updated 6/16/2008 9:15:58 AM ET 2008-06-16T13:15:58

China has appointed a top terrorism expert to a leading public security post following a series of alleged plots against this summer’s Beijing Olympics, an official notice said Monday.

Yang Huanning, 51, has worked for years in central government bodies dedicated to battling opponents in the restive western regions of Xinjiang and Tibet, according to his resume posted on official Web sites.

Other past roles included managing China’s international image, often clouded by charges of human rights abuses, and working with the United Nations Office of Peacekeeping on deployments of Chinese forces.

Word of Yang’s appointment as a vice public security minister comes as the Olympic torch relay prepares to enter Xinjiang and Tibet, raising the specter of new security threats after overseas Tibetans and other critics of the communist regime sought repeatedly to disrupt the relay’s overseas legs.

Activists view the Tibet leg as a naked show of Beijing’s control over Tibet, which communist forces occupied in 1949. China says Tibet has been part of its territory for centuries, although many Tibetans say their homeland was essentially independent for most of that time.

Organizers said Monday the flame would visit Tibet soon, but refused to say exactly when. The torch is due this week to pass through Xinjiang, where radicals among the native Muslim Turkic population have waged a low-intensity struggle against Chinese rule.

Beijing has called terrorism the single biggest threat to the Games and claims to have foiled multiple plots targeting the event. Yang’s appointment also appears to reflect Beijing’s desire to paint critics of Tibet and Xinjiang policies as violent terrorists, despite their claims to be seeking only to peacefully protest Chinese policies as a way of furthering dialogue.

Communist officials routinely vilify Tibet’s exiled Buddhist leader the Dalai Lama as a separatist — an accusation he denies — and have accused his supporters of orchestrating violent protests in Tibetan areas this spring to sabotage the Olympics and preparing “suicide squads” to carry out attacks. Tibet and Tibetan-inhabited parts of western China have been closed to foreign tourists and journalists since the protests broke out in March.

Likewise, on at least three occasions this year, authorities say they foiled plots by Xinjiang separatists that targeted the games either directly or indirectly, including alleged attempts to crash an airliner and kidnap athletes and journalists.

Evidence provided in all those cases has been scant and circumstantial, although authorities say suspects admitted to their foreign links and anti-Olympics agenda.

Yang’s appointment was briefly noted on the Public Security Ministry’s Web site, but no date was given for the move. Yang had until recently been serving as a leading communist official in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang.

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