Railroading The Future of Tibet
[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 01/09/01; September 1, 2001.]
A New Study of China's Railway Line Construction in Tibet Reveals a Grim Future for Tibet and Neighbours
NEW DELHI, 31 August 2001 --- "China's construction of the Gormo-Lhasa railway line and its plans to link the Tibetan capital with three other railway routes will mean the total absorption of Tibet to China," said Kalon T.C. Tethong, Kalon for the Department of Information and International Relations of the Central Tibetan Administration based in Dharamsala. "It will spell the end of Tibet's distinct cultural identity," Tethong said.
Kalon T.C. Tethong was speaking at a release of a new study of China’s railway project in Tibet to the international media in New Delhi. China’s Railway Project: Where Will It Take Tibet? is the first comprehensive examination of the potentially corrosive impact of the four railway routes on the traditional lifestyle of the Tibetans. The study weighs the potential benefits and dangers the railway lines will bring to the Tibetan people. It comes to the conclusion the negative impact of the railway lines will far out-weigh the advantages.
"The study clearly reveals the railway lines will facilitate China's population transfer on to the Tibetan plateau and exploitation of Tibet's un-tapped natural resources," said Kalon T.C. Tethong.
The fact that the purpose behind the construction of the Gormo-Lhasa railway line is political is clearly spelled out by President Jiang Zemin in an interview which appeared in the New York Times on 10 August. President Jiang Zemin said, "Recently a project has been launched to build a railroad from Golmud (in Qinghai province) to Lhasa. It will be built through permafrost area at 4,000 to 5,000 meters elevation. Some people advised me not to go ahead with this project because it is not commercially viable. I said this is a political decision, we will make this project succeed at all costs, even if there is a commercial loss."
The study reveals that with the completion of the railway lines China hopes to increase the speed of its troop deployment, to strengthen its grip on restive Tibet through securing Tibet’s total economic and commercial integration to China and to exploit Tibet’s natural resources, including hydro-electric power, to fuel the coastal region’s booming economy. The study states, "The tenth five-year plan gave high priority to the construction of a railway line to Lhasa City; this is one of the four most important projects highlighted by the plan. The other mammoth projects are ‘west-to-east gas transfer, west to-east power transmission and south-to-north water diversion.’ Interestingly, all the four major projects are somehow connected with Tibet and aimed at the exploitation of the plateau’s natural resources to serve the power-hungry industries in China’s prosperous eastern regions. This becomes clear from the following official Chinese statement:
The distribution of China's energies is seriously unbalanced. On the one hand, the expansive western areas have rich deposits of natural gas, petroleum, hydroelectric power and other important resources, huge volume of hydroelectric power is wasted there; on the other hand, the rapidly developing eastern regions needs the import and supplementation of various resources and energy.
The study said the consequences of the railway line for Tibet will be disastrous. The study said, "China’s decision of bringing railway to Lhasa City and then to the southern corridor of Tibet will have far-reaching effects. The project will lead to extensive damage on the fragile ecosystem of the Tibetan plateau, damaging the wildlife, contaminating water-bodies particularly that of Dri-Chu(Yangtse), Gyamo-Ngochu (Salween) and Dzachu (Mekong) rivers, and inducing deflation and soil erosions as a result of escalating resource exploitation. The project will also encourage massive influx of Chinese settlers, which will lead to the marginalisation of the Tibetans, stigmatising them on the basis of race and language and ultimately eroding the foundations of Tibetan cultural and identity.
Apart from these, the project will escalate the military-build-up on the Tibetan plateau which will invite arms race and the stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction in the South and South-east Asia."
Tibetan fear of being swamped by a sea of Chinese settlers is fueled by the glaring example of Gormo in the Tibetan province of Amdo. According to the BBC report on the construction of the Gormo-Lhasa railway line, 40 years ago, Gormo, before the railway line started, was an open steppe with scattered 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.
Beijing eventually hopes to link the Tibetan capital with China through four railway lines. Construction of the first line, the Gormo-Nagchu-Lhasa, has already started. The three other lines China plans to construct are Lanzhou-Nagchu-Lhasa, Chengdu-Nagchu-Lhasa, and Dali-Nyingtri-Lhasa routes. Premier Zhu Rongzhi launched the construction of the Gormo-Lhasa railway line on 29 June. The cost of laying the track amount to a whopping $ 3 billion and the line is expected to be completed by 2007.
Contacts: Kesang Y. Takla / Thubten Samphel Tel: (1892) 22457/22510/24662
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