On 28 August 2016, soon after the annual conclave of senior Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders at the Beidaihe seaside resort, China’s official news agency Xinhua announced the appointment of a new party secretary for the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). This first round of appointments included new party chiefs for the Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), Nei Mongol (Inner Mongolia) Autonomous Region and Yunnan Province, all of which have a large population of ethnic minorities. Indicating that he had a successful tenure in Tibet and is on track for promotion to the Politburo, Chen Quanguo has now been moved as party secretary of Xinjiang. These appointments figuring in the first round indicates the importance that China’s leadership accords to managing its border provinces and the ethnic minorities.
Of particular interest to India is the appointment of Wu Yingjie as the new party secretary for the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). It would be difficult for the CCP to find another ethnic Han cadre who is as Tibetan as Wu Yingjie. The last party secretary of TAR who was fluent in Tibetan and was regarded as a Tibetan was former PLA General Yin Fatang, who served as party secretary from 1980-1985.
Till his elevation, Wu Yingjie was one of the four TAR deputy party secretaries. The two who ranked higher than him were Padma Choling and Lobsang Gyaltsen, both ethnic Tibetans, but Wu Yingjie was designated the executive deputy secretary. An early indication that Wu Yingjie’s career was on an upward trajectory was his being sent to the Central Party School in Beijing from March 2000 to January 2001.
Wu Yingjie has an impeccable pedigree as a “red descendant”. His father, Wu Ziming was a member of the party committee and secretary of the Communist Youth League in Changyi County, Shandong Province. Wu Ziming was transferred to Tibet from Shandong’s Changyi county in 1956 before Wu Yingjie’s birth and assigned work in Golmud. All his family members, along with Wu Yingjie, came to settle with him in Golmud in 1958.
Born in Changyi County in Shandong Province in December 1956, Wu Yingjie graduated from a high school in Shandong in 1974. He first came to TAR as an “educated youth” under the Tibet Aid programme and worked in Nyingchi. Wu Yingjie stayed on in Tibet for the next more than 40 years and worked with the TAR government. He joined the CCP in May 1978. Once the all-China college entrance exams resumed, Wu Yingjie enrolled in the Chinese Language and Literature Department of the Tibet Nationalities Institute, Xianyang in Shaanxi in 1979.
After graduating from University in August 1983, he returned to Tibet and was assigned to the TAR’s Board of Education. In May 2000, Wu Yingjie was appointed director of the Tibet Education Department. Wu Yingjie is credited with having “worked hard to promote the development of education in Tibet” and making “important contributions” to the Tibetan schools.
In January 2003, Wu Yingjie was promoted to the level of a deputy provincial cadre and appointed vice chairman of the TAR government. He also served as director of the TAR Party Propaganda Department and later as deputy chairman of the TAR government.
As director of the TAR Propaganda Department, Wu Yingjie received special credit for the propaganda work during the TAR’s 40th anniversary celebrations in 2005. At the time of the March riots in Lhasa in 2008, he would have worked closely with Liu Yunshun, then director of the CCP CC’s Propaganda Department, in shaping a decisive role for the CCP’s propaganda apparatus, which for the first time introduced a schism between the Han majority and Tibetans. Liu Yunshun is currently a member of the Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC). Official Chinese media reports state that “a resounding success of patriotism education was seen” during Wu Yingjie’s tenure as director of the TAR’s Propaganda Department.
Wu Yingjie’s appointment as TAR party secretary suggests an effort by Beijing to adopt and project a more sensitive and understanding approach towards Tibetans. While his predecessor, Chen Quanguo established a stringent security grid and enhanced the Party’s presence and surveillance throughout Tibet, including in Tibetan monasteries, Wu Yingjie is likely to give more importance to the Party’s propaganda effort.
He will also retain the focus on education. The appointments also indicate that decisions have been taken anticipating that there will be over 90 vacancies to be filled in the CCP Central Committee at the 19th Party Congress. There will also be five clear vacancies in the PBSC and six among the 18 full members of the Politburo. Xi Jinping will try to fill as many of these as possible with loyalists.
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.