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New security chief's hard line on Tibetans sparks dissent in party

February 15, 2012

BEIJING: The promotion of a hardline Communist Party chief, despite his ''strike hard'' policies apparently contributing to a spate of Tibetans setting themselves on fire, has triggered a rare and passionate protest letter from inside the Party system.

Aba, or Ngaba in Tibetan, has become one of the most volatile prefectures in China since the Communist Party boss Shi Jun entrenched a confrontational approach to controlling the area's majority Tibetan population.

Mr Shi appears to have received a major promotion - to be vice governor and public security boss of Sichuan province - after more than a dozen self-immolations and also reported police shootings under his rule in the past year.

A young Free Tibet supporter waves a flag in protest. A spate of Tibetans have set themselves on fire protesting against the Chinese government.

[A young Free Tibet supporter waves a flag in protest. A spate of Tibetans have set themselves on fire protesting against the Chinese government. Photo: AP]

A letter by an ethnic Tibetan cadre, Luo Feng, circulated widely since Mr Shi's promotion, claimed Mr Shi had made his career out of exaggerating rebellious threats and stampeding over cultural and linguistic divisions. He said the local monastery was crawling with so many officials that it resembled the Cultural Revolution.

The streets were like the war zones of Libya or Iraq, with people talking about a guard at every three paces and a sentry at every five, and even herdsman had lost hope and freedom without seeing returns from economic development, it said.

Mr Luo could not be contacted yesterday but several political specialists told the Herald they believed it to be authentic.

''The man-made disasters can not be separated from … his ultra-leftists thought and actions,'' the letter stated. It said Mr Shi had pursued blatantly discriminator personnel policies and had called Tibetans ''ferocious and stupid''.

Robbie Barnett, a Tibet scholar at Columbia University, said the ''highly unusual and revealing'' open letter, in the voice of an ethnic Tibetan loyal party member, highlights an anomaly in China where officials seem to be punished for unrest in ethnic Han areas but not for ''catastrophic failure'' in Aba and Lhasa.

Rare footage from inside the blockaded area shows roads flooded with paramilitary police - armed with semi-automatic rifles and fire hydrants - although reporters are banned from the area and internet and mobile connections have been cut.

By 2009 public security spending had risen to six times the average of non-Tibetan prefectures in Sichuan.

Separately, a journal article by one of China's most senior Tibet policymakers hinted that the party is considering an abrupt shift towards overtly assimilationist policies, after more than 60 years of recognising cultural and ethnic difference.

Zhu Weiqun, the deputy head of the Communist Party's United Front Work Department, said listing ethnic minority status on identity cards, using ethnic names for schools and regions and reserving privileges for ethnic minorities were obstacles to nationalism and cohesion.

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