Xi Jinping

Beijing's education pledge to Tibet

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 July, 2011, 12:00am


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The central government is planning to raise university enrolment among students in Tibet to 30 per cent over the next five years, local officials said yesterday, as the region marked the 60th anniversary of its 'peaceful liberation' with a series of celebrations presided over by Vice-President Xi Jinping.

Xi reiterated during his meeting with university students that Tibet was an inalienable part of China, and that Tibetans were part of the Chinese community, state-run broadcaster CCTV reported.

The vice-president, joined by a 59-member central government delegation, attended the opening ceremony of an exhibition showcasing the development of the region.

Beijing has been scrambling to calm ethnic tensions in the region since riots in March 2008.

Among the latest measures is a plan to spend 3 billion yuan (HK$3.63 billion) to boost university enrolment from the current 23.4 per cent, Xinhua quoted Song Heping, head of the regional government's education department, as saying yesterday.

One-third of the funds will be invested in infrastructure, while the rest will go to improve teaching and research quality at six institutions. More than 13,000 students, mostly ethnic Tibetans, study at Tibet's six universities and junior colleges.

'The enrolment measures can help train Tibetans to become local government officials, which will be useful in tackling local problems,' said Hu Shisheng , a researcher in South Asian studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

In addition to boosting college enrolment, the delegates also presented herders and residents with gifts. The items included stainless-steel pressure cookers, televisions and solar-powered lights.

Xi arrived in the regional capital, Lhasa, on Sunday, when he attended an opening ceremony for Tibet's first expressway, which links Lhasa and its airport.

Analysts said the promises and visit by the high-level government delegation, which also included Vice-Premier Hui Liangyu and PLA Chief of General Staff Chen Bingde , indicated that the central government still regards Tibet as an urgent priority.

'The Dalai Lama is still influential overseas,' said Professor Zhao Gancheng , director of South Asian studies at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies. 'The central government is still very concerned with the stability of Tibet.'

Zhao said the statuses of Taiwan and Tibet were two pressing issues facing the central government. Xi, expected to be the next president, was familiar with Taiwan through serving in Fujian province from 1985 to 2000, and he may use the visit to learn more about Tibet, Zhao added.

'It will be beneficial to the local development if Xi, as a future leader, strengthens ties with local officials and understands more about the challenges facing the region,' Zhao said.

Unlike President Hu Jintao, a former party secretary of Tibet, Xi does not have much experience in the region, said Barry Sautman, an associate professor of social science at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

'The visit by Xi sends an indication that the central government wants to learn more about the result of what the central and local governments have been doing [in addressing ethnic issues] over the years,' he said. 'Xi is not there only for ceremonies, but to see what else might be done.'

Sautman said Xi might rely more on think tanks and local officials to address ethnic issues, because he had less personal knowledge of Tibet.

The central government and the Tibetan local government signed an agreement on May 23, 1951, declaring 'peaceful liberation' in the region, but the anniversary celebration did not take place until now because the central government 'wants the 90th anniversary of the Communist Party celebration to take precedence over everything,' Sautman said.

But Zhao said the Tibetan celebration and the party celebration should not be linked.