BEIJING – China has ordered stepped-up propaganda and ideological education in Tibet, in an apparent acknowledgment that years of political indoctrination have failed to curb support for exiled Buddhist leader the Dalai Lama.
The region's hard-line Communist Party leader also ordered harsh punishment for local party officials found lacking in their political commitment to Beijing's official line during sometimes violent anti-government protests last month and the crackdown that followed.
China has accused the India-based Dalai Lama of orchestrating the violence to sabotage the Beijing Olympic Games and achieve an independent state.
The 72-year-old Dalai Lama has denied the charges, calling on Beijing to begin a dialogue and examine the economic, ethnic and religious issues that he says fueled anger among Tibetans.
The Tibet Daily newspaper on Thursday quoted regional party chief Zhang Qingli as telling a meeting of officials to maintain their guard against future plots by the "Dalai clique."
Zhang ordered officials to boost ideological education among young people, focusing on negative portrayals of Tibet prior to the Communist invasion in 1950 and continued vilification of the Dalai Lama's political agenda.
"Unceasingly build up the foundation of the masses to oppose separatism," Zhang was quoted as saying.
While China has claimed overwhelming support for its policies in Tibet, it has had to impose repeated ideological campaigns and heighten restrictions over religious observance and monastic life.
Already, officials including the national police chief have ordered boosted "patriotic campaigns" in monasteries whose monks led protests that began peacefully on March 10 before turning deadly four days later.
Zhang appeared to indicate that at least some local officials had been insufficiently loyal during the recent unrest.
"We absolutely will not condone violations of political and organizational discipline and will definitely find those responsible and meet out harsh punishment," said Zhang, a protege of President and party chief Hu Jintao, who was a top official in Tibet during the last major protests there in 1989.
Zhang, a former top official in Xinjiang, another ethnically troubled region, has reportedly already overseen the firing of dozens of ethnic Tibetan officials seen as politically unreliable.
Many Tibetans insist they were an independent nation before Communist troops invaded in 1950, while radical Islamic groups in Xinjiang have battled Chinese rule through a low-intensity campaign of bombings and assassination.
Critics say Zhang's policies of massive government investment and intense political repression in both regions may have bred resentment among native residents who feel left behind by economic growth and marginalized by the arrival of migrants from China's majority Han ethnic group.
Unrest was also reported last month among Xinjiang's Muslim Turkic Uighur minority, creating new problems for Beijing as it tries to contain demonstrations while fending off criticism of its treatment of minorities ahead of the Beijing Olympics.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Beijing since the March 14 anti-government riot in Tibet's capital, Lhasa, said he appealed to Chinese leaders to engage their critics.
"I expressed our concerns about the violence and urged a peaceful resolution through dialogue," Paulson said Wednesday.
China's official Xinhua News Agency said Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told Paulson to "see clearly the true nature of the Dalai clique," and "understand and support the just position of the Chinese government and people."
Reports of the Xinjiang unrest said disturbances occurred at a bazaar in Hotan, a city in the Muslim Uighur minority's cultural heartland.
A local government statement said a "tiny number of people" tried to create an incident on March 23 "under the flag of separatism."
"These people are splittists responding to the Tibetan riots," said Fu Chao, a local government spokesman. He said dozens were arrested, but only the "core splittists" remained in custody.
U.S. government-funded Radio Free Asia and an overseas Uighur activist said earlier that the demonstrators were demanding the right for Uighur women to wear head scarves and the release of political prisoners.
Uighurs, pronounced "Wee-gers," are a Central Asian people related to Turks whose language, customs and religion are distinct from those of most Chinese.