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Tibetans Will Soon be Minority in Lhasa, Admits Official

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 02/08/09; August 9, 2002.]

South China Morning Post,
8 Aug 2002

Tibetans will become a minority in their own capital in the next few years as Han Chinese migrants pour into the city to take part in a new drive to develop Tibet's economy, a senior local official said yesterday.

But the influx of investment and skilled labour to Lhasa will bring unprecedented prosperity and stability to the region, said Jin Shixun, deputy director-general of Tibet's Development and Planning Commission. It was one of the boldest admissions yet by a mainland official on the sensitive issue of Han migration to Tibet, a policy critics say Beijing is encouraging to swamp Tibetan culture.

Mr Jin said 95 per cent of Tibet's population of 2.62 million was ethnic Tibetan but in urban Lhasa, about 50 per cent of residents were Han migrants.

"With the introduction of the policy of reform and opening up, there are more and more people from other provinces of China who come to Tibet to open up their business or make investment here," Mr Jin said.

"At the moment the population here in Lhasa stands at around 200,000 - about half of them are the migrant population," he said.

"According to the needs of economic development and construction and the improvement of the investment environment and strengthening of tourist infrastructure, there will certainly be a large increase in these numbers." Mr Jin's remarks confirmed what seems obvious to a visitor returning to Lhasa after several years. The city now resembles most provincial Chinese towns, except for the imposing Potala Palace and tiny Tibetan quarter.

Residents say Han Chinese businesses have started encroaching on that cluster of whitewashed stone and wood houses in the past few years, taking over stalls and shops on the Barkor pilgrim circuit around the main Jokhang temple. The rest of the city is dotted with neon-lit shops, karaoke bars and Chinese restaurants.

Activists overseas accuse the government of offering Han Chinese migrants tax breaks to help dilute the Tibetan population.

But Mr Jin said Tibet needed the skilled labour and investment from other regions to help maintain the average GDP growth rate. Overseas activists say Tibetans want development but should have a greater say in how the region's resources are spent and protecting its culture and religion.

Mr Jin said 60 to 70 per cent of the local government and Communist Party structure was ethnic Tibetan.

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