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For Tibetans, Railroad Brings Doom

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 2004/11/27; November 27, 2004.]

By Erling Hoh
The Washington Times
November 26, 2004

Second of two parts AMDO, Tibet -- This small town is in dire need of modernization. Like many others in Tibet after more than 50 years of Chinese rule, it still lacks paved roads, piped water and proper sanitation.

According to a report on the Qinghai-Tibet Railway by the International Campaign for Tibet -- a Washington-based nonprofit organization that is critical of China's rule in Tibet and seeks human rights and self-determination for Tibetans -- the budgeted cost of the railroad is more than three times the amount the Chinese government has spent on health care and education in Tibet during the past 50 years.

The neglect of Tibet hampered that region's social development. As recently as 1999, it had an illiteracy rate of 67 percent, compared with 11 percent illiteracy for China as a whole.

Critics also fear the railroad will accelerate the migration to Tibet of jobless Han Chinese from overpopulated urban centers. In Lhasa, which has about 200,000 residents, Han Chinese are already on the verge of becoming a majority. This is a pattern seen elsewhere in China in the past century.

Between 1912 and 1949, the Han Chinese population of Inner Mongolia increased fivefold. Millions arrived after the railroad from Zhangjiakou to Hohhot was completed in the 1920s, and by 1949, the Han Chinese outnumbered the Mongolians by a ratio of 11-to-1. The same process took place in Manchuria with the help of railroads built by the Japanese, who seized that region in 1931 after gaining Taiwan in the 1894-95 Sino-Japanese war.

Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, is already a predominantly Han Chinese city. In Kashgar, the Han Chinese population increased by 30 percent in 2001, the year after the railroad there was completed. "In public, Tibetans will not voice any criticism. But in private, they will tell you that this is the end of Tibet," said Dr. Robert Barnett, lecturer in Modern Tibetan Studies at Columbia University in New York. Other analysts point to the military implications of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, saying it could be used to deploy tactical nuclear weapons.

In 2001, Jane's Intelligence Digest reported that the Chinese People's Liberation Army "considers it necessary to build up a network of roads and mule tracks to bring military hardware and troops to the forward areas of the disputed border" with India, with which China fought a brief 1962 war in the Himalayas. Writes defense analyst William Triplett: "With even a single line, the PLA could move about 12 infantry divisions to central Tibet in 30 days to meet up with their pre-positioned equipment."

The railroad also will be used to accelerate mining activities in Tibet. In the past few years, 13 copper belts, with an estimated reserve of more than 1 million tons, and two cobalt deposits with a combined reserve of 20,000 tons have been discovered in the vicinity of the railway line. Bringing development -- along with its many beneficial and adverse consequences -- the Qinghai-Tibet railroad to the "top of the world" looks set for completion on or before the 2007 schedule. In Zaziqu village in the Qugaxiong valley about 60 miles north of Lhasa, 18 families earn their livelihoods by herding about 1,000 yaks and 1,500 sheep. The railroad will run through their valley, and the herders will have to bring the animals to summer pastures in the mountains through a small tunnel under the tracks.

"We don't know whether or not the animals will refuse to pass through the tunnel," said the village head. "We are not opposed to this project, but it is creating big losses for us."

"The radio said that we would be able to make $30 a day working on the railroad," said a housewif in the village.

"We were very happy, and thought that we could make some money. But only five or six people got work, and they were paid only $9 to $12 per day. It's unfair, but we don't know where to complain," the woman said.

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