China has marked the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Tibet Autonomous Region on the roof of the world, with a call to accept the rule of the Communist Party.
Beijing has ruled the remote western region since 1951, after its People’s Liberation Army marched in and took control in what it called a “peaceful liberation”.
“Tibet can only develop and prosper under the party’s leadership and socialism,” Wang Yang, who heads a national organisation responsible for uniting all races and all parties under the leadership of the Communist Party, said at the event on Thursday in the region’s capital, Lhasa.
The celebration, attended by almost 10,000 people, was held at the foot of the iconic Potala Palace, a sacred Buddhist site associated with the Dalai Lamas.
A nationwide live telecast of the celebration prominently featured a four-storey-high portrait of Chinese President Xi Jinping towering over the audience.
Propagandists in the 1950s and 1960s used to extensively display Mao Zedong’s portraits at rallies and celebrations to whip up a personality cult around him and cultivate loyalty.
Most leaders after Mao forbade the practice, although under Xi’s rule, his solo portraits as well as those with him and four previous leaders have been placed extensively in Tibet.
The party’s atheist Han leaders in Beijing have also made extra efforts to cultivate loyalty among Tibetans, many of whom are devout Buddhists and traditionally view the Dalai Lamas as their spiritual leaders.
Beijing brands the current Dalai Lama, exiled in neighbouring India, as a dangerous separatist and instead recognises the current Panchen Lama, put in place by the party, as the highest religious figure in Tibet.
As a mark of the party’s rule over Tibetan Buddhism, Wang presented the Panchen Lama with a commemorative plaque at the ceremony.