Chinese President Xi Jinping may have made his first visit to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, in 10 years, videos circulating on social media appear to show.
If confirmed, this would be Xi's first visit to Lhasa as the President of China.
Reports of Xi's visit to Lhasa come just weeks after the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) marked its centenary and nearly two months after it celebrated the 70th anniversary of the "peaceful liberation" of Tibet, which was invaded and occupied by Communist troops in 1950.
While the date of the visit remains unknown, it could have taken place sometime this week. Some experts say he could have been in Lhasa yesterday (21 July) or earlier today (22 July).
Xi's last visit to Lhasa in 2011, when he was serving as China's vice-president, was between 17 and 21 July that year.
During his visit in July 2011, the Chinese state-owned media said he was in Lhasa to "attend a series of celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of Tibet's peaceful liberation." China celebrates the anniversary of the takeover of Tibet by Communist forces on 23 May every year.
Speaking at a conference in Lhasa on 19 July 2011, Xi had vowed that China will "completely destroy any attempt to undermine stability in Tibet and national unity of the motherland".
Xi said "we should fight against separatist activities by the Dalai group by relying on cadres and people of all ethnic groups".
Under Xi, the CCP has focused on increasing control over Tibet's boundary with India and the sinicisation of Tibetan Buddhism to suppress the influence of the Dalai Lama, who is living in exile in India.
“Tibetan Buddhism should be guided in adapting to [China’s] socialist society and should be developed in the Chinese context,” Xi said last year at the Seventh Central Symposium on Tibet held in Beijing.
Interestingly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had wished the Dalai Lama on his birthday earlier this month, in the middle of a tense military standoff along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh. In a departure from the past, he has publicly acknowledged wishing the Tibetan spiritual leader, who has been accused of "terrorism in disguise" by Beijing.
To improve control on the boundary, China has been building over 700 border defence villages along Tibet's frontier with India and Bhutan.
Ahead of the celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CCP in July, President Xi had awarded the July 1 medal to a Tibetan herder named Zhuoga, whose story served as the model for the launch of the border defence villages programme.
In these villages, the CCP is settling people not only from the Tibetan ethnic community but also Han Chinese in order to dilute the Tibetan culture, in line with what Xi said during his visit to Lhasa in 2011.