The World's "Highest Railway Line" on the Tibetan Plateau: Development or Beijing's Final Solution to the Tibet Issue?
[Department of Information and International Relations (DIIR). Central Tibetan Administration. May 15, 2001.]
15 May 2001
The World's "Highest Railway Line" on the Tibetan Plateau:Development or Beijing's Final Solution to the Tibet Issue?
THE TIBETAN GOVERNMENT IN EXILE (TGIE) is extremely concerned about China's recent decision to go ahead with the Golmud-Lhasa railway line, which is the one of the four proposed railway routes (Chengdu-Kongpo-Lhasa, Dali-Kongpo-Lhasa, Lanzhou-Nagchu-Lhasa) to link Tibet with China. The project long in the offing was abandoned in 1987 because of an unfavourable cost benefit analysis. This time China's National People's Congress and the State Council hastily approved the project by listing it in the central budget for the 10th Five-year Plan, which means the project would get direct state funds. The project, the largest of its kind, is supposed to enhance "the national defence and domestic stability" and help mainstream the traditional Tibetan economy. It will be officially launched in June 2001. The 'Tibet Autonomous Region' is one of the western Tibetan regions not connected to China by railways and is perhaps the chief reason why China has not been able to sinicize Tibet completely.
The Golmud-Lhasa railway route, an extension programme to the existing Xining-Golmud railway line, has a stipulated distance of 1,118 kms long covering four Tibetan prefectures viz., Golmud, Kyigudo, Nagchu and Lhasa. The track, which will negotiate mountains over 5000 m high, rarefied atmosphere, and unique highland topography, is regarded as the highest track on earth. The construction dares one of the most difficult plateau terrains that has a large coverage of permafrost, swamps and unstable high peaked mountains. Thirty different stations and junctions are planned to assist the 'high speed' railway track. During the period of construction, about 67,000 skilled labourers from China and 16,000 local labour forces will be drawn from the neighbouring Chinese provinces to the construction sites. Global Positioning System (GPS) and the best dynamic mountain technology (engineering and mechanical) in the world will be tested to remove the physical constraints. The project claims to benefit the region by bringing convenient livestock trading, expediting the natural resource exploitation and boosting cultural and 'eco-tourism' by threefold within a decade. The cost of the project by 1995 prices is estimated at 19.4 billion Yuan (2.34 billion US$) and is supposed to be completed by 2007.
The preliminary assessment with regard to impacts on Tibet and Tibetans shows that this railway project will have far-reaching negative immediate and long-term political, social, economic and environmental consequences.
Firstly, a gigantic investment of this kind shows little economic viability with relation to its total direct and indirect costs. The indirect costs such as exemption from taxes, local labour and resource supply, subsidisation on agricultural and pastoral lands for the local administration would put incredibly high pressure on the already scarce local resources of the regional administrations and its inhabitants i.e. 'TAR' and Tibetan inhabited areas.
Secondly, China's State documents prove that the project will attract a massive number of labourers and immigrants, who will be given special provision including resident's permit rights during and after the project's completion, to the most environmentally fragile regions of the west, which further marginalises the Tibetan population physically and socially.
Thirdly, the railway line will have known environmental implications such as erosion, silting, pollution, disturbances to migration paths of wildlife and untold of ecosystem imbalances in the 'Nature Reserves' it passes through due to massive drilling and shafting. Though Chinese State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) says measures will be taken to cause minimum ecosystem damage, a proper environmental assessment has not been done. The larger economic impacts and the ultimate geo-political implications to the south and southwest Asia are still being researched and assessed by the Department of Information and International Relations (DIIR).
In brief, this railway project is not an ordinary infrastructure building project. It has far-reaching domestic and international implications and it is indeed a disaster for the Tibetan people, who are struggling against cultural and political annihilation.
The TGIE's position on development and investment inside Tibet is clear: it supports programmes, which promote 'sustainable development' and allow the effective participation of the local populace in the developmental processes. An elaborate investment portfolio and guideline to this effect are specially published to ensure sustainable development in the Tibetan Plateau region. One of the basic principles of the Guidelines is "to enhance the capabilities of Tibetans to meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the needs of the future". The human resources development and health are the key sectors identified for investment and development. (Guidelines for International Development Projects and Sustainable Investment in Tibet: http: www.tibet.net/eng/diir/enviro/devguide)
We, therefore, call for an immediate action by Tibet supporters throughout the world for a campaign against Golmud-Lhasa railway line and the three other proposed lines, and appeal to your respective Government to put pressure on Beijing to stop this railway project. For further risk assessment research, DIIR appreciates your contribution of any related materials on the project.
Environment and Development Desk
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