Party Congress Promotes Officials Linked to Harsh Policies Toward Tibetans

May 5, 2008

The 17th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which concluded on October 21, 2007, resulted in the promotions of two high-ranking Party officials, Zhou Yongkang and Liu Yandong, whose recent posts associate them with harsh policies that contribute to the repression of human rights such as the freedoms of religion and expression, and that undermine ethnic minority rights guaranteed by China's Constitution and system of regional ethnic autonomy.


The 17th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which concluded on October 21, 2007, resulted in the promotions of two high-ranking Party officials, Zhou Yongkang and Liu Yandong, whose recent posts associate them with harsh policies that contribute to the repression of human rights such as the freedoms of religion and expression, and that undermine ethnic minority rights guaranteed by China's Constitution and system of regional ethnic autonomy. The Party’s elevation of Zhou and Liu to the highest levels of Party power is likely to signify strong endorsement of their work, and ensure the continuation and perhaps strengthening of the policies associated with them, especially during the period of the Party's 16th Central Committee (2002-2007).

Although Zhou's and Liu's work impacts citizens and groups throughout China, this article will consider their promotions within the context of the human rights and rule of law environment for ethnic Tibetans living in China. Their promotions may presage heightened repression of ethnic minority groups and of cultural, religious, and political rights that the Party suspects could threaten the Party's supremacy or ethnic and national unity. Ethnic and religious issues could be treated as an even higher priority during the period of the 17th Central Committee (2007-2012) than during past five years. The level of Party intolerance toward Tibetan religious activity and expression that it deems threatening may increase, instead of moderating as China becomes a more mature, prosperous, and resilient nation.

Zhou Yongkang is one of the most influential Party figures guiding policy and implementation with respect to public security and the process of investigating, charging, prosecuting, trying, and sentencing cases of alleged criminal activity. Liu Yandong has played a prominent role in ensuring implementation of Party polices toward ethnic minorities and religion. She has played a direct and important role since late 2002 in the on-going dialogue between China and the Dalai Lama's representatives, a process that has resulted in little evidence of progress. Zhou and Liu are both members of the Party's highest ranking group focused on Tibetan issues, giving added weight to their promotions and their views on policy and its implementation.

(See the CECC 2007 Annual Report for more information on human rights in Tibetan areas of China, and on Chinese government implementation of regional ethnic autonomy.)

Zhou Yongkang Promoted to the Standing Committee of the Politburo
(People’s Daily bio, 22 October 07)

Swift Rise to Party's Most Powerful Body

Zhou Yongkang has moved up swiftly to join the Party's highest-ranked and most powerful body, the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau (Politburo) of the Central Committee, and to head one of the Central Committee's most influential supervisory groups, the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee (Xinhua, 26 December 07). Advancing within the Central Committee at each of the 14th-17th Party Congresses, he attained the rank of an alternate Central Committee member at the 14th Congress, full Central Committee member at the 15th Congress, member of the Politburo at the 16th Congress, and member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo at the 17th Congress. Zhou held the posts of Party Secretary and Minister of the Ministry of Public Security from 2002-2007. As Secretary of the Party's Political and Legislative Affairs Committee, Zhou presides over a group whose members include the leadership of the state's security, legal, and judicial establishment (Web site of China's Central Government, State Structure, visited 22 January 08): Xiao Yang (President of the Supreme People's Court), Jia Chunwang (Procurator General of the Supreme People's Procuratorate), Wu Aiying (Minister of Justice), Meng Jianzhu (Minister of Public Security), and Geng Huichang (Minister of State Security). Zhou served as the committee's Deputy Secretary from 2002-2007.

Party Secretary in Sichuan Province

Zhou served as the Secretary of the Sichuan Province Communist Party Committee from 1999-2002, a period that included the partial destruction of the Larung Gar and Yachen Gar monastic teaching institutions, located in Ganzi (Kardze) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, and the expulsion of thousands of Tibetan Buddhist nuns and monks from the institutions. (International Campaign for Tibet, 20 June 01 and 9 July 04). During Zhou's tenure as the Sichuan Party Secretary, authorities throughout the Tibetan autonomous areas of China detained or imprisoned 187 Tibetans for peaceful expression or non-violent activity, based on information available in the CECC Political Prisoner Database (PPD). Of those 187 Tibetans, 60, of whom 33 were monks and nuns, were detained or imprisoned in Sichuan. In two of the Sichuan cases, the Ganzi Intermediate People's Court sentenced to imprisonment popular Tibetan Buddhist teachers who had traveled to India without official permission and met with the Dalai Lama: Sonam Phuntsog (detained October 2004, sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for "splittism"); and Tenzin Deleg (detained April 2002, sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve, later commuted to life imprisonment, for conspiring to cause explosions and inciting splittism).

While Zhou served as the Sichuan Party secretary, he characterized China's ethnic minority educational system, which provides for teaching of ethnic minority languages as well as for classes to be taught in those languages, as a "heavy burden" on the government, and questioned whether the government should "bother so much" with the program (South China Morning Post, in OSC, 14 March 00). He accused Tibetans of having "blind faith" in the Dalai Lama and of wasting their money by offering donations to Buddhist monasteries, according to the article.

Leadership of Party and Government Agencies Pressuring Tibetan Rights

During the 2002-2007 period when Zhou held the top public security posts in both the Party and government and the position of Deputy Secretary of the Party's Political and Legislative Affairs Committee, Chinese security officials, procuratorates, and courts in Tibetan autonomous areas of China pursued a policy of detaining, charging, convicting, and sentencing Tibetans to imprisonment for peaceful expressions and activities that officials characterized as "splittism" (Criminal Law, Article 103: "splitting the State or undermining unity of the country"). After Zhou's promotion to the Secretary of the committee, he called on senior officials attending a December 26, 2007, national conference on "politics and law work" to "master the work objectives of improving the national security strategy and system, earnestly safeguard national security, as well as remain highly vigilant and strictly guard against all kinds of splittist, infiltration and subversive activities," (Xinhua, translated in OSC 28 December 07).

Even as Tibetans have become far less confrontational since the early- and mid-1990s, insofar as more recently they rarely resort to open displays of behavior that Chinese officials punish as threats to state security (see below), authorities have not responded to the change by moderating the level of repression of expressions of ethnic and religious identity―especially in cases where Tibetan devotion to the Dalai Lama is involved. Instead, officials have tightened enforcement of laws and seek to punish activity that is innocuous in comparison with previous years. Tibetans in the early- and mid-1990s faced imprisonment for bold expressions of public dissent, such as staging demonstration marches in busy public locations. In the post-2000 period, however, authorities imprison Tibetans for activities such as possessing pictures of the Dalai Lama and copies of his teachings, writing or possessing "splittist" literature, or for arguing with a patriotic education instructor.

Imprisonment Data: After Public Protests Decline, Inconsequential Actions Punished

Comparing information about Tibetan political imprisonment for the period 2002-2007 with 1992-1997 shows that while Zhou exercised authority over the public security establishment, officials punished Tibetans for inconsequential activity, claiming that the activities endangered state security, even after Tibetans had dramatically moderated the scale and style of expressions of dissent. During the 1992-1997 period there were 1,232 political detentions of Tibetans, according to CECC analysis of PPD information, of which at least 529 (43 percent) resulted from peaceful public demonstrations by Tibetans. An additional 73 (6 percent) of the detentions were the result of protests (including prison protests). Another 259 (21 percent) of the Tibetans put up small posters or distributed leaflets to make political or religious statements. Of the remaining detentions, 95 (8 percent)--a figure certain to be low--are known to have resulted from making statements or possessing materials about the Dalai Lama or Panchen Lama. Of those 95 Tibetans, 32 (33 percent) used posters or leaflets to make their statements.

In comparison, during 2002-2007, none of the protests is known to have been a public demonstration march in a public area. At least 107 (75 percent) of the 142 known political detentions of Tibetans during the period resulted from making statements about the Dalai Lama or possessing materials associated with him, based on PPD information current in January 2008. About 30 (29 percent) of the 107 Tibetans put up small posters or distributed leaflets to make their statements. Of the remaining 35 detentions, only 13 (9 percent) are known to have been the result of protest activity such as shouting slogans.

Deputy Leader of the Party's Tibet Work Coordination Group

Zhou plays a leading role in the Party's top Tibetan policy work group, which seeks to end the Dalai Lama's influence among Tibetans and to prioritize economic development over protecting Tibetan culture. After the 16th Party Congress in 2002, the Central Committee leadership appointed Zhou as one of three deputy leaders of the group, headed by Jia Qinglin, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee and the Chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), according to a July 10, 2006, People's Daily report (translated in OSC, 23 April 07). The other two deputy leaders are Liu Yandong, Head of the Party's United Front Work Department (UFWD) and Vice Chairman of the CPPCC, and Hua Jianmin, State Councilor and Secretary General of the State Council. An April 17, 2007, Singtao Daily report (translated in OSC, 18 April 07) implied that the group's leadership had not previously been made public and stated that the group is formally known as either the "Central Tibet Work Coordination Group" or the "Central Coordination Group on the Struggle Against the Dalai Clique." The group has "overall charge of Tibetan affairs," the Singtao Daily report said.

The Tibet work group's "main tasks" are "opposing the Dalai clique and maintaining Tibet's stability," and a principal means of achieving those goals is accelerated economic development, according to the People's Daily report. Completion of the Qinghai-Tibet railroad in July 2006, added "a beautiful chapter to the history of Tibet," and demonstrated the "correct leadership" of central authorities in their work to "consolidate and develop" the TAR and other Tibetan ethnic areas, according to the report. The group held five leadership meetings in the 2003-2006 period, according to People's Daily, as well as three regional level work meetings in the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Liu Yandong Promoted to the Politburo
(People's Daily bio, 22 October 07)

Head of the Party's United Front Work Department (UFWD)

Liu Yandong, who served as Head of the UFWD from December 2002 (Xinhua, 5 December 2002) until December 2007 (Xinhua, 2 December 07), has been promoted to the 25-member Politburo of the Central Committee. Liu's attainment of Politburo rank was concurrent with State Council Vice Premier Wu Yi's retirement from the Politburo and Central Committee (Xinhua, 21 October 2007), positioning Liu as China's highest-ranking female Party official. Liu has served since 2003 as a Vice Chairwoman of the CPPCC national committee and a member of its Leading Party Members’ Group. The UFWD oversees the implementation of Party policy toward China's eight "democratic" political parties, ethnic and religious groups, intellectuals, and entrepreneurs, among other functions. In 2005, the UFWD established a new bureau to handle Tibetan affairs, according to a Singtao Daily report (translated in OSC, 15 September 06). The Seventh Bureau's mission is "to cooperate with relevant parties in struggling against secessionism by enemies, both local and foreign, such as the Dalai Lama clique, and to liaise with overseas Tibetans."

As noted above, Liu is a Deputy Leader of the Party's Tibet Work Coordination Group tasked with "opposing the Dalai clique" and pursuing a Tibetan solution based on accelerated economic development.

Dialogue with the Dalai Lama's Representatives

Despite the Party's hostility toward the Dalai Lama, the UFWD served as the host organization for the dialogue process between Chinese officials and the Dalai Lama's representatives, Special Envoy Lodi Gyari and Envoy Kelsang Gyaltsen, during all of their five visits to China. Liu's status as Head of the UFWD during four of the five visits to China by the envoys associates her with the disappointing status of the dialogue. The CECC noted in its 2007 Annual Report:

The Commission has observed no evidence of substantive progress in that dialogue toward fair and equitable decisions about policies that could help to protect Tibetans and their religion, language, and culture, even though a session of dialogue took place each year beginning in 2002, and even though a basis for such protections exists under China's Constitution and law.

On their first trip, the envoys met with Wang Zhaoguo, then-Head of the UFWD and currently a Vice Chairman of the National People's Congress. Liu served as UFWD Head during the subsequent four visits, and met with the envoys herself on their second and third trips in 2003 and 2004. After meeting with the UFWD's top official during the first three visits, the envoys met UFWD Deputy Head Zhu Weiqun on their fourth and fifth visits in 2006 and 2007. In an address to the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C. in November 2006, Gyari identified the Chinese government's distrust of the Dalai Lama as "one of the most critical obstacles" facing Tibetans in the dialogue process. In Gyari's statement following the 2007 trip, the briefest and least optimistic issued after any of the rounds of dialogue, he noted that the envoys had conveyed their "serious concerns in the strongest possible manner," and that the dialogue process had reached a "critical stage." (See Special Envoy's statements on visits to China in September 2002, May-June 2003, September 2004, February 2006, and June-July, 2007. In June-July 2005, the envoys met with Zhu Weiqun in Bern, Switzerland. See CECC articles on rounds of dialogue in 2005 and 2006. See CECC Annual Reports 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007 for more information on the dialogue.)

Heading a Tibetan Cultural Preservation Organization

Liu is the head of an organization that describes its purpose as preserving Tibetan culture, and that has registered with the United Nations (UN) as an independent NGO although it is supervised by senior Party and government officials. In her role as Honorary President of the China Association for Preservation and Development of Tibetan Culture (CAPDTC), Liu opened the organization's first China Tibetan Culture Forum in Beijing in October 2006, according to an October 10, 2006, report by the China Tibet Information Center (CTIC),a Chinese government-run Web site. Liu retained the position as of December 2007 when CAPDTC held its second forum in Nepal, according to a December 13, 2007, CTIC report. CAPDTC was founded in 2004 and promotes increased economic development and tourism as measures that can help to ensure the preservation and development of Tibetan culture. UFWD Deputy Head Zhu Weiqun is also the Vice President of CAPDTC, and Sithar (Sita), director of the UFWD's Seventh Bureau that handles Tibetan affairs, is the Vice Chairman of CAPDTC. (CAPDTC, 9 October 06; CTIC, 10 October 06; China Daily, 10 October 06; CAPDTC, 10 October 06; CTIC, 9 October 06; CAPDTC, 11 October 06).

For more information, see Section IV, Tibet: Special Focus for 2007, in the CECC 2007 Annual Report; Section VIII, Tibet, in the CECC 2006 Annual Report; and Section VI, Tibet, in the CECC 2005 Annual Report.