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'Go West' Program Reaches Tibet

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 2003/09/18; September 18, 2003.]

China is Said to be Spending Billions of Dollars To Modernize Tibet

CNN's Jamie FlorCruz looks at how modernization is changing life in Tibet.

ZEDANG, Tibet, Wednesday, September 17, 2003 (CNN) -- Tightening bolts one by one, Chinese workers build a bridge to span the Lhasa River -- just north of the famed Potala Palace.

It is part of the Tibet to Qinghai Railway that will link Tibet's isolated hinterland with China's booming heartland.

The 1,100-kilometer- (700-mile) long railway is just one of the many big projects now underway in Tibet.

The urban developments may benefit the Tibetans, but they are also meant to consolidate China's economic and political control over Tibet, which was invaded by China in 1949-50.

China's tight grip is evident in the metamorphosis of Tibetan communities into Chinese towns. Tens of thousands of Han Chinese who move into Tibet every year, and now outnumber the Tibetans, have been transforming the Himalayan region.

The migration is part of Beijing's "Go West" program that was designed to help poor provinces in western China catch up with the rest of the country.

Governor of the Tibet Autonomous Region Jampa Phatsok told CNN that all the building of infrastructure and Tibet's regional budget are from the central government.

"The budget alone is equivalent to 5,000 yuan per person, subsidies unheard of in other parts of China," he said.

Some migrants follow that money, running restaurants, hair salons and other businesses advertised with Chinese-language signs.

Zeng Liyou makes more than $12 a day by selling jackets and suits -- much more than he earned in his native Sichuan province where, he says, there was one trader too many.

"We have business opportunities here, that's why we came. A lot of my town-mates are here."

In Zedang's bazaar, they seem to have cornered the clothing business, leaving little room for Tibetan entrepreneurs like Tsewang Tsaxi, who runs the only Tibetan tailor shop in town.

He employs seven Tibetan farmers part-time who sew made-to-order and ready-made traditional clothes.

More Tibetans are wearing western styles, but he says competition from Chinese traders doesn't really bother him.

"They can't make Tibetan-style clothing as well as I do. Even if they try, they just don't fit well," he said.

But with accelerating Chinese consolidation and Tibet no longer isolated, the future demand for Tibetan clothing remains obscure.

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