Politburo (PB) deliberated on the “issue of the next reincarnation of Tenzin Gyatso, the current XIVth Dalai Lama”, as part of the measures needed to stabilise the province and counter “separatism”. Other issues on the agenda related to the expulsion of former Central Military Commission member Guo Boxiong and his trial on charges of corruption and the problems in the Chinese economy. Xinhua added that the meeting also discussed development and stability in Tibet, and decided to set up a leading group on “united front work”.
Separately, quoting an anonymous source, the Italian-language Christian news-service Asia News reported that at the conclusion of the PB meeting, Xi Jinping asserted that the Communist Party would pick “the next Dalai Lama, period! If things do not go well, we are ready to take corrective action.” Xinhua explained that the Chinese Central government and its authorities “have always been important in the process of reincarnation of Tibetan Buddhism. The historical record shows clearly the vital role of the executive in this area. All Dalai Lama has (sic) always sought the approval of Beijing, which considers the issue important from the point of view of sovereignty and national security.”
Virtually coinciding with the PB meeting, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on 1 August 2015, announced the promotion of ten PLA officers to the highest rank of full General. Tibet has figured as a factor in these promotions too, with at least four of the promoted officers serving, or having served, in the Tibet region. Jinan Military Region (MR) Commander Zhao Zongqi served over 20 years in Tibet. People’s Armed Police (PAPF) Commander Wang Ning, who worked with Xi Jinping in Fujian from 2007-10 and participated in the Sino-Vietnam War on the Yunnan border, is a member of the Tibet Work Group. The Lanzhou and Chengdu Military Region Commanders, 60-year-old General Liu Yuejun and General Li Zuocheng, who is also 60 years old, have been elevated to the rank of General. The operational jurisdiction of both includes the Tibet region across India’s borders and both Commanders were in position at the time of the intrusions in the Depsang Plains and the Chumar area in Ladakh in April 2013 and September 2014 respectively.
Last year, Major General Zhang Jiansheng was promoted and posted as a Deputy Commander of the Lanzhou Military Region. He was the first officer from the South Xinjiang Military District in the last 22 years to be promoted directly to Lanzhou and was Commander of Ali Military Sub District (MSD) a decade ago. He brings to the Lanzhou Military Region Headquarters first-hand knowledge of the Tibetan plateau and the western areas of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).
These developments occur in the midst of reports circulating in Beijing that the Sixth Tibet Work Forum, usually held every four years, is likely to be convened around September this year in Beijing. Preparatory work for the Tibet Work Forum, which is the highest-level body where the Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) deliberates and decides on policies, budgets and plans for the Autonomous Regions, appears to have already begun with the Central Work Conference on Ethnic Affairs held in Beijing on 28-29 September 2014. China’s State Council Information Office also issued the thirteenth White Paper on Tibet this April.
Xi Jinping’s reported decision, that the CCP will select the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation, sets the tone for the Tibet Work Forum. The official announcement that the PB has discussed the issue of the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation suggests that China’s leadership will appoint the next Dalai Lama and is not open to negotiations on the issue. The PB has probably also formulated plans for responding to the Dalai Lama’s future moves. Who heads the newly created Central Leading Group on United Front Work will indicate its importance, but creation of the Central Leading Group certainly implies that the importance of the Tibet issue has been upgraded and it will henceforth be closely monitored by the Party’s higher echelons. China will continue to further restrict the Dalai Lama’s international space and a stiffening in China’s attitude and statements regarding the Dalai Lama can be anticipated.
Jayadeva Ranade is a former Additional Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India and is president of the Centre for China Analysis and Strategy.