A top Chinese leader has called for “advancing anti-separatism efforts” in Tibet, in a sign of continued high-pressure tactics in the Himalayan region.
Wang Yang, the Communist party’s No. 4 ranking official, was quoted on Monday in state media as stressing the importance of tight control over Tibet’s Buddhist institutions, urging “preparedness and precautions for danger in times of safety”.
Religious figures must “be courageous to battle all separatist elements” in the name of preserving national unity and social stability, Wang was quoted as saying in Tibet’s regional capital of Lhasa during a visit there on Sunday.
Beijing’s forces occupied Tibet shortly after the 1949 communist revolution and security there has been ratcheted up significantly in the decade since anti-government protests spread through Tibetan areas in 2008.
The tactics in Tibet are largely aimed at reducing the influence of the region’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in India. China claims Tibet has been part of its territory for more than seven centuries and regards the Dalai Lama as a dangerous separatist.
Wang’s statement came as China’s ruling communist party released new internal disciplinary rules, including regulations on members’ religious beliefs. China’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but the communist party is officially atheist.
“Party members who have religious beliefs should undergo thought education. If they still do not change their beliefs after education, they should be encouraged to leave the party,” read the revised rules, released on Sunday. Party members who “incite activities” in the name of religion should also be expelled.
Over the past few months, China has faced increased criticism for what critics claim is the wholesale repression of religion and local culture in places like Tibet and Xinjiang, a north western territory home to about 12 million Muslims.
An independent expert on a UN panel on discrimination said earlier this month it had received “credible reports” that as many as 1 million ethnic Uighurs, a Muslim minority in Xinjiang, were being kept in extra judicial internment camps.
According to a report in Voice of America, a paster in China’s central province in Henan last week posted photos of forms residents were being asked to sign renouncing their religion. A group of 58 underground churches, those not sanctioned by the government, published an open letter in July calling on authorities to stop repressing religious freedom.
The party’s revised disciplinary rules, announced late Sunday, also come at a time when Xi reportedly faces internal dissent and criticism for the US-China trade war, among other issues. Last week, Xi called for complete loyalty from the Chinese military and installed a new propaganda czar, claiming his government’s propaganda and ideological work has been “completely correct.”
The regulations, most of which had already been in practice, target any form of dissent. Party members are not allowed to speak out against central party policies or decisions, and they cannot spread “political rumours or damage the party’s unity”. “People who are not loyal to the party should be dismissed,” the announcement added.
Several additional lines in the revised rules were dedicated to the role of Xi’s personal brand of political theory. The party should be “guided by Xi Jinping Thought… and should safeguard Xi Jinping’s core position… in the party,” the new rules said.
Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this article