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How About the Tibetan Personnel Changes in Lhasa?

January 18, 2010

Bhuchung K. Tsering

www.weblog.savetibet.org

January 12, 2010

The Chinese Government has confirmed on January 12, 2010 that both Lekchok
(Ch: Legqog), the Chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) People's
Congress, and Jampa Phuntsok (Ch: Qiangba Puncog), the Chairman/Governor of
the TAR Government, will be resigning from their posts. We had an inkling of
this happening for some time.

The natural next thing now is to speculate the reasons behind these
personnel changes. Are they routine or can we see some political messages?
Keeping in mind His Holiness the Dalai Lama's call to "Hope for the best
while preparing for the worst," I see two or three possible reasons. Before
I do that, however, I want to speculate the future of the two gentlemen
first.

It was already announced on January 6, 2010 that Lekchok would leave his
Communist Party position, namely being a deputy secretary. Since he would no
longer have a Party or a government position now, and since he seems to have
reached the retirement age for provincial leaders, it is most possible he
will fade away into the sunset. However, given his initial academic
background I would not be surprised if he is given some tasks in that field
to boost up the overall Tibet strategy.

As for Jampa Phuntsok, I have not seen any report of his having been
relieved of his Party post of a deputy secretary. Also, age-wise, he has
some years till retirement, and so it could be that he may step into the
shoes of Lekchok as the Chairman of the TAR People's Congress (just as
Lekchok did when Apo Ragdi (Ch: Raidi) moved from that post to the NPC in
Beijing some years back). In this scenario, Pema Thinley (Ch: Baima Chilin),
who was recently promoted to being a deputy secretary of the Party, would
become the Chairman of the TAR Government. As it is, he is a Vice Chairman
of the TAR Government.

Alternatively, Jampa Phuntsok may go to Beijing to be the "Tibetan face" at
the national scene. Since Ragdi's "retirement" more than a year back, there
is no Tibetan at the national level holding a formal position in the
National People's Congress.

Now the answer as to why such changes are being made, if we hope for the
best, then we can put them in the context of the January 8, 2010 meeting of
the Politburo on Tibet and to say that all these are part of the effort by
Beijing to have a new approach on Tibet. The hope also rests on the
assumption that the Politburo meeting really discussed Tibet on the basis of
addressing the needs of the Tibetan people and not to find ways to confront
the "Dalai Clique." The Xinhua report refers to the Politburo meeting
emphasizing the need to "adhere to the road of development with Chinese and
Tibet's characteristics." I am looking forward specifically to the "Tibet
characteristics" in the policy, if this can be taken positively.

The other perspective, a worst case scenario, could be seen in the context
of no change being announced regarding TAR Party Secretary Zhang Qingli, the
one individual who has come to represent Chinese rule (or misrule) over
Tibetans. It could mean that there will not be any radical changes in the
political policy towards Tibetans although we may see shift in non-political
fields. It could be that both Jampa Phuntsok and Lekchok did not meet the
expectations of Zhang Qingli or the conservative elements of the leadership.
Interestingly, for what it is worth, I was intrigued to see Lekchok seeking
recourse to the "Mao" jacket during the People's Congress meetings in Lhasa
in the past few days. Was he trying to placate the conservative elements as
a last ditch effort? Jampa Phuntsok seemed to be in a Western-style suit and
tie at the events.

In any case, what is important now is how the changes will impact the
Tibetan people. I hope it will be for the better.
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