THE past year has seen increased activity in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), with senior leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) frequently visiting the area. In November, the Chinese authorities released a White Paper on Tibet, where it was referred to as ‘Xizang’. Xinhua despatches and China’s official media have since been noticed referring to Tibet as ‘Xizang’. Importantly, the White Paper suggests that Chinese authorities now feel that they would be able to ensure stability in Tibet and have decided to attract foreign companies and investments to Tibet. The TAR leadership has also begun moving rapidly to attract foreign investment and make Tibet an economic hub of the Himalayan region. There appears to be a special focus on Nyingchi Prefecture opposite Arunachal Pradesh, which Chinese maps depict as within Nyingchi’s administrative boundary. This will extend China’s strategic reach across the Himalayas, reaching India’s northern borders and extending towards Central Asia.
Soon after the issue of the White Paper, the TAR’s two top leaders travelled to various countries to project Tibet as an attractive destination for foreign investment. Communist Party Secretary, TAR, Wang Junzheng visited Nepal, Singapore and New Zealand, while TAR chairman Yan Jinhai led a delegation to the Maldives, Thailand and Myanmar. Their stated objective was to implement ‘Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy’, publicise China’s success in governing Tibet ‘in the new era’ — the new code word to describe Xi’s terms in office — and promote trade, economic cooperation and secure projects under the label of the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative.
Wang visited Nepal (November 8-12) before proceeding to Sri Lanka and Singapore. Unusual for China’s provincial party secretaries, he was accompanied by a cultural troupe which staged performances in Sri Lanka and Singapore. During his five-day visit to Nepal, Wang met Nepal’s President Ram Chandra Poudel, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda, Vice-President Ram Sahaya Yadav, Ganesh Prasad Timilsina, Chairman of the National Assembly of the Federal Parliament of Nepal, and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Narayan Kaji Shrestha. They spoke of the need to make concerted efforts to implement the proceedings of Xi’s visit to Nepal in 2019 and the joint statement between the two countries. They also exchanged views on mutually beneficial cooperation between the TAR and Nepal.
Significantly, Wang said: “The TAR… will leverage its geographical and humanistic advantages to deepen exchanges and cooperation, jointly constructing a cross-Himalayan three-dimensional interconnection network.” He said the focus would be on high-quality joint construction of the Belt and Road Initiative, expanding cooperation in port construction, economy and trade, tourism and aviation. Implying that China is looking at long-term involvement and assistance to Nepal, he spoke of building ‘small and beautiful’ projects that benefit the people’s livelihood in northern Nepal. Wang also said exchanges with Nepalese universities, academic institutions and think tanks will be strengthened, ‘friendly-city’ relations established, people-to-people communication fostered and practical cooperation between China and Nepal deepened. He was briefed on the operation of Himalayan Airlines, a Sino-Nepal joint venture.
Predictably, there was a political agenda for his visit. This was reflected in his meetings with KP Sharma Oli, Chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) and former Prime Minister; Agni Prasad Sapkota, Vice-Chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre); and Nepal Workers and Peasants Party chief Narayan Man Bijukchhe.
In Singapore, Wang pushed for increased economic cooperation. He said to learn from its advanced experiences, the TAR wants to enhance exchanges in science, technology, ecology and urban planning standards, and foster innovation in enterprises. He expressed a desire to expand cooperation in culture and tourism, and strengthen people-to-people and cultural exchanges and urged Singaporean companies to invest and establish businesses in Tibet. He highlighted the advantages for Singapore, including stating that it could capitalise on Tibet’s policy incentives and actively engage in the high-quality economic development and extensive opening of the Tibetan Plateau to achieve mutual benefits.
Yan Jinhai, TAR chief and Deputy Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Tibet Committee, led a delegation to the Maldives, Thailand and Myanmar from November 19 to 28. Its stated purpose was to publicise the ‘successful practice and richness of the party’s strategy for governing Tibet in the new era’. His aim was to promote extensive exchanges and cooperation under the framework of the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative. Yan met new Maldives President Muizzu and discussed closer cooperation in various areas, including the initiation of direct flights between the Maldives and TAR and ways to expand tourism. A Chinese communique issued later said Yan had explored ways to further expand tourism, and discussed cultural similarities and shared challenges, such as climate change. In Thailand, Yan held discussions with Charoen Pokphand Group’s Senior Chairman Xie Guomin and the Chairman of the Thai-Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Lin Chuqin. On November 24, he met Pattaya Mayor Poramase Ngamphichet and exchanged views on Pattaya’s tourism management policy and readiness to support incoming tourists. The Pattaya Mayor said readiness in every aspect, especially safety of tourists, was important.
China appears to envisage that the air, road and rail transportation networks it is constructing in Tibet will promote tourism. Simultaneously, it aims to attract foreign businesses to TAR, thereby opening another market for investors. This initiative signifies the expansion of Chinese economic and diplomatic influence in the Himalayas, bolstering its strategic agenda for the region.