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China Pouring Cash into Tibet, Fueling Han Immigration

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 2003/08/25; August 25, 2003.]

by Robert J. Saiget

TSETHANG, Tibet, Aug 22 (AFP) - In an attempt to extend its influence over the Himalayan region, the Chinese government has been throwing vast sums of money into the infrastructure of Tibet's impoverished urban areas, officials said Friday.

Since a 2001 directive by the central government, all Chinese provinces have been required to raise investment funds for the over 70 counties of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), De Ji, the administrative commissioner of Shannan prefecture said.

"The GDP for our prefecture in 2002 was 1.3 billion yuan (156 million dollars), up 17.3 percent over the previous year," De Ji told visiting journalists.

"Fixed assets investment in the prefecture equaled 1.0 billion yuan (120 million dollars), up 34.8 percent over last year."

The funds in Shannan have been spent on roads, bridges, tunnels telecommunications, hydroelectric plants and other infrastructure projects, she said in an interview arranged by China's central government.

Along with such investments, all sorts of support industries and economic activities have sprouted up in the urban towns and cities of Shannan, which are largely being brought in by Han, or ethnic Chinese traders, but which also support the local economy.

But according to Orville Schell, the dean of the School of Journalism at the University of California who has written extensively on China and Tibet, Beijing's new economic policy on Tibet has been more beneficial to Chinese immigrants than to Tibetans.

"The 'Hanification' of Tibet is found in every place classified as urban or a county town," Schell told AFP.

"Every place where there is economic infrastructure there are Han Chinese.

"Any place where you find vehicular traffic, you find Chinese, yet off the beaten track, then you get nomadic Tibetans."

Government officials maintain that 90 percent of Tibet's population of 2.6 million is ethnic Tibetan, with 90 percent of these people farmers or herdsmen.

Tsethang, the prefectural capital of Shannan, has a population of about 58,000, with between 10,000 to 18,000 Han Chinese, Di Ji said.

"We don't have any specific numbers, we don't know how many people are coming every month, it could be 100, it could be 200, so what I mean is that there could be as many as 18,000 Han in Tsethang," she said.

Schell said the immigration policy is not actively being pushed by the central government, but equally has as much to do with the tremendous population pressures facing China proper.

"Nature abhors a vaccuum and in China the huge population means that there is a constant search for places to start a new life, even in harsh conditions," he said.

"At present there are a lot of opportunities for Han Chinese who actually are the economy of Tibet."

According to the 2001 decision, which was made by the top leaders of the ruling Communist Party, the funding for Tibet would last for at 10 years, De Ji said.

"After that, we don't know what will happen," she said.

Meanwhile, the influx of Han Chinese has caused widespread alarm among the exiled Tibetan government in Dharmsala, India and among advocacy groups who fear Tibetans are becoming a minority in their own land.

A look around Tsethang reveals that the Han, mostly from neighboring Sichuan province, live in the newer part of town while Tibetans are in the older, more run-down areas.

Tibetans in the city, however, are obviously benefitting from the economic activity not only financially, but also through better health care, better schools and better sanitation.

"China is putting a lot of money into Tibet from the developmental standpoint and even if it is crushing the indigenous population, they have done a great deal if you believe in development," Schell said.

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