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Chinese military promotes Tibet paramilitary unit's political chief in 'unusual' move

October 13, 2014

South China Morning Post, October 8, 2014 - The Chinese military has promoted Tibet’s political officer of the armed police forces, giving him more authority than many of his peers in other provinces, in an apparent effort to bolster the party’s control over security in the region.

Tang Xiao, political commissar for the paramilitary unit in the Tibet Autonomous Region, was promoted to a rank equivalent to lieutenant general, on the orders of the People’s Liberation Army General Political Department.

“[The decision] is made considering the special circumstances and strategic position the force is located, and its heavy tasks. [The directive] aimed to ensure a long and resting peace in Tibet,” the directive was quoted by the official Tibet Daily as saying.

As political commissar, Tang represents the Communist Party in the army unit and supervises troops’ ideology. The commissar usually serves as the second-in-command to the commanding officer in the army.

The armed police force answers to both the Central Military Commission and the State Council, China’s cabinet. The force is primarily responsible for law enforcement in peacetime, including quelling local social unrest, providing disaster relief and fire-fighting.

As the unit ensures social stability in Tibet, it must “retain absolute loyalty” to the party and “enhance its anti-terrorism capability”, the Daily said.

Ni Lexiong, a Shanghai-based military affairs expert, said the promotion stood in stark contrast from the PLA’s efforts to streamline its enormous military – the world’s biggest – in recent years.

“The promotion means an expansion of army personnel, an extended jurisdiction, and a status upgrade,” Ni said. “The underlying message is that the central government has weighed tremendous emphasis on the region.”

Ni said the commanding officer of Tibet’s armed police force is expected to be promoted to a rank equivalent to lieutenant general as well, because the commanding chief of an army usually has a rank at least equal to that of a political commissar.

“But the very fact that the political commissar’s promotion came before that of the commanding officer underscored the notion of ‘party commands the gun’,” Ni said, referring to a party slogan that implies that party organs at all levels must retain strict control over their military forces.

“The directive of the promotion is intended to show that military must only answer to party leadership and serve the best interest of the Party,” Ni added.

The mountainous southwest region of Tibet has been source of social unrest and has seen ethnic tensions flare between the ethnic Tibetan population and the Chinese government over the past few years.

Human rights groups and pro-Tibetan organisations blame the central government’s suppression of Tibetans’ religion and human rights. Since 2009, some 130 Tibetans have self-immolated to protest against Chinese rule.

The Chinese government, however, said overseas forces and the Dalai Lama are to blame for instigating separatism, inciting ethnic clashes and causing the immolations.

In July, the commanding officer and political commissar of the PLA’s military force in Tibet were both promoted to lieutenant generals, a rank higher than most other provincial-level military officers.

The Chinese government has been opaque about the number of troops in its armed police force. A defence white paper Chinese government published in 2006 put the number at 660,000.

 

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