The military drill is seen as part of the continuing effort by President Xi Jinping to Sinicise Tibet that would pick up pace in view of the new US law

China has carried out an aerial drill over the Tibet’s capital of Lhasa, a pre-emptive move designed to remind Buddhists scattered across the vast Himalayan plateau about the communist party’s military might that last crushed an uprising by young Tibetans ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The aerial drill comes days after the United States enacted the Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2020 that reaffirmed the right of Tibetans to choose a successor to their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. The Tibetan government-in-exile based in Himachal Pradesh’s Dharamshala had described the US legislation as historic.

A China watcher in New Delhi said the drill could be only one part of the continuing effort by President Xi Jinping to Sinicise Tibet that would pick up pace in view of the new US law.

“China wouldn’t want anything to happen in Tibet that reflects support for the US law… The military drill was a pre-emptive move and would be followed by other steps to stem any potential dissent,” he said.

Sinicisation is an attempt to wipe out religious and ethnic identities by increasing the influence of Chinese, or the culture of the majority Han community, on non-Chinese ideas and entities within China.

According to photos that have emerged from Tibet, at least a dozen military choppers were deployed in the military drills that were carried out over the Potola Palace.

President Xi Jinping has talked about Sinicising religions in China since taking over the Communist Party of China leadership in 2012. Three years later, Xi spoke about Sinicising the five major religions practised in China: Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Buddhism and Daoism. For the last few years, China has been working on a plan to redefine the practise of Islam and align the beliefs of Muslims with the communist party. Xinjiang has been a focus area where the communist regime has implemented tactics that it has practised in Tibet for years.

President Xi sees the sinicisation of Tibetan Buddhism as part of a four-point programme that he unveiled at an August meeting last year to build, what he called, an “impregnable fortress’’ to maintain stability in Tibet that is so important to Beijing because of its long border with India. That Buddhist Tibetans, despite decades of Chinese rule, still worship the Dalai Lama as a living god, has long been considered a threat by the communist party.

China’s communist party wants to shape the succession of the Dalai Lama and insists that the Buddhist reincarnations must “comply” with Chinese law

This is why China views the US law that supports letting Tibetans decide the Dalai Lama such a risk and wants to shape his succession, and claims that the Buddhist reincarnations must “comply” with Chinese law.

This compliance, however, is not unique to Buddhist Tibetans. A new rule that kicked in on 1 February last year requires all religions in China to look up to the ruling communist party for leadership and promote its policies.

Analysts believe that China could order a fresh crackdown in Tibet if the communist party assesses that there is even the slightest possibility of unrest in Lhasa. Rights activists who tracked Beijing’s response to the 2008 uprising said dozens of Tibetans were killed by the military to stop the protests against China.