15 June 2023
Changing Profiles: Central Tibet Work Coordination Group after the 20th Party Congress
This essay outlines the membership of the Central Tibet Work Coordination Group (中央西藏工作协调小组 zhongyang Xizang gongzuo xietiao xiaozu or xizang xiaozu), an important central level policy advisory and coordination body of the Communist Party of China (CPC), after the post-20th Party Congress held in October 2022 and NPC and CPPCC annual session (“two sessions”) in March 2023. The two events heralded a quinquennial leadership transition and confirmed Xi Jinping’s third term as the General Secretary.
Leading Small Groups (LSGs, 领导小组, lingdao xiaozu) have gained greater prominence after Xi Jinping became the General Secretary in 2012 – they also constitute a way of centralizing power. Therefore, the membership of LSGs become important to understand and know who the members are, their roles in the party-state hierarchy and possible policy inputs and directions on an issue. In addition, it also tells us how significantly the central leadership treats a particular policy area such as Tibet, which is one of the important policy issues that concerns stability and security in the province, diplomacy and national security due to its proximity to South Asia and criticisms of China’s policies, and above all, the credibility of the incumbent leader’s capabilities. While leadership of other state and party organs has been made public, new appointments in the LSGs are not generally disclosed officially and hence, this analysis is based on media reports of meetings of the group and past trends of appointments.
On Tibet, the Central Tibet Work Coordination Group is the key body advising Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) and the coordination of different policy areas. In addition, several think-tanks, universities, research institutions both at the central and provincial levels, and former cadres with work experience in Tibet play significant role in providing inputs into policy making on Tibet.
Like other LSGs, the Tibet LSG also engages a wide range of stakeholders through its sub-groups on different policy areas namely, education, Tibet aid program（援藏计划 yuanzang Jihua）foreign policy related to Tibet, and economic development, among others. It is news reports of the meetings conducted by these sub-groups that are the key sources of information about the membership and activities of the group. While junior officers from different departments usually conduct consultations and inspection tours to collect policy inputs and feedback and may even attend meetings, the heads of their departments are members of the coordination group.
The day-to-day administrative affairs of the group is handled by an administrative office headed by a director, currently Pan Yue, and usually two or three deputy directors. The latter include Sethar (Ch. 斯塔) and Bianba Tashi are Tibetans with the latter being one of the two current deputy directors of the State Ethnic Affairs Commission (SEAC), while Cong Liang, Deputy Director National Development Reform Commission (NDRC) is Han. Its office is currently located in the SEAC in the State Council.
Before 2012, the Tibet and Xinjiang LSGs were headed by the chairman of Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and Secretary, Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission (CPLAC) respectively. However, this arrangement changed in 2012 after PBSC members were reduced to seven from nine. Since then, the same official heads both Tibet and Xinjiang LSGs. The current head of the group is Wang Huning, the chairman of CPPCC and ranked fourth in the PBSC.
Members of Xizang Xiaozu after the 20th Party Congress
Note: 1. * Indicates the names that have not been confirmed in authoritative Chinese sources
2. ** Indicates the names of these officials have not figured in Chinese sources recently but officials in charge of these offices in previous terms have been confirmed to be part of the group.
3. Chinese names of Tibetan officials are provided as they appear in Chinese media.
There was a massive change in membership of the Xizang Xiaozu after the 2008 riots – from only five members to dozens covering a wide range of policy areas. In 2008, PAP political commissar, party secretaries and governors of provinces with Tibetan population- Qinghai, Yunnan, Sichuan, and Gansu – were added, which placed Tibetan areas in TAR and non-TAR regions within a single framework in terms of internal security and ideology, while economic focus still remains separate with TAR getting more attention in terms of state assistance and subsidies. The rationale lies in the fact that the Lhasa riots were triggered in Sichuan and later spread throughout Tibetan areas including TAR.
With increasing focus on economic development and ideology after 2008 riots, officials from central and provincial propaganda departments, offices handling economic affairs and United Front Work Department (UFWD) have featured as members and part of activities of the group. In addition, officials from International Liaison Department (ILD) and Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) have been added due to increasing salience of Chinese efforts to shape narratives on Tibet abroad.
The presence of ethnic Tibetan leadership does not mean that they have much say; most of them are members because of their offices or they attend meetings to report the decisions of such meetings to their home departments for implementation. In addition, top leaders of Tibetan ethnicity in TAR government have been retained in recent reshuffles in January 2023, and hence, there is continuity in the group in this regard.
Ren Wei (born: 1976), PhD in Thermal Engineering from Tsinghua University, and Chen Yongqi (born: 1967), an alternate member of 20th Central Committee, appointed in 2021 as executive vice-chairman and vice-chairman of the TAR government respectively stand out for their prospective promotions at the provincial levels in coming years. Before taking the position in 2021, Ren Wei was Deputy Manager of China Datang Corporation, one of the five largest state-owned power companies. Given his background in thermal engineering and experience in power sector, he is poised to play an important role in TAR in the years to come. Chen Yongqi was transferred from his position as the Deputy Governor of Shaanxi to TAR in 2020 to take the current position. Another official with potential for promotions at higher levels is Zhuang Yan, the executive deputy party secretary of TAR appointed in February 2021 with a PhD in economics, concurrently holding the position of director of the Office of the Comprehensively Deepening Reform Committee at provincial level and has work experience in Yanbian Korean Prefecture in Jilin province in China’s northeast.
 The 2008 riots in Tibetan areas began on March 10, 2008, with protests in Lhasa. However, it became violent after monks and nuns were arrested at the Labrang Monastry in Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu Province and spread throughout Tibetan areas in TAR, Sichuan, Yunnan, and Qinghai. For chronology of protests, see Warren W. Smith Jr. (2009). Tibet’s Last Stand? The Tibetan Uprising of 2008 and China’s Response (Pentagon Press, New Delhi), 11-41.