The man widely expected to be China’s next president on Wednesday urged monks in Tibet to “break with separatist forces” during a visit marking 60 years since China took control of the restive region.
Speaking at Jokhang temple in the Tibetan capital Lhasa — the temple where Buddhist monks staged a protest in front of foreign reporters in 2008 — Vice President Xi Jinping urged over 100 monks to “stay in line with the Party”.
Xi spoke days after the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, concluded a visit to the United States during which he was warmly welcomed by President Barack Obama, angering China, which labels the monk a “separatist”.
“The (Communist) Party and the government will not forget your positive contributions,” Xi, likely to take over as president by 2013, was quoted by the official Xinhua news agency as saying.
He urged the monks to “make a clean break with separatist forces”.
Xi on Tuesday addressed an audience of thousands on the central square of Lhasa, in which he vowed to crush any threats to stability in Tibet.
Fresh from victory in the Chinese civil war, the People’s Liberation Army of Communist leader Mao Zedong marched into Tibet in 1950 and annexed the region, an arrangement formalised the following year.
But many Tibetans bridle at Chinese control and that resentment burst out in March 2008 with deadly rioting in Lhasa that spread across the region and spilled over into neighbouring provinces with Tibetan populations.
A couple of weeks after the violence a group of monks at the Jokhang temple staged a brief protest in front of visiting foreign reporters, expressing support for the Dalai Lama.
The monks shouted down a Chinese official who was briefing the journalists on the recent unrest, and said: “We want the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet, we want to be free,” one of the journalists told AFP at the time.
The Jokhang temple, regarded as one of the most sacred sites for Tibetan Buddhists, is located in the heart of the old quarter of the city.
The Tibetan quarter was the scene of some of the worst violence during a day of rioting on March 14, 2008, which followed four days of protests to mark the anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule.
Overseas Tibetan rights groups have said China, in the run-up to the 60th anniversary celebrations this year, has cranked up security measures in Tibet even beyond a tight military crackdown imposed after the 2008 unrest and which remains in place.