- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 28, 2003

TSETHANG, Tibet — In an attempt to extend its influence over the Himalayan region, the Chinese government has been throwing vast sums of money into the infrastructure of Tibet’s impoverished urban areas, officials here say.

Since a 2001 directive by the central government, all Chinese provinces have been required to raise investment funds for the more than 70 counties of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), said De Ji, the administrative commissioner of Shannan prefecture.

“The [gross domestic product] for our prefecture in 2002 was 1.3 billion yuan [$156 million], up 17.3 percent over the previous year,” Mrs. De told visiting reporters.

“Fixed-assets investment in the prefecture equaled 1 billion yuan [$120 million], up 34.8 percent over last year.”

The money funneled into Shannan has been spent on roads, bridges, tunnels, telecommunications, hydroelectric plants and other infrastructure projects, she said in an interview arranged by China’s central government.

Along with such investments, all sorts of support industries and economic activities have sprouted up in the cities and towns of Shannan, which are largely being brought in by ethnic Han Chinese traders, but which also support the local economy.

But according to Orville Schell, dean of the School of Journalism at the University of California, who has written extensively on China and Tibet, Beijing’s new economic policy on Tibet has been more beneficial to Chinese immigrants than to Tibetans.

“The ‘Han-ification’ of Tibet is found in every place classified as urban or a county town,” Mr. Schell said.

“Every place where there is economic infrastructure, there are Han Chinese. “Any place where you find vehicular traffic, you find Chinese — yet off the beaten track, then you get nomadic Tibetans.”

Government officials maintain that 90 percent of Tibet’s population of 2.6 million is ethnic Tibetan, with 90 percent of these people farmers or herdsmen.

Tsethang, the prefectural capital of Shannan, has a population of about 58,000, with between 10,000 to 18,000 Han Chinese, Mrs. De said.

“We don’t have any specific numbers. We don’t know how many people are coming every month, it could be 100, it could be 200. So what I mean is that there could be as many as 18,000 Han in Tsethang,” she said.

Mr. Schell said the immigration policy is not actively being pushed by the central government, but has much to do with the tremendous population pressures facing China proper.

“Nature abhors a vacuum, and in China, the huge population means that there is a constant search for places to start a new life — even in harsh conditions,” he said. “At present, there are a lot of opportunities for Han Chinese, who actually are the economy of Tibet.”

According to the 2001 decision, which was made by the top leaders of the ruling Communist Party, the funding for Tibet would last at least 10 years, Mrs. De said.

“After that, we don’t know what will happen,” she said.

Meanwhile, the influx of Han Chinese has caused widespread alarm among members of the exiled Tibetan government in Dharmsala, India, and among advocacy groups who fear Tibetans are becoming a minority in their own land.

A look around Tsethang reveals that the Han, mostly from neighboring Sichuan province, live in the newer part of town, while Tibetans are in the older, more run-down areas.

Tibetans in the city, however, are obviously benefiting from the economic activity not only financially, but also through better health care, better schools and better sanitation.

“China is putting a lot of money into Tibet from the developmental standpoint, and even if it is crushing the indigenous population, they have done a great deal if you believe in development,” Mr. Schell said.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide