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Bombadier Transportation: Helping to Destroy Tibet

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 05/08/24; August 24, 2005.]

August 24, 2005
Corporate Watch News - Oxford, UK
by Tenzin Metok Sither

Bombardier, a transport manufacturer, has a contract to supply railcars for a Chinese railway that will open up Tibet to massive economic exploitation. Chinese leaders have acknowledged that the line, from Golmud (Gormo) to Lhasa, is politically motivated. Bombardier claims that it is not its responsibility to settle political differences between China and Tibet. However, by partnering with the Chinese government, Bombardier is aiding the Chinese colonisation of Tibet whilst adding further tension to the political situation.

Bombardier will lead a consortium, that includes Power Corporation and the China South Locomotive and Rolling Stock Industry (Group), to supply 361 specially designed railcars for the Chinese Ministry of Railways. Nortel, Powercorp and GE are other companies that will be supporting the project. Construction of the railway began in 2001 at a cost of $3.2 billion US dollars. Test runs are expected in 2006 before full operation in 2007. China's first railway line into Tibet, the Lanzhou-Xining line, gives a forecast of the likely effects of the new railway. The Lanzhou-Xining railway became operational in 1961 but the link to Gormo was completed only in 1984. In August 2001, the BBC reported that 'forty years ago, before the railway came, there was nothing here, just open steppe and wandering Tibetan herdsmen. But today Gormo is home to 200,000 people, almost all of them immigrants from eastern China. Less than 5% of the population is Tibetan.'

The construction of the railway and its activities will also have an adverse effect on the fragile ecologies that depend on Tibet's river systems; the railway will continue to aid in the exploitation and removal of natural resources from Tibet and from the Tibetan people, and it will facilitate in the strategic militarisation of the Tibetan plateau by enabling rapid deployments of arms including nuclear stockpile and missiles.

It remains unclear whether the railway will be financially sound. China will spend $3.2 billion US dollars on this railway, more than the Chinese government has ever spent on education and healthcare for the Tibetan region since 1952. The financial gains for the relatively small population along the route will not offset the cost of this project. Clearly, the Chinese government is not concerned about the financial risks. Jiang Zemin once said, 'Some people advised me not to go ahead with this project because it is not commercially viable. I said this is a political decision...'

Bombardier's role in the railway project contradicts the company's own Code of Ethics ('to behave with integrity and in an ethical manner in everything we do and say') and the International Union of Public Transport (UITP) Charter on Sustainable Development.

This is not the first time that firms and organisations have been under attack by activists for their participation in projects and ventures that have a harmful effect on the Tibetan population. In 2000, the World Bank withdrew a loan to the Chinese government to facilitate migration of Han Chinese to Tibet. In 1997, Holiday Inn withdrew its luxury hotel in Lhasa after intense criticism. Recently, due to a 'SinoGold: Hands off Tibet!' campaign, the Australian gold miner halted its activities in Tibet.

Many activists predict its involvement may affects Bombardier's customer relations, share prices and international reputation. In the UK, the company is involved in manufacturing and maintenance at a number of sites, including at Wakefield, Crewe and Croydon, for a number of UK train operators including Virgin, South Central and South Easter trains.

For more details see Bombadier's website www.bombardier.com/index.jsp?id=1_0&lang=en&file=/en/1_0/1_0.jsp

Tenzin Metok Sither is pursuing a master's degree in Gender, Development and Globalisation at the London School of Economics. She works as Campaigns Intern at the Free Tibet Campaign, U.K.

1 Quoted in www.ustibet.org/campaigns/railroad.html
2 Quoted in www.tibet.net/flash/flash_archive/2001/0801/310801.html
The use of railways in Colonialism and Empire Building.
www.britishempire.co.uk/science/transport/railways.htm. July 25, 2005.
Crossing the Line: China's Railway to Lhasa, Tibet. Washington D.C. :
International Campaign for Tibet, 2002. Pg. 2. New York Times. August
10, 2001. South China Morning Post. 12 April 2002. Bombardier's Code of
Ethics. www.bombardier.com/index.jsp/ July 29, 2005.

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