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County Transfers Facilitate Industrial Development in Qinghai

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 02/01/23; January 23, 2002.]

TEW Editors' Note: For additional background information on these regions, see TIBET: Outside the TAR, by Steven D. Marshall and Susette Ternent Cooke.

TIN News Update / 22 January 2002 / ISSN: 1355-3313

Two counties, Huangyuan and Huangzhong, originally in Haidong prefecture, Qinghai province, have been transferred to the direct jurisdiction of the provincial capital, Xining municipality, the main gateway to the Tibetan plateau and its natural resources. The transfers will provide the necessary land space for the expansion of Xining's growing industry and will also give the municipality access to vital transportation links through Huangyuan (Tib: Tongkor) county, west to Golmud and south into Tsolho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. Xining is an important base for China's drive to develop its western regions, in particular the exploitation of resources in the Tsaidam basin. The county transfers are likely to have a significant impact on the development and demography of the Tibetan area of Tsolho (Ch: Hainan), which now shares a border with Xining municipality.

The county transfers have involved Haidong handing more than 4,200 square kilometres of land and over half a million people to Xining's jurisdiction. While none of Haidong's counties have Tibetan autonomous status, Tibetans have an important cultural and historical role in the area. Huangzhong (Tib: Kumbum) county is the location of Kumbum monastery (Ch: Ta'er si), one of the six great Gelug monasteries, and borders Ping'an (Tib: Tsongkhakhar) county, birthplace of the 14th Dalai Lama, to the southeast. The number of Tibetans transferred to direct Xining administration will have been considerable. According to 1990 census figures, about 46,000 Tibetans were living in the area.

(Maps showing the county transfers can be viewed on TIN's website http://www.tibetinfo.net/reports/trecon/Haidongmaps.htm )

(For more information on demographic changes in Qinghai see TIN Special Report by Dr Susette Cooke, "The politics of population transfer" http://www.tibetinfo.net/news-updates/nu281099.htm )

The administrative changes in Qinghai were approved by China's State Council in December 1999 and are likely to have been ratified at provincial level at the third session of the 9th Qinghai Province People's Congress in January 2000. The purpose of the transfer is to facilitate development in Xining, most importantly in giving the municipality the necessary land area for expansion. According to an article on Xining's official website, the county transfers have resulted in the "economic strength" of Xining becoming "more robust", while "the space for development has become a step more expansive" (www.xining.gov.cn). Prior to the changes, Xining city was squeezed into a narrow corridor at the south of the municipality, with Huangzhong and Huangyuan counties pressing in to the south and west respectively, leaving no room for growth. The new administrative structure increases Xining's land area by 125 per cent. An indication of the importance of Xining to China's plans to develop its western regions is the establishment in September 2000 of the first state-level economic zone in Qinghai province, the 'Xining Economic and Science & Technology Zone', located in the eastern quarter of Xining city.

Together, Xining municipality and Haidong prefecture only account for about two per cent of Qinghai's land area. However, according to 2000 census figures, their combined populations make up 67.5 per cent of the province's total (which is just under 5.2 million). Although the whole area is densely populated, Xining municipality was significantly more so, with 331 persons per square kilometre in 1999 (Qinghai Statistical Yearbook 2000). As a result of the county transfers, Xining's population density has dropped to 258.7 persons per square kilometre based on data from China's 2000 census (notice issued 24 April 2001 by Qinghai statistical bureau on 2000 census data, www.qhei.gov.cn). Population density in Haidong has also dropped, although only from 117 to 114.5 persons per square kilometre, due to the fact that Huangzhong county was relatively highly populated. Haidong has lost roughly one quarter of its population as a result of the transfer of Huangyuan and Huangzhong counties, while Xining's population gain has been substantial - about 50 per cent. The transfer also represents a significant economic loss to Haidong prefecture, just over one quarter of total GDP. The resultant increase in Xining's GDP is proportionally smaller - the assimilation of both counties into Xining's economy results in a 14.7 per cent GDP increase based on 1999 data (Qinghai Statistical Yearbook 2000). Official websites are promoting the refining and smelting industries along with tourism in Huangyuan. Huangzhong is being heavily marketed as a tourist destination - with Kumbum monastery as a major attraction - with some mining support industries and livestock production. However, improved access to transportation links and land available for industrial development are likely to result in much higher economic gains from the transfer than are indicated by the two counties' GDP figures.

Although Huangyuan County has been designated by the state as a "poor county" (China's Ethnic Statistical Yearbook 2000), it is still valuable to Xining. According to Xining's official website, Huangyuan county is known as the "Qinghai-Tibet strategic pass" (www.xining.gov.cn), indicating the importance of the county in accessing and opening up the northern and central Tibetan areas constituting much of Qinghai and the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). Since the county transfers took place in 2000, Xining has pushed ahead with the development of infrastructure within its new borders and with construction connecting the municipality to the Tibetan areas lying to the south and west. As well as tourist expressways from Xining to Kumbum and Ping'an, a new four-lane highway is currently being built from Huangyuan to Daotanghe, where it will meet with National Highways 109 (to Golmud and Lhasa) and 214 (to Chamdo). Construction of a railway heading south from Huangyuan county town towards Tsolho TAP has also commenced since the transfers. Although there has been no apparent official mention of this rail line and it is not yet known where its final destination will be, it is certain to have a profound impact on the opening up and development of Tsolho TAP. (see "New railway construction in Qinghai", TIN News Update, 15 January 2002, http://www.tibetinfo.net/news-updates/2002/1501.htm )

Haidong prefecture was founded as recently as 1987, before which its counties came under the jurisdiction of Xining. The Xining-Haidong area is the only part of Qinghai with a pre-1949 majority Chinese population - a result of long-term Chinese control, which did not extend beyond this area in any practical way until the Chinese Communist Party came to power in 1949. Immigration from other parts of China, both forced and voluntary, was a significant factor in the growth of Xining-Haidong's population from less than one million to three million between 1949 and 1990, a rate of increase that outstrips China's as a whole for the same period. One result of this has been to further reconfigure the demographic structure of the area, so that Tibetans now make up a small minority of the population.

The county transfers mean that Xining municipality now has a larger percentage of Tibetans than before (4.6% as compared to 2.7% based on 1990 census data [note 1]). However, Tibetans in Huangzhong and Huangyuan are now part of a smaller Tibetan minority than previously (4.6% as compared to 8.7%). The transfer will have had a negligible impact on the proportion of Tibetans within Haidong, based on 1990 census data (8.7% before; 8.6% after).

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