By Martin Quin Pollard
LHASA, China (Reuters) Beneath clear blue skies, craggy peaks and the spectacular Potala Palace, an image is omnipresent in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet: portraits of Chinese President Xi Jinping and his fellow leaders.
During a rare and tightly-chaperoned government tour of the region last week, a Reuters reporter saw the portraits in classrooms, streets, religious institutions, homes and the bedroom of a Buddhist monk.
More than a dozen other journalists were also on the trip.
China expands political education campaign as it celebrates the 70th anniversary of its control over Tibet.
Chinese officials say the campaign is key to the future of Tibet, a region that accounts for more than 12% of China’s landmass but is home to just 3.5 million people, mostly ethnic Tibetans.
Civilians and religious figures the government arranged to be interviewed on the five-day trip pledged loyalty to the Communist Party and Xi.
When asked who his spiritual leader was, a monk from the historic Jokhang Temple in Lhasa named Xi.
I am not drunk, I speak to you freely, said the monk named Lhakpa, speaking from a courtyard monitored by security cameras and government observers.
Xi’s portraits were visible at nearly every site Reuters visited on the trip to Tibet, which journalists are not permitted to enter outside of these tours. It was not clear when the posters and flags were put up.
The posters coincide with a broad political education program called Feeling Gratitude for Party Education, said Robert Barnett, a senior scholar in Tibetan studies at the University’s School of Oriental and African Studies. from London.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said: The Tibetan economy and society have achieved great achievements under the protection of the Chinese central government and with the strong support of every Chinese.
The right to religious freedom of all ethnic groups in Tibet is protected by the Constitution and the law.
During the visit, government officials suggested such images, along with small Chinese flags lining many of the city’s streets, were a sign of patriotic sentiment in Tibet.
Beijing claims it peacefully liberated Tibet in 1951, after Chinese troops entered the then country and took control of its administration.
The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, fled Tibet in 1959 after an uprising against Chinese rule failed, and has since established a government-in-exile based in Dharamsala, India.
Beijing called him a dangerous separatist and said that upon his death the government would choose his own successor.
Reuters did not see any images of the Dalai Lama, previously common in Tibetan homes, during the trip from May 31 to June 5.
Photos of the spiritual leader are now strictly prohibited, according to rights groups and Tibetans who have since left the area.
The Foreign Ministry reiterated China’s position that the Dalai Lama was trying to separate Tibet from China.
Since Dalai defected, he has done nothing good for the Tibetan people, said Fan Chunwen, secretary of the Tibetan education ministry.
At Tibets College of Buddhism, a large religious training school on the outskirts of Lhasa, Chinese flags fluttered atop temples and images of Xi featured prominently in every dormitory and classroom visited by Reuters.
We are now under the leadership of the Communist Party, of course we have to educate ourselves about politics, said Kelsang Wandui, vice principal of the college.
About 40% of the schools’ curriculum was devoted to political and cultural education, Wandui said, adding that the monks would celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party on July 1.
The Tibetan Central Administration (CTA), named after the Tibetan government-in-exile that oversees up to 150,000 Tibetans in exile, said the political re-education campaign had been reinvigorated to sinify Tibet.
Beijing has always firmly denied any accusation of rights violations in Tibet and asserts that the Chinese are free to practice approved religions, including Buddhism.
In a Lhasa High School political ideology class visited by Reuters, a teacher preached the benefits of Chinese policy in Tibet and led them to chant the accord.
Our young people should cherish the festival, listen to the festival and be guided by the festival and be faithful to our beautiful new Tibet, said Wang Zhen, director of the Tibet Education Department.
(Reporting by Martin Quin Pollard in Lhasa, additional reporting by Cate Cadell in Beijing and Pak Yiu in Hong Kong; editing by Jane Wardell)
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