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China's President Xi Jinping visits Tibet for first time as president

China's President Xi Jinping visits Tibet for first time as president

FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping attends a welcoming ceremony for Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos outside the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing, China May 14, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee

BEIJING: China's President Xi Jinping visited the Tibet autonomous region on Wednesday (Jul 21) and Thursday, according to the official Xinhua news agency, in his first recorded visit as leader of the nation.

It was the first such visit by the country's top leader in more than three decades.

In footage released on Friday by state broadcaster CCTV, Xi was seen greeting a crowd wearing ethnic costumes and waving Chinese flags as he left his plane, in a red carpet welcome as dancers performed around him.

Although he arrived on Wednesday at the Nyingchi Mainling Airport in the southeast of Tibet, there was no mention of his visit in official media until two days later.​​​​​​​

After a "warm welcome by cadres and masses of all ethnic groups", Xi went to the Nyang River Bridge to learn about ecological and environmental protection of the Yarlung Tsangpo river and the Nyang River, CCTV said.

READ: In Tibet, China preaches the material over the spiritual

Xi also visited the Nyingchi City Planning Museum and other areas to look into urban development planning, rural revitalisation and the construction of urban parks.

On Thursday, he headed to the Nyingchi Railway Station to learn about planning for the Sichuan-Tibet Railway before taking a train to Lhasa.

In Lhasa, Xi visited a monastery and the Potala Palace Square, and "inspected ethnic religion" and Tibetan cultural heritage protection, according to Xinhua.

The palace is the traditional home of Tibetan Buddhism's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who is in exile and has been branded a dangerous separatist by Beijing.

In this May 27, 2015 file photo, Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama greets devotees as he arrives to give a religious talk at the Tibetan Children's Village School in Dharamsala, India. (File photo: AP/Ashwini Bhatia)

"PEACEFULLY LIBERATED"

Tibet, on China's border with India, is seen as having critical strategic importance to Beijing. Last year China and India saw the most serious clash in decades on their disputed border in the Himalayas, with deaths on both sides.

Photos released by Xinhua show Xi was accompanied by Zhang Youxia, a vice chairman of China's Central Military Commission and a senior general in the People's Liberation Army.

Tibet has alternated over the centuries between independence and control by China, which says it "peacefully liberated" the rugged plateau in 1951 and brought infrastructure and education to the previously underdeveloped region.

READ: Lhasa building boom heightens divisions in Tibet

But many exiled Tibetans accuse the central government of religious repression and eroding their culture. In 2008, the region exploded in deadly rioting after rising anger over the perceived dilution of its ancient culture by rapid Chinese-fuelled development.

Xi has visited Tibet twice, once in 1998 as Fujian province's party chief and another time in 2011 as vice-president. The last Chinese president to visit was Jiang Zemin in 1990.

READ: China defends Tibet labour programme, urges against overdoing religion

Advocacy group International Campaign for Tibet said on Thursday that people in Lhasa "reported unusual activities and monitoring of their movement" ahead of the visit, with roads blocked and security officers checking on individuals' activities.

Beijing sees development as an antidote to discontent in Tibet, where many still revere the Dalai Lama and resent an influx of Chinese tourists and settlers.

Since 2008 China has poured investment into the region, making Tibet one of China's fastest-growing regions economically, according to local statistics.

Source: AGENCIES/dv

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