China's leaders begin battle for power
China’s ruling Communist leaders have split off into smaller groups to horse-trade over who will run the country for the next 10 years, as hundreds of young Tibetans took to the streets in the west of China to demonstrate against Beijing’s rule.
The protests in Rongwo, in Qinghai province, began after a youth called Jinpa (18) set fire to himself on Thursday, the fifth self-immolation in a week.
Some 68 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since March last year, and at least 56 have died, according to Tibetan rights groups. Most of the protesters in Rongwo were secondary school students and they marched through the town, shouting for independence and for the return from exile of the Dalai Lama.
The protests were clearly timed to coincide with the ruling Communist Party’s once-in-a-decade leadership transition.
“These brave young people are asserting their Tibetan identity as the Chinese Communist Party meets to decide the man who will lead the occupation of Tibet,” said Free Tibet Director Stephanie Brigden.
Qiangba Puncog, chairman of Tibet’s regional assembly, accused external Tibetan separatist forces and “the Dalai clique” of sacrificing the lives of others to achieve “ulterior political motives” and rejected calls for overseas monitors to be allowed into Tibet.
“We hope people from all fields within the country and outside go to Tibet often to look around, study and travel, but as to some other aspects, we are not that welcoming,” he said.
Foreign journalists are barred from Tibet and also have difficulty travelling to the Tibetan areas of neighbouring regions, which means it is difficult to verify the situation.
Mr Qiangba said it was “inappropriate” for anyone who wanted to pursue investigations into human rights to propose entering Tibet.
The same man on Thursday had told the South China Morning Post: “I can’t say there are no self-immolations in Tibet; however, most Tibetan people and monks didn’t burn themselves.” The Dalai Lama and representatives of the self-declared Tibetan government-in-exile in India say they oppose all violence.
Lobsang Sangay, prime minister of the government-in-exile in Dharamsala in India, said the younger generation of Chinese leaders “must recognise that China’s hard-line policies in Tibet have utterly failed and only through dialogue can a peaceful and lasting solution be found”.
The 18th congress convenes at the Great Hall of the People for full sessions, but most of the real horse-trading takes place behind closed doors.
Thursday’s opening speech by President Hu Jintao over, the assembled cadres split off into various factions to begin the hard-fought battle for power in the world’s most populous nation.
Many important decisions are made by people who long ago disappeared off the official political radar. Former leader Jiang Zemin (86), who many believed had died last year, has featured strongly in the congress, a sign that he still wields considerable influence.
A known rival of Mr Hu, he sat impassively on stage as the president gave his address.
There is a long tradition of intrigue at the congress. China’s first Communist Party Congress took place in 1921 at a series of secret meetings in Shanghai. Among the delegates then was a young Mao Zedong, the founding father of the modern China.
At the ninth congress in 1969, Mao named his ally Marshal Lin Biao as his successor and sacked nearly the entire central committee. Two years later, Lin died in a mysterious plane crash in Mongolia, after Mao came to believe he was plotting to assassinate him.