New role for Tibet’s chairman in countdown to China’s Communist Party congress

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Qizhala, chairman of the Tibet autonomous region in China’s mountainous west, has left Lhasa to take up a new job in Beijing, according to a source close to the government.

His vacancy is expected to be filled by Lhasa Communist Party chief Yan Jinhai in a reshuffle that is part of the build-up to the five-yearly party congress next autumn.

During the congress, President Xi Jinping is expected to start his third five-year term as party general secretary, the first Chinese leader to do so in decades.

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Qizhala, 63, has been head of the regional government since 2017, and is expected to take on a new role in the top legislature, the National People Congress, a common destination for regional chiefs in the final years of their career.

Qizhala is an ethnic Tibetan from the neighbouring southwestern province of Yunnan and his expected replacement, Yan, 59, is an ethnic Tibetan official from Qinghai province in the northwest.

Yan was appointed deputy party chief of Tibet in July last year and party secretary of Lhasa in January.

His career path is very similar to Qizhala’s promotion track.

Qizhala is expected to take on a new role in the National People’s Congress. Photo: Handout
Qizhala is expected to take on a new role in the National People’s Congress. Photo: Handout

The reshuffle, which has not been made public yet, comes as the region’s strategic importance continues to rise.

Tibet has been at the centre of a number of bills passed by the US Congress in the last two years and the region overlooks China’s disputed Himalayan border with India, where Chinese and Indian troops engaged in deadly clashes in 2020.

In July, Xi became the first top Chinese leader to visit the region since 1990, stressing that social stability was the policy priority for the region.

But he also highlighted the importance of border security in ways previous leaders rarely did.

Qizhala is perhaps best known outside China for leading a delegation from Tibet to Washington in 2016, when the group was received by House Democrats leader Nancy Pelosi.

Wu Yingjie, the region’s party chief, will reach the retirement age of 65 for ministerial level officials in November and is also expected to leave by then, according to the source.

It is unclear who will succeed Wu, an ethnic Han official who has spent his entire career in Tibet.

Yan has a bachelor’s degree in Chinese language and literature.

He will take up his new role as Beijing presses for “sense of community for the Chinese nation”, a term Xi first used at the party congress in 2017, and has repeated in all its ethnic minority regions.

The task means promoting “a high degree of recognition” in the country, the Chinese nation and the party among all ethnic groups, according to a speech by Xi in August.

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