Fighting Tibetan separatists complicated than Uygurs: official

Zhang Qingli, CPC`s Tibet Party chief, being a difficult geographical area poses great difficulties in development activities.

Updated: Jan 26, 2011, 16:58 PM IST

Beijing: Dealing with Tibetan separatists is more complicated for China than fighting the Uygur Muslim militants in Xinjiang as the former have not been categorized by the UN as terrorists and are aided by "foreign anti-China
forces," a top official of the Communist Party of China (CPC)
in Tibet has said.

Zhang Qingli, CPC`s Tibet Party chief said in a rare interview that Tibet, being a difficult geographical area poses great difficulties in development activities because the region not only has the harshest natural conditions but also
the most complicated social environment.

"Tibet`s development is constantly disrupted by foreign anti-China forces and the Dalai (Lama) clique," he told state-run China Daily blaming the Tibetan spiritual
leader for initiating riots in Lhasa on March 14, 2008, which left 19 dead and more than 400 people injured.

The riots were regarded a result of the resentment
brewing among the local Tibetans against the Han Chinese
settlers from the mainland.

Zhang regarded as a tough task master was posted in
Tibet in 2005 after a successful stint in Xinjiang, yet
another hostile province bordering Pakistan, where Chinese
forces grappled to put down the revolt of Muslim Uygur
militants spearheaded by separatist East Turkistan Islamic
Movement (ETIM) and was rocked by China`s worst riots in
decades in July 2009.

The violence left 197 dead and 1,700 injured.
Based on his experience in Xinjiang where Uygurs
protested increasing presence of ethnic Han Chinese, who
constitute over 90 percent of China`s population, Zhang drew
a close parallel between the Muslim Xinjiang and the Buddhist
Tibet.

He said Xinjiang has more than 20,000 mosques but only
8,000 Imams (clerics), whereas Tibet has fewer than 1,800
Tibetan-Buddhist temples but is home to more than 46,000
monks, making monks an integral part of Tibetan life style.

Also the ETIM, the main separatist force in Xinjiang,
has been listed as a terrorist group by the United Nations so
authorities can fight them when they strike.

But the strategy to deal with separatist forces in
Tibet, such as the Tibetan Youth Congress, needs to be
different because they are not categorised as terrorists yet,
Zhang said.

Tibet`s economy surpassed 50 billion yuan (USD 7.6
billion) in 2010, a 79 per cent increase compared to 2005 - an
annual growth of 12.4 per cent over the past five years.

Calling for more "respect" for Chinese officials
serving in the Tibet autonomous region, Zhang said they were
"risking their lives" while working for extended periods of
time in the harsh environment.

"So all of them deserve great respect and many
officials developed plateau sickness after they came to work
here from plain areas, but they`ve never complained.

"They`re prepared to give up several years of their
lives for Tibet`s development," he said.

"More than 4,100 officials in Tibet have passed away
since 2001 at an average age of 64, which falls short of
China`s average life expectancy of 72. Working in Tibet is a
challenge," he said.

Zhang said in a region of harsh conditions development
cannot be rushed, but insisted what Tibetan people have
achieved in the past five years is already remarkable.

Most of the Chinese officials who died in the plateau
passed away while working in a host of developmental projects
like building massive rail, road and air links in the remote
Himalyan region.

Zhang who turned 60 this year said he was warned at
the time of his posting to Tibet that that he would suffer
from the tough natural conditions due to his age. But he said
if local Tibetans could live there he could too.

Zhang called by Chinese official media as a "backpack
leader" for his constant travel in Tibet said he covered more
than 10,000 km touching remote villages in the first six
months he was in Tibet to establish close contacts with
people.

PTI