A Communist Party ‘princeling’ from one of China’s most well-connected political families was on Monday appointed as the head of the top political advisory body, which sets policies for Tibet, Xinjiang and minority issues.

Former Shanghai Party Chief Yu Zhengsheng, who was in November appointed as the fourth-ranked member of the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) Polit Bureau Standing Committee, was chosen as the head of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, as China’s Parliament holds its annual session.

Mr. Yu’s appointment was a formality and expected. In recent weeks, he has held several meetings with Chinese religious organisations, and also conducted a high-profile visit to Tibetan areas.

Mr. Yu, who built a reputation as a relatively open-minded economic reformer during his stint in Shanghai, has said the CPC will continue with religious policies it followed in the past decade, focusing on “guiding religion to make it adapt to a socialist country”.

‘Inspection tour’

In minority-populated areas like Tibet and Xinjiang, the CPC’s policies have focused on rapid State-led development while maintaining tight party control over religious institutions. Mr. Yu had provided some indication of the policies during an ‘inspection tour’ in January to Tibetan areas in Sichuan province, which has recently seen a spate of self-immolation protests.

He hoped “Tibetan Buddhists will support the government’s efforts to manage monasteries in accordance with the law and encourage monks and nuns to observe both the law and monastic rules”, Xinhua reported.

“The key for developing Tibetan areas”, he continued, “lies in improving their infrastructure and public services as well as increasing the incomes of farmers and herdsmen”.

Fight against Dalai Lama ‘clique’

Mr. Yu also promised to continue the CPC’s “fight against the Dalai Lama clique”, which has seen the party impose tight controls over monasteries, including banning images of the widely revered exiled spiritual leader and introducing patriotic education — measures that have been unpopular with monks.

“The fight against the Dalai Lama clique should continue”, Mr. Yu said, “in order to create a favourable social and political environment for economic development and the improvement of people’s well-being”.

Mr. Yu, who holds an engineering degree in control systems of ballistic missiles, garnered a reputation of being a relatively open-minded leader during his stint in Shanghai, political observers say.

“Yu is a fairly open-minded leader who is willing to compromise with local officialdom when moving into a new environment,” Ho Leong-leong, a political commentator in Hong Kong, told the South China Morning Post (SCMP)

In a profile of Mr. Yu last year, the newspaper noted that he took a soft approach towards handling protests in Shanghai against a railway project in 2008, when 2,000 people gathered outside the government in a rare show of dissent. Mr. Yu postponed the project and engaged with local groups to hear their concerns.

Criticism of Cultural Revolution

In speeches, he has even criticised the CPC’s past excesses, such as during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), which is still a sensitive topic for the party. In a lecture to 5,000 students at a Shanghai university, he said Mao Zedong “made a serious personal mistake” and “shouldn’t have sought such a wrong way out”, the as reported by SCMP.

He said at least six members of his family died during the Cultural Revolution. His sister killed herself, while his mother reportedly became schizophrenic after a seven-year jail term. His family was targeted because of its aristocratic roots going back to the Qing dynasty. Mr. Yu’s father, Huang Jing, also served as a senior official during the early days of the People’s Republic of China.

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