Join our Mailing List

"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Promotions among Tibet military leaders signal Party approval

March 11, 2010

International Campaign for Tibet (ICT)
March 9, 2010

Recent shifts in military personnel in Tibet
indicate that the Chinese government appears to
be satisfied with how the military has handled
the situation in Tibet and the protests that
swept across the plateau since March, 2008. The
Commander of the Tibet Military District,
Lieutenant General Shu Yutai, was quietly
promoted and replaced at the end of December,
2009, while the Political Commissar of the
Chengdu Military Region in Sichuan, General Zhang
Haiyang, was promoted to Beijing and made
Political Commissar of the elite Second Artillery
Corps, which is in charge of China's nuclear arsenal.

These are key posts in terms of how the Chinese
Communist Party (CCP) controls Tibet. The
People's Liberation Army (PLA) had a critical
role in implementing the crackdown in Lhasa on
March 14, 2008, and elsewhere in Tibet following
the wave of overwhelmingly peaceful protests that
spread across the plateau. The Commander of the
People's Liberation Army (PLA) Tibet Military
District is ranked sixth in the Tibet Autonomous
Region (TAR) Party hierarchy, but in terms of
influence is probably second only to the top post
in the region, that of Party Secretary Zhang Qingli.

Lieutenant General Shu Yutai, who is now
returning to the Chengdu Military Region as a
Deputy Commander, had only served as Commander of
the Tibet Military District since July 2008.
Prior to his posting in the Tibet Military
District, which borders Nepal, India, Bhutan and
Burma (Myanmar), he commanded the Yunnan Military
District, which also borders Burma as well as
Laos and Vietnam. During his posting in Yunnan,
he was involved in issues of border security.
("PRC Army's NPC Deputies Urge Speeding up Land
Boundary Law Legislation," Liberation Daily, March 20, 2008.)

Just three weeks before his promotion from
Commander of the Tibet Military District,
Lieutenant General Shu led a delegation to
Kathmandu that brokered an aid package to Nepal's
military including reciprocal commitments from
the Nepalese authorities to tighten security
along the border with Tibet. ("Tibet military
delegation offers Nepal support," eKantipur,
December 7, 2009.) China has an increasingly
heavy footprint in Nepal, which has heightened
the risks for Tibetans both transiting through
Nepal into exile in India, and those resident in Nepal.

Lieutenant General Shu is being replaced as
Commander of the Tibet Military District by Major
General Yang Jinshan, who previously served as
Director of the Chengdu Military Region's
Armaments Department. Major General Yang has
already made several high-profile public
appearances in Lhasa since his appointment in
December 2009, with his name frequently appearing
in lists of senior government and Party attendees
of key meetings and conferences.

Just as the PLA were brought in to implement the
imposition of martial law in Lhasa in March,
1989, they were also brought into Lhasa in March,
2008, to crack down on protests, rioting on March 14, and dissent.

Military analysts have reported that the security
forces' handling of the Lhasa riot on March 14,
2008, was very similar to the way it dealt with
the 1989 demonstrations in Tiananmen Square. In
the early phase, a large number of regular troops
from the PLA were sent to the scene to deter the protestors.

General Zhang Haiyang's replacement as Political
Commissar of the Chengdu Military Region, who
will be one of the senior military officers with
responsibility for most of Tibet, is General Tian
Xiusi from Henan who has spent his entire
military career of almost 40 years in Xinjiang
Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). General Tian
Xiusi held the post of Political Commissar of the
Xinjiang Military District, which along with the
Tibet Military District has "active combat units
including infantry divisions and brigades,
artillery brigades, and other logistics support,"
according to analysis of the PLA's field units at
www.sinodefence.com [1]. Stationing combat troops
in Tibet and the XUAR is likely to be primarily
strategic in an area with numerous international
boundaries and diverse geopolitical
considerations; however, the presence of combat
troops and military hardware in the region is
certain to factor into domestic security
planning. General Zhang's promotion to Beijing
could lead to him serving on the powerful Central
Military Commission in the near future.

Typically in the PLA, Political Commissars are
akin to Party Secretaries in civilian work-places
in that they oversee political discipline and
allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party - the
PLA is constituted as the military arm of the CCP, not the state.

Within 48 hours of the start of the riots in
Lhasa on March 14, 2008, T-90/89 armored
personnel carriers and T-92 wheeled infantry
fighting vehicles appeared on the streets as the
149th Division of the No. 13 Group Army - under
the Chengdu Military Region - was dispatched to
Lhasa. The 149th Division was also the first PLA
combat unit to arrive on the scene when unrest
occurred in 1989 in Lhasa - although at that
time, they arrived by road, lacking the option of
arriving by rail. Military analyst Andrei Chung,
editor-in-chief of Kanwa Defense Review Monthly,
wrote: "This rapid troop deployment indicates
that with the completion of the Qinghai-Tibet
railroad in 2006, the rapid reaction capability
of the Chinese armed forces in the Tibet region,
particularly the ability to quickly maneuver
heavy equipment, has been greatly enhanced."
("Analysis: controlling Tibet - Part 1," UPI, July 2, 2008, www.upi.com [2].)

Photographs were taken of some of the PLA armored
personnel carriers on the streets of Lhasa with
sheets of newspaper tacked over the insignia
during the protests, as if to disguise their
provenance - it is the People's Armed Police
(PAP) that is generally tasked with enforcing
order domestically in China. Analysts also stated
that PLA troops stationed in Lhasa and elsewhere
during the protests of March 2008 and beyond
consisted of the 52nd Mountain Infantry Brigade
under the command of the Tibet Military District,
described together with the No 13 Group Army
commanded from Chengdu as "the most crack combat
units with most outstanding rapid reaction
capability in China's southwest region." ("Elite
PLA army units enter Lhasa," March 21, 2008,
Kanwa Daily News, www.kanwa.com [3].)

For largely administrative reasons, the PRC is
divided into seven 'military regions,' with the
Tibetan plateau divided between the Chengdu and
Lanzhou Military Regions. These and the other
five military regions are then sub-divided into
'military districts,' which are usually -
although not always - demarcated along provincial boundaries.

The Lanzhou Military Region covers all of Qinghai
province, Gansu province - which includes Kanlho
(Chinese: Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture -
and Ngari (Chinese: Ali) prefecture in the TAR,
bordering India. It also includes the XUAR,
Shaanxi and Ningxia provinces, making it the
largest military region in the PRC in terms of
geographical area. The rest of the TAR, along
with all of Sichuan and Yunnan provinces - which
include the three Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures
of Kardze (Ch: Ganzi), Ngaba (Ch: Aba) and Dechen
(Ch: Diqing) - constitutes the Chengdu Military Region.

The People's Armed Police (PAP) and PLA are both
under the joint command of the Party's Central
Military Commission chaired by President Hu
Jintao, and the State Council - China's cabinet.
Generally, the PAP, which is funded by the State
Council, not the military, is tasked with
enforcing order internally in China, while the
PLA is tasked with national defense.

International Campaign for Tibet
1825 Jefferson Place NW | Washington, DC | 20036 | United States of America
Phone: (202) 785-1515 | Fax: (202) 785-4343 | info@savetibet.org
© 2009 International Campaign for Tibet
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
Developed by plank