The CCP’s Tibet policy

Stability through coercion and development

Authored by: Tsering Topgyal

Routledge Handbook of the Chinese Communist Party

Print publication date:  August  2017
Online publication date:  August  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138684430
eBook ISBN: 9781315543918
Adobe ISBN:


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Two weeks after taking over as Party Secretary of Tibet Autonomous Region on January 12, 1989, Hu Jintao told a Beijing newspaper Zhongguo Xinwen She that the key priorities of his new job were to “safeguard the unification of the motherland, adopt a clear-cut stand to oppose separatism, and stabilize the situation in Tibet … [and] to continue to carry out economic construction, make redoubled efforts to develop the commodity economy.” This came to be known as Hu’s strategy of “grasping with both hands”: subjugating Tibet through forceful application of security and economic instruments. During a Politburo meeting on October 19, 1989, Hu’s game plan was formally unveiled (Rabgey and Sharlho 2004: 15). The new policy emphasized greater integration of Tibet to China, including bringing the monasteries and other traditional institutions under Beijing’s regulation, and focused on undercutting Tibet’s separate identity. This shift reflected Beijing’s loss of faith in the relatively liberal policies of Hu Yaobang and Wu Jinghua, Hu’s predecessor as TAR Party Secretary, which were viewed as aggravating Tibetan nationalism rather than winning their loyalty. It also signaled waning confidence in the Dalai Lama to be helpful in realizing the CCP’s goals in Tibet. Hu Jintao has moved on from becoming China’s president and has since retired, but the broad parameters of the policy framework that he outlined have remained constant throughout the tenure of five TAR Party Secretaries who succeeded him. Indeed, China’s Tibet policy since then has closely adhered to the broad parameters of coercive stabilization and economic development. Barring a radical political break, it will remain so beyond the leadership of the current Party Secretary, Wu Yingjie. Therefore, the core argument of this chapter is that the security interests of the Chinese Party-state have been the fundamental driver of its policy in Tibet. This chapter puts “grasping with both hands” into the context of the broader policy landscape of the National Regional Autonomy system, charts the historical backdrop from which it came into being, and assesses how the strategy has been implemented in the last three decades.

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