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China takes softly-softly approach in effort to boost Tibet's economy

July 5, 2010

By Clifford Coonan in Lhasa
The Independent (UK)
July 1, 2010

Hao Peng cuts an avuncular figure and is
unusually frank for a party official in Tibet,
where people rioted against Beijing rule two
years ago. He is the new, approachable face that
China wants to front its multibillion-yuan
efforts to boost the isolated mountain enclave's
economy and win the hearts and minds of the Tibetan people.

"We are doing our best to improve the quality and
calibre of local Tibetans and have also
introduced special policies in terms of
employment projects, subsidies and grants to help
local people," Mr Hao, the deputy secretary of
the Communist Party in Tibet and vice-chairman of
the regional government, told reporters.

But many Tibetans resent the fact that Han
Chinese from other provinces are benefiting the
most from the region's development boom.

At the enormous, state-of-the-art railway station
near Lhasa yesterday, Han Chinese could be seen
alighting from the train, part of the daily
influx coming to set up shop. Their businesses
are more and more in evidence on the streets of
Lhasa, once one of the most remote and mysterious
places on earth and still a difficult place to get to.

Mr Hao said the central government was committed
to addressing the yawning income gaps and
opportunity inequalities between Tibetans and Han
Chinese, but added: "It's not unusual that
businessmen from other parts of China benefit
from Tibet's development, as they help the local economy."

One of the ways he wants to improve the Tibetans'
lot is by raising education levels. "When you
come back in 10 years you will remark how the
farmers' income level here approaches the national average," he said.

However, winning hearts and minds is about more
than just building factories and model villages.
China faces an uphill struggle to win the
affections of residents who support the Dalai Lama.

Mr Hao put the blame for any unrest in the region
firmly at the feet of the "Dalai Clique",
devotees of the spiritual leader of Tibetan
Buddhism who fled Lhasa in 1959, eight years
after it was formally annexed by the People's Republic of China.

China says Tibet is, was and always will be
Tibetan, but the Tibetan government-in-exile in
the north Indian town of Dharamsala says it
represents the Tibetan people and wants more
autonomy. The Dalai Lama, Mr Hao said, needed to
accept that Tibet was an "inalienable" part of China.

In March 2008, monks marched from the Jokang
Temple, Tibetan Buddhism's most holy site at the
heart of Lhasa, and called for greater freedom.
Tensions flared into widespread violence in the
Tibetan Autonomous Region and other Tibetan areas
in China and 19 people were killed. Tibetan
independence groups say scores died in a
subsequent crackdown, a claim denied by the Chinese.

Today, soldiers armed with machine guns stand
guard on Lhasa's ancient streets. "After 14 March
we have taken many efforts to maintain stability.
Unity is a blessing while instability is a curse.
The People's Armed Police on the street are
necessary to enforce stability," Mr Hao said. "We
have the ability and confidence to... ultimately
achieve long-term order and stability."

The reason ordinary Tibetans were not allowed to
display pictures of the Dalai Lama, whom they
worship as a god-king, is that he is "not just a
religious figure, he is also a mastermind of separatist activities".

"No sovereign country in the world would allow
the hanging of a portrait of a person like
that... the Dalai Lama colluded with anti-China
forces abroad to make trouble in Tibet," Mr Hao
said. "What you see in the streets, including the
police and other legal forces, are necessary
measures to maintain stability... the local,
ordinary people love the country, they love the Communist Party of China."
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