The thick smog blanketing Beijing went overnight but the sound of silence still hung over Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.

As Premier Li Keqiang delivered the government’s annual work report

on the first day of the National People’s Congress’ annual session, the seven members of the Politburo’s Standing Committee exchanged few words. And President Xi Jinping had little to say to Li once the report was over.

Also largely silent were the generals from the powerful Central Military Commission, who in years past would often whisper in each others’ ears.

Delegates from Tibet also stood out – and not just for the traditional costumes that are routinely brought out for the annual event. Pinned over their hearts were two badges: one of Xi and the other of Xi and his four predecessors.

A Tibetan delegate to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference said the badges were given to him last year on the 50th anniversary of Tibetan government.

When asked why he was wearing them, he smiled, patted the badges and said: “Because we believe in it.”

“[I] have been wearing them since the 50th anniversary to thank the leaders … basically every day,” he said.

Pointing to the badge of a smiling Xi, he said: “The photo was taken when President Xi met us Tibetan delegates, maybe two years ago.”

That is in contrast to just six months ago when the badges worn by a central government delegation in Lhasa were of Mao Zedong.

Staff with the Tibetan delegation also wore the Xi badges and several stressed they were wearing them “out of their own free will”.

READ MORE: Full coverage of the Two Sessions 2016

One staff member said it was the first time the Tibetan delegation had worn badges to the congress.

The “voluntary” display of allegiance by Tibetan delegates came as tensions continue to simmer in the country’s far western regions.

On Monday, a Tibetan Buddhist monk in Sichuan province set himself on fire and died in a protest against Chinese rule, in the first such action of its kind this year, US government-funded Radio Free Asia reported. It said the monk called out for Tibetan independence while he burned.

A 16-year-old Tibetan living in India also set himself on fire on Monday. He died three days later, the Associated Press reported.