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The Tibet Railway Nears Completion; Western Companies Jump Aboard

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 05/05/14; May 14, 2005.]

Tibet Justice Center
By Freya Putt*

China's official news agencies do not always generate a lot of factual news, but they do give insight into the issues important to the government. The Tibet Railway is ranking high these days, garnering eight articles from Peopleís Daily and Xinhua in April 2005 alone.

The railway is the symbol of China's control over Tibet and Tibetís future. It frightens and frustrates Tibetans and Tibet supporters, while Chinese leaders are desperate to have it finished. Construction began in 2001, shortly after the Tibet movement's major victory in forcing the cancellation of the World Bank loan for population transfer in Amdo, and the Tibet movement was geared up for another challenge. Unfortunately, it has been a hard one to rise to. We have sought effective points of leverage and not found them, as the Chinese government, pouring in cash and churning out propaganda, plows ahead and the railway creeps inexorably towards completion.

The Chinese government's mega-projects are known for going overtime and over-budget, but it is clear that in this case, finishing on time is a priority for them. The railway was originally scheduled for completion in 2007 -- in time for the Beijing 2008 Olympics -- but the date has slowly inched closer. Beijing recently announced that it would be pumping in another 5.5 billion yuan ($0.6 bn US) to ensure construction of the railway by October 2005. Test runs are scheduled to begin in July 2006.

Now, three Canadian businesses have announced their involvement in the railway. Bombardier, a Montreal-based manufacturer of airplanes, recreational vehicles, and rail transportation equipment, will lead a consortium that includes Power Corporation of Canada, a financial holding company, and China South Locomotive and Rolling Stock Industry (Group) Corporation, to supply the Chinese Ministry of Railways with 361 specially designed rail cars for the Tibet line. Nortel Networks, a global telecommunications provider, will supply a digital wireless communications network (GSM-R). These companies, along with GE, which will provide the locomotives, are the only foreign entities known to be directly assisting with the railway.

The three Canadian companies are founding members of the Canada-China Business Council, unabashed China supporters who have benefited immensely from close business ties with China. Nortel has worked extensively with the Chinese government to develop surveillance technology for use on Chinese citizens. The CEO of Power Corp exclaimed a few years ago at a trade conference that the 21st century promises to be "glorious" for China. The companies are already facing scrutiny in the Canadian media for their involvement in the railway.

As China races towards the finish line with the project and western companies obligingly jump aboard, a coalition of Tibet Support Groups has formed, determined to slow down the completion of the railway and discourage non-Chinese investment in other Western Development projects in Tibet. We have a short timeline, but it is essential that we organize. We may not be able to stop the railway, but we can stop the countless other projects that make up the Western Development Plan, the backbone of China's colonization of Tibet. The Tibet movement has shown that it can be a force to equal and even overcome the power of Beijing. Now is the time to demonstrate that force again.

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