BEIJING >> Three years after the suppression of major anti-government protests, Tibet continues to face serious challenges from separatism, the top Chinese government official in the Himalayan region said Sunday.
Those seeking to overthrow Chinese rule threaten Tibet’s stability and therefore its economic development, regional Communist Party head Zhang Qingli was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency.
“Although our top priority is to realize a leapfrog development, maintaining social stability is of great importance, because without stability, Tibet will not develop,” he said.
“Leapfrog development” refers to China’s efforts to kick-start the economy of Tibet, China’s poorest region, where herding and agriculture are increasingly being joined by mining and tourism.
Without giving details, Zhang said Tibet faces “very grave challenges” in the fight against separatism. He said officials and the Tibetan public should remain vigilant against anything that could sabotage public order.
Zhang’s remarks at a meeting of Tibetan delegates to the national legislature in Beijing underscore the government’s relentless crackdown on all dissent in the region.
President Hu Jintao, Tibet’s former party chief, also addressed the meeting and emphasized the need for better public services in remote parts of the region, Xinhua said.
Many Tibetans chafe under heavy-handed Chinese rule. Rioting in March 2008 in Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, left at least 22 people dead and set off a wave of protests across parts of western China traditionally inhabited by Tibetans.
China responded with a massive military crackdown, rounding up suspected protesters and placing Buddhist monasteries under siege. Tibetan rights groups say nearly 140 Tibetans were killed during the suppression.
China says Tibet has been part of its territory for at least four centuries, while many Tibetans say they were effectively independent for most of that time.
China blamed followers of the exiled Dalai Lama for fomenting the 2008 disturbances, a charge the Buddhist leader denies.
Since fleeing during an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1959, the Dalai Lama has lived in India, where he heads the self-declared Tibetan government-in-exile.