China's Xi Jinping makes first visit to Tibet as President

China's President Xi Jinping arrived in the regional capital Lhasa on July 22, 2021.
China's President Xi Jinping arrived in the regional capital Lhasa on July 22, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - Mr Xi Jinping has made his first visit to Tibet as Chinese President, affirming Beijing's control over a region where its military build-up and ethnic-assimilation polices have drawn international criticism.

Mr Xi arrived in the regional capital Lhasa on Thursday (July 22), the official Xinhua News Agency said on social media.

He inspected the operation of the Sichuan-Tibet railway during his visit, state broadcaster China Central Television said.

Radio Free Asia published a video of Mr Xi walking along a street lined with cheering people and the Chinese leader waving from the open window of a minibus. Mr Robert Barnett, a British academic who has written about Tibet, posted videos showing Mr Xi speaking to Tibetans.

"All regions and people of all ethnicities in Tibet will march towards a happy life in future," Mr Xi says in a video Mr Barnett posted.

"I am full of confidence as you all are. Lastly, I will not delay your dancing. Let me say this: I wish everyone a happy life and good health." "Tashi Delek," Mr Xi adds, using a Tibetan phrase wishing good fortune.

The People's Republic of China earlier this year marked the 70th anniversary of its assertion of sovereignty over Tibet. That was part of a broader effort by Mao Zedong's communists to consolidate control over territory historically claimed by China before decades of colonialism, war and internal strife.

The region has been at the centre of ongoing border tensions with India. Both sides have reorganised forces to the region after the deadliest fighting in decades last year.

China has faced criticism for its policies in Tibet, which has been subject to intense social, security and religious controls, much like its northern neighbour Xinjiang.

In May, Mr Wu Yingjie, the Communist Party chief of mostly Buddhist Tibet, lauded the progress Beijing has made developing the region, saying: "Religion has been increasingly compatible with a socialist society."

In September last year, prominent Xinjiang researcher Adrian Zenz released a report alleging that Beijing was instituting a mass labour system in Tibet similar to the one that has ensnared Muslim Uighurs.

Tibet Governor Qi Zhala said at the time that forced labour transfer "does not exist", maintaining the local government was focused on providing job training.

Radio Free Asia reported that security measures limiting people's movements in public were in place in Lhasa, and that work at factories and construction sites has been halted. A ban on flying drones and kites was also in place, it said.

Mr Tenzin Lekshay, a spokesman for the Tibet government in exile in northern India, said in a tweet that Mr Xi should "understand the true aspiration of Tibetan people and resume the dialogue to resolve the Sino-Tibetan conflict."