China's Xi makes first visit in Tibet as president

Photo: AP A man with a child pose for a photo in front of a large mural depicting Chinese President Xi Jinping and other Chinese leaders at a public square in Lhasa.

President Xi Jinping is on a rare trip to China's politically sensitive region of Tibet, state media reported on Friday. That is the first such visit by the country's top leader in more than three decades, AFP noted. In footage released by state broadcaster CCTV, Xi was seen greeting a crowd wearing ethnic costumes and waving Chinese flags as he left his plane, in a red carpet welcome as dancers performed around him.

Although he arrived on Wednesday at the Nyingchi Mainling Airport in the southeast of Tibet, there was no mention of his visit in official media until two days later. After a "warm welcome by cadres and masses of all ethnic groups", Xi went to the Nyang River Bridge to learn about ecological and environmental protection of the Yarlung Tsangpo river and the Nyang River, CCTV said.

Xi has visited Tibet twice, once in 1998 as Fujian province's party chief and another time in 2011 as vice-president. The last Chinese president to visit was Jiang Zemin in 1990.

Tibet has alternated over the centuries between independence and control by China, which says it "peacefully liberated" the rugged plateau in 1951 and brought infrastructure and education to the previously underdeveloped region. But many exiled Tibetans accuse the central government of religious repression and eroding their culture.

In 2008, the region exploded in deadly rioting after rising anger over the perceived dilution of its ancient culture by rapid Chinese-fuelled development.

Since 2008 China has poured investment into the region, making Tibet one of China's fastest-growing regions economically, according to local statistics.

China also stepped up controls over Buddhist monasteries and expanded education in the Chinese rather than Tibetan language. Critics of such policies are routinely detained and can receive long prison terms, especially if they have been convicted of association with the 86-year-old Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile in India since fleeing Tibet during an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.

China doesn’t recognize the self-declared Tibetan government-in-exile based in the hillside town of Dharmsala, and accuses the Dalai Lama of seeking to separate Tibet from China.

Meanwhile, domestic tourism has expanded massively in the region during Xi’s nine years in office and new airports, rail lines and highways constructed.

Xi's visit may be timed to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the 17 Point Agreement, which firmly established Chinese control over Tibet, which many Tibetans say had been effectively independent for most of its history. The Dalai Lama says he was forced into signing the document and has since repudiated it.

It also comes amid deteriorating relations between China and India, which share a lengthy but disputed border with Tibet.

 

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