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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Beijing building Potemkin village in Tibet

October 6, 2010

By Saransh Sehgal
Asia Times
October 4, 2010

DHARAMSALA, India - Beijing has recently been
involved in two major development projects in its
restive Tibetan region. It has rebuilt the Dalai
Lama's birth village with modern houses, and
extended the rail network in the Tibet Autonomous
Region. But these efforts have done little to
impress Tibetan critics in exile. They believe
that developing Tibet economically will never
change the mindset of the Tibetans there unless
religious, political and cultural freedoms are guaranteed.

China has extensively renovated Taktser
(Hong'Ai), a remote village in the Tibetan region
of Amdo (now Qinghai province of China) - the
birthplace of the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet,
Tenzin Gyatso. All 54 houses in Taktser have been
rebuilt at state cost, and in an attempt to win
the hearts of the Dalai Lama's followers, the new
homes have been designed with traditional Tibetan
flourishes. Every Tibetan household was consulted
for its requirements before the overhaul, said
Dong Jie, head of the Civil Affairs Bureau of
Ping'An County, who oversaw the project.

Chinese officials have compared the new
developments in the village to the state of the
place at the time of the Dalai Lama's recognition
70 years ago, when Taktser was impoverished and
backwards. The old Tibetan homes have been
replaced with modern structures of brick and
strong timber, says Xing Fuhua, chief official of
Shihuiyao township, which administers Hong'Ai.
The village now has roads and a stable power and
water supply, although it is still not connected to the world via the Internet.

One of the rebuilt homes is that of Gongpo Tashi,
a Tibetan whose main job is to maintain the
birthplace of his uncle, the exiled Tibetan
spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. A state media
report quoted Gongpo, who still awaits the Dalai
Lama to return Tibet, as saying, "If I call him
some day, I will definitely tell him of the
changes at home." Gongpo has visited the Dalai
Lama twice in India, but says he has not
contacted his uncle for a while. He is not sure
the Dalai Lama will ever see the changes. "Am I
waiting for his return? Well, if he is back, all
problems will be solved," Gongpo said.

Interestingly, the state media report on the
renovation and remarks from the nephew came just
days after the Dalai Lama said in Budapest that
he would return to Tibet with a Chinese passport.
"I'm an optimist; I think I will return to Tibet
with a Chinese passport. A solution must be found
that is good for both China and Tibet," he said.

The state media report is unusual in not
criticizing the Dalai Lama, unlike ones in which
Beijing accuses him of inciting unrest in Tibet
with a hidden pro-independence agenda.

China has also started work on a railway line
that will connect Tibet's second-largest city,
Xigaze, to the capital, Lhasa. The 253-kilometer
line climbs over a pass at 5,072 meters above sea
level, making it the highest railway in the
world. Nearly half of the new link will be laid
through tunnels and over bridges. It will cost
nearly US$2 billion and take four years to
complete, according to the China Daily. Officials
plan two more extensions, including a proposed route to the Nepalese border.

The rail line is part of a building boom in
transport infrastructure to improve links between
the remote regions of Tibet and northwest
Xinjiang province with mainland China. Chinese
officials say the line will promote tourism and
access to natural resources in the region, but it
is clear that it will also ensure the speedy
mobilization of troops and equipment to these occupied areas in future.

Critics say that the rail line will allow the
Han, China's majority ethnic group, to flood into
Tibet, marginalizing the Tibetans in their own
region. Samphel Thupten, a spokesman for the
exile government in Dharamsala, India, said
Tibetans had already become a minority in their
own land. He pointed out that vast deposits of
minerals had been found it Tibet, and that China
would move more Han Chinese to Tibetan areas to
exploit these riches. "Unrestrained settlement by
Chinese should be halted and if possible
reversed. If this trend continues, the autonomous region will be meaningless."

The exiled Tibetan government says the rebuilding
of houses is welcome, but what is more important
is to improve the quality of life for the Tibetan
people. "As long as a political atmosphere of
suppression continues, no amount of building will
have a direct impact," Thupten said.

Critics also say that the rail line will lead to
environmental degradation in the largely pristine
Tibetan region. But Chinese state planners argue
that the route extension is designed to bypass
pristine areas, use the least land resources and
create the least pollution. "The railway will
detour around nature reserves and drinking water
sources," said Zhang Qingli, Tibet's Communist Party chief.

Other opponents of the rail link see it as a
provocation of China's neighbor. "The railway
line between Lhasa and Xigaze will further
aggravate the tension between India and China.
Both Asian giants have hugely militarized their
sides of the 4,200-kilometer Himalayan border,"
said Tenzin Tsundue, a Tibetan independence
activist quoted by exile news portal Phayul.

Against all these criticisms, Beijing continues
to maintain that it has done more good than harm
in Tibet. China's State Council, its cabinet,
recently issued a compilation of white papers on
Tibet outlining its history since 1959. The
papers cite a number of achievements in the Tibet
Autonomous Region, including economic growth, the
protection of the area's cultural heritage and environmental conservation.

But many Tibetans still believe that Tibet's
culture is based on the spiritual leadership of
the Dalai Lama, and the centuries-old tradition
of herding yak, cattle and sheep across the
Tibetan plateau's grasslands. They say this way
of life is threatened as Chinese officials move
increasing numbers of semi-nomadic herdsmen into resettlement towns.

"Chinese think that developing Tibet's
infrastructure will change the thinking of
Tibetans, but they have always been forgetting
the real issue - without the freedom to live our
lives, such developments will bring no fruit,"
said Jamphel Sioche, a young Tibetan in exile.

* Saransh Sehgal is a writer based in Dharamsala,
India, he can be reached .
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