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Development

China Railroads Over Tibet's Suffering

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 05/07/26; July 26, 2005.]

Kate Saunders/Deccan Chronicle
July 26th, 2005

A company with key business interests in India, the transportation giant Bombardier, has become the focus of a major international campaign against its involvement in a deal with Beijing to provide railcars for a controversial rail link that will connect the Chinese transportation network with Tibet for the first time. This effectively means that an Indian transport company is involved in supporting a project that will involve the further militarisation of the Tibetan plateau close to the Indian border. China's Qinghai Daily describes the railway as the "political frontline in consolidating the south-western border of the motherland" in other words, India's border.

New evidence shows that the railway will contribute to the further marginalisation of the Tibetan people and exploitation of their mineral and natural resources by China.

The construction of the 1,118-km railway from Golmud in Qinghai to Lhasa in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) is an important part of the Beijing government's campaign to develop the western regions of China, including the TAR and Tibetan areas in Qinghai, Sichuan, Yunnan and Gansu provinces. The rail link and stations in Tibetan areas will facilitate increased exploitation of Tibet's mineral and natural resources and will generate both large and small-scale opportunities for employment and enterprise. Beijing stated in April that in order to ensure construction of the railway by October, the authorities are planning an additional investment of 5.5 billion yuan ($0.6 billion), indicating the high priority of the project to the Chinese State.

In Tibet, overland supply lines are constrained by the rugged terrain, and reliable transport of troops and supplies has been difficult. As a result, the number, location and size of military installations have been circumscribed. The new railway will transform this situation. Difficulties in re-stocking food supplies and goods for personnel would be addressed by the railway, allowing for higher levels of sustained troop concentration on the plateau.

The railway's high-load capacity and all-weather capability would also greatly ease the delivery of heavy armaments such as field artillery and missiles as well as heavy machinery for construction.

Passing through some of the most forbidding high altitude terrain in the world, the railroad project is not only of critical significance to Beijing's plans for accelerated economic development in the area but is also of tremendous strategic and political significance to the Chinese government. Its construction will further Beijing's political objectives to assimilate Tibet into China and ensure "stability" in the region -- objectives that are inimical to cultural and religious diversity and the exercise of political freedoms.

Bombardier Inc. announced in February that it would head a consortium with the Power Corporation of Canada and the China South Locomotive and Rolling Stock Industry (Group) Corporation to build 361 cars for the railway. Bombardier, a global leader in the rail equipment manufacturing and servicing industry, is currently stepping up development of its India operations through its important subsidiary company, Bombardier Transportation India, based in New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai.

The company is currently exploring the possibility of making India an engineering centre for its global projects as well as for low-cost sourcing, and developing India as a supplier for engineering and components for its projects elsewhere in the world.

An international coalition of Tibet groups -- the Canada Tibet Committee, International Campaign for Tibet and Students for a Free Tibet -- is calling upon Bombardier to withdraw from the project. It says that involvement in this major infrastructure project would set the damaging precedent of a respected international transportation company participating in a highly-political agenda directly linked to the repression of the Tibetan people under Chinese rule.

The Qinghai-Lhasa railway will facilitate a substantial inflow of migrants from China to Tibetan areas, resulting in marked demographic change, environmental damage, and increased pressure on Tibet's distinct identity. Economic development and the continuing influx of migrants have already resulted in deforestation, grassland degradation, soil erosion and biodiversity loss in many parts of Tibet. Even senior Chinese officials have acknowledged that construction of the railway will have a detrimental impact on Tibet's fragile ecology -- the plateau is a watershed area for 10 of the earth's great river systems, running through much of India and Asia.

New images of the railway construction obtained exclusively by the International Campaign for Tibet give an insight into the changes the railway will bring to Tibet, and prove that the Chinese authorities are relocating Tibetans without adequate compensation to make way for the railroad.

The images show official notices announcing the relocation of local residents in the area of Ne'u (Chinese: Liuwu) township in Toelung Dechen county (Chinese: Duilongdeqing) in the Tibet Autonomous Region where the railway station is to be built, and new housing that has been built in the area.

The images provide the first confirmation that local residents in the Ne'u area, on the south bank of the Kyichu river and opposite the western area of Lhasa, will be resettled in order to make way for the new development. Land prices in the Ne'u area have been on the increase over the past few years. The resettlement is unlikely to have been voluntary, in accordance with other reports from Tibetan areas of relocations linked to urban or infrastructural development projects.

Tibetans in Tibet are known to be increasingly concerned about the impact of the railway. But it would be extremely risky for them to object to the railway or to its impacts in their area, given the high priority of the project to the Chinese State.

Even some Party officials and Chinese scholars are said to have been reluctant to express any public criticism of the project because of its strong backing from China's President and Party secretary Hu Jintao, as well as other senior figures, including former Premier Zhu Rongji. A Tibetan writer from the eastern Tibetan area of Amdo, who is now in exile and who preferred to remain anonymous, said: "No single Tibetan I can think of believes the railway to Lhasa is a good thing. In the interests of the nation and the Tibetan people it isn't good in the long-term. But we know we are in the hands of the Chinese and they can do what they want."

A Tibetan nun who escaped into exile from Tibet and whose name is withheld for security reasons recently reported that her family had lost land and been denied adequate compensation due to the railway construction. She said: "We appealed to county-level cadres about our dissatisfaction over the inadequate compensation for the land used by the State for the railway track. The county cadres blamed the village heads and township leaders for failing to submit the detailed measurement of land at the time of initial planning of the railway track. We were told that now it is too late and they cannot give any additional money."

"We cannot complain to the higher authorities. When we request them to consider our problems, the village or township leaders blame the county leaders and vice versa. None of the authorities pay attention to our petition. We are helpless."

Tibetans face significant threats to their livelihoods as a result of the increased population influx that will result from the railway. Improved inter-regional access to the Tibetan plateau in combination with other government-sponsored incentives will facilitate the expansion of existing settler communities and prompt the establishment of new ones. Population movements will be encouraged by the shorter travel times, lower transportation costs, and enhanced connections to an increasingly Chinese cultural and economic network. These movements represent a significant threat to the livelihoods and culture of the Tibetan people as well as to their prospects for achieving genuine political autonomy.

The Chinese State does not deny the political and strategic objectives of the railway. Senior politburo member Li Ruihuan has said: "Expanding Tibet's economy is not a mere economic issue, but a major political issue that has a vital bearing on Tibet's social stability and progress. This work not only helps Tibet, but is also related directly to the struggle against the Dalai Lama's splittist attempts." (1997, quoted in ICT's report Crossing the Line).

The involvement of Bombardier Inc. in the supply of railcars for the GolmudLhasa railroad would set a highly damaging precedent of a respected transportation company supporting the demographic restructuring and economic development objectives of the PRC in "minority nationality" regions, a highly controversial political agenda which runs the risk of tarnishing its reputation worldwide.

Kate Saunders is a writer and journalist who works for the International Campaign for Tibet.


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