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Bombardier draws fire over Chinese rail project

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 05/04/15; April 15, 2005.]

The Gazette
April 15, 2005

Social responsibility is an issue corporations ignore at their peril, as Bombardier Inc. is discovering.

The transportation giant is the target of an international lobbying campaign aimed at stopping its involvement in a controversial $3.3-billion (U.S.) rail project in Chinese-occupied Tibet.

Bombardier announced in February that a joint venture it has formed has won a contract to supply 361 rail cars for the new train line being built to link the city of Lhasa in Tibet with eastern China. Bombardier's share of the deal is worth $78 million.

Activists fighting to end more than 50 years of brutal Chinese repression in Tibet say the railway is the linchpin in China's long-term strategy of subjugating the region.

Once it's completed in 2007, the line is expected to bring an overwhelming influx of Chinese settlers into Tibet - as many as 100,000 per month.

This resettlement could swamp the Tibetan population of 6 million and establish facts on the ground that would make the goal of Tibetan autonomy from China harder to achieve.

In a letter sent to Bombardier chairperson Laurent Beaudoin, a coalition of international activist groups asks the company to reconsider its investment.

The letter, signed by more than two dozen groups in 18 countries, says the company's continued involvement in the project far outweighs the benefits.

"Bombardier's involvement in the railway may become the focus of a sustained global campaign that affects its customer relations, share prices and international reputation for years to come," said Tenzin Dargyal, president of the Canada Tibet Committee. He added that the lobbying campaign will also target two other Canadian corporations in the project.

Power Corp. of Montreal is a joint-venture partner in the railway, along with state-owned China South Locomotive and Rolling Stock Industry Corp. And Nortel Networks Corp. has been selected to supply a digital wireless communications system for the line, which traverses the Himalayan plateau at altitudes of up to 5,000 metres.

Dargyal says the rail line will allow China to increase the militarization of Tibet, enabling rapid troop deployments and increasing weapon stockpiles. The project has potentially dire environmental consequences and has been imposed on Tibetans without their say, he adds.

Bombardier has been targeted because it's seeking $700 million in financial assistance from the government of Canada for its new family of passenger jets.

"I'm not going to sit by while my tax dollars go to a company involved in this kind of project in Tibet," Dargyal said. He met this week in Ottawa with government and opposition MPs in an attempt to enlist support.

The Canada Tibet Committee has also sought support from institutional investors and plans to raise the issue at the annual shareholders' meeting in June.

Asked about the rail contract during a recent conference call to discuss financial results, Bombardier Transportation president Andre Navarri said the company does not "comment on politics."

Bombardier official Helene Gagnon said a contract of this kind would not go through a risk-assessment process because the company is acting as a supplier rather than a project manager.

The coalition's efforts might seem like a long shot, but Dargyal points to a string of recent successes by Tibet support groups:

In 2000, the World Bank withdrew a loan that would have allowed China to resettle a portion of Tibet with agricultural migrants.

Last year, oil giant BP divested its stake in PetroChina, China's largest state-owned oil company, after intense criticism of the company's involvement in a proposed $578-million gas pipeline in Tibet.

And the Holiday Inn hotel chain in 1997 withdrew from a partnership in a luxury hotel in Lhasa after criticism of its participation. phadekel@videotron.ca

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