Has Beijing’s investment in the region appealed to Tibetans?

LHASA, China – Communist Party of China Intensifies Investments in Tibet to Boost Economic Growth and Achieve Social Stability, While Seeking Harmony Between Tibetans and Ethnic Han Chinese Settlers , who constitute the majority of the country’s population.

Politics can work despite Beijing’s severe control over the troubled western region. As a foreign journalist, I visited Tibet from late May to early June as part of a rare and tightly chaperoned tour organized by Beijing. During the trip, I saw many signs of the Communist Party’s efforts to maintain its grip on the region.

Political slogans calling for loyalty to the party and the nation have been plastered all over the Tibetan Buddhist College, a religious training school in Lhasa, the region’s capital.

They urged the students to strictly abide by the party’s demands and stressed the importance of maintaining “the unity of the nation” and strengthening “racial solidarity”.

Photos of Chinese President Xi Jinping featured prominently in every classroom. Another slogan was written on the blackboard in one of the classrooms: “Celebrate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Tibet“, a reference to the forced annexation of Tibet by China as part of an agreement signed in 1951. following the liberation of the people. Army incursions into the region to gain control.

Posters of Xi on the walls of a Buddhist college classroom where a living Buddha was taking lessons. (Photo by Shunsuke Tabeta)

The college, opened in 2011, is the highest educational institution for Tibetan Buddhism. Previously, trainee monks studied Tibetan Buddhism in temples. The institution was created with the aim of ensuring Communist Party control over education in the region.

Eight “living Buddhas” are being trained at an elementary school that is part of the college. However, only about 20% of the program is devoted to religious studies, and the rest to academic subjects such as Chinese and mathematics.

In middle and high schools, religious studies represent 60%, but 20% is devoted to learning about the Communist Party to instill in children the importance of party government.

“I have befriended many other students in this school and I love learning with them,” said a nine-year-old living Buddha under the supervision of party officials.

The party began to tighten control of the region after large-scale riots broke out in Tibet in 2008. Cameras are set up all around the Jokhang Temple, widely regarded as the holiest and most important shrine in Buddhism. Tibetan, to monitor activity.

Security cameras are ubiquitous in Lhasa, especially around Tibet’s holiest temple, to ensure authorities can monitor all activity. (Photo by Shunsuke Tabeta)

There is also a security outpost near the temple entrance gates. “As all areas where people walk are fully covered by surveillance operations, for sure,” a security official said.

In 2019, China spent 13.3 billion yuan ($ 2.05 billion) on security measures in Tibet, including the installation and operation of security cameras, nearly eight times the amount. spent in 2007.

The Communist Party attaches great importance to economic growth in the region to ensure social stability, a policy which it believes will avoid discontent and rebellion. Qizhala, president of the Tibet Autonomous Region, told the Nikkei that Beijing’s investments in the region in the five years to 2025 are expected to have increased by more than 15% from the previous five years.

China has disbursed a total of 1.63 trillion yuan in investments in the region. The government has built infrastructure such as a railway line and a highway connecting Lhasa to Xining, the capital of Qinghai province in central China, as well as a hydroelectric power station. He has also invested a lot of money in the region’s tourism industry.

As a result, the region’s gross domestic product has grown at double-digit rates for years. Even though growth rates have slowed to single digits from 2018, the region is still among the most dynamic in China.

Infrastructure work underway in Lhasa, Tibet, under the shade of a large sign emphasizing the importance of the Communist Party regime. (Photo by Shunsuke Tabeta)

Per capita disposable income in urban areas of Tibet has tripled over the past 10 years, reaching 90% of the national average.

“My annual income from farming and ranching was less than 10,000 yuan, but it increased to 400,000 yuan after I started running a guesthouse,” said a man in his 50s from Nyingchi, a town in the southeast of the region.

The Communist Party had hoped that the rising standard of living would give legitimacy to its government. It may have been a success as I did not hear any complaints against the government during my trip.