China's new Communist Party boss in Tibet passed on the chance to bash the Dalai Lama in his first public remarks since taking office, a shift from the angry rhetoric his predecessor routinely leveled against the exiled Buddhist leader.
Chen Guoquan focused on development and stability and made no reference to political struggle in an account of his speech published Friday in the official Tibet Daily newspaper.
"With economic development at the heart, with ethnic unity as the guarantee, with improving people's lives as our starting point, we must grasp tightly to development and stability as the two major issues," Chen said in Thursday's speech following his appointment.
The region's outgoing highest-ranking official, Zhang Qingli, made verbal attacks on the exiled Buddhist leader a hallmark of his nearly six years in power, at times calling him a "wolf in monk's robes" and the "scum of Buddhism."
In remarks Thursday, Zhang said he would never forget the "resolute struggle with the Dalai clique" and referred to the "resolute, decisive handling" of Tibet's worst ethnic violence in decades in 2008 during his term in office.
Despite the early change in tone, there is no reason to believe the move will herald any major change in
China's policies for Tibet, which are set at the highest levels in Beijing.
Still, observers say Chen is an economist who is unlikely to display Zhang's level of ideological zeal.
"Beijing may want someone in this position who is able to implement party and government policy with less aggression, and who may be less likely to deliberately antagonize the vast majority of Tibetans who remain loyal to the Dalai Lama," said Mary Beth Markey president of the Washington, D.C.-based International Campaign for Tibet.
Zhang, 60, is being moved to another position that official reports did not identify. No reason was given for the move, although Zhang has served five years in the position, roughly a standard term for provincial officials.
Chen is a longtime party official in the eastern province of Henan who last served as governor of Hebei province surrounding Beijing. Like all of Tibet's previous party chiefs, Chen is not Tibetan but a member of China's majority Han ethnic group.
Zhang, a former top official in Xinjiang, another ethnically troubled region, took over as Tibet party secretary in 2006 during a relatively quiet period.
Two years later, deadly anti-government rioting broke out among Tibetans in the capital, Lhasa, spreading quickly to Tibetan areas of western China in the most severe and sustained unrest in decades.
Security forces poured in and a massive crackdown ensued, with China closing Tibet to foreign tourists for a year. Foreign journalists remain barred from Tibet except on rare, tightly scripted government-organized trips.
As well as his attacks on the Dalai Lama, Zhang was known for enthusiastically enforcing restrictions on Buddhist religious practice and contacts with overseas groups.
Beijing considers Chinese sovereignty over Tibet unquestionable and inviolable. It says Tibet has been its territory for centuries, although many Tibetans say they were essentially an independent nation until Communist forces invaded in 1950. The Dalai Lama fled into exile in India following an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.
The 76-year-old spiritual leader recently shifted his political responsibilities to the prime minister of the self-proclaimed Tibetan government-in-exile, Lobsang Sangay, a 43-year-old Harvard legal scholar who grew up a refugee.