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Associated Press – February 27, 2008
BEIJING – China’s railway to Tibet is allowing the government to exploit the region’s natural resources while threatening its Buddhist culture and traditional way of life, an activist group said Thursday.
The Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet did not prominently mention the upcoming Beijing Olympics, but the report was released amid increasing criticism of China over a variety of issues, including its policies on ethnic minorities.
The report said the nearly two-year-old railway has accelerated the migration of Han Chinese, the country’s majority ethnic group, to Tibet.
Though the train was touted as part of a plan to bring economic growth to the far western region, the traditionally nomadic Tibetans have been relegated to unskilled work while Han business owners reap the benefits of development, it said.
The railway allows efficient transport of raw materials – iron, copper, zinc and others – out of Tibet to manufacturing centers where they are used to make the world’s televisions, DVD players and other electronics, ICT said.
“The large-scale extraction of these resources is a key element of the authorities’ motivation for building the railroad, together with strengthening the state’s authority and control over Tibetan areas,” said the report, titled “Tracking the Steel Dragon.”
China has defended its work in Tibet, saying improvements in infrastructure and health care, along with campaigns to settle nomadic herders in permanent communities was improving quality of life.
China claims Tibet has been its territory for centuries and its forces occupied the region in 1951. But the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, is still widely revered and the Chinese government seeks to demonize the Nobel Peace Prize laureate as an outcast seeking to “split the motherland.”
The culture of Tibet, where Buddhism pervades every aspect of everyday life, is distinctly different from the rest of China. But the railway has brought increasing numbers of Han settlers who don’t speak the Tibetan language and noisy tourists who flock to sacred religious sites.
The ICT report also noted that Chinese military presence has increased in Tibet since the railway opened. Its now-accessible mineral resources have increased its strategic importance, and forces apparently were dispatched “to prepare for any contingencies that might threaten the interest of the state.”
The multibillion dollar “Sky Train” debuted with great fanfare in the summer of 2006. Specially engineered to protect delicate frozen earth under much of the last third of the rail line, China boasts that the 710-mile railway that links Beijing to Lhasa is the highest in the world.
China’s hosting of the 2008 Olympics has made it a target of activist groups, who want to shame the host country into changing its policies on human rights, international relations and treatment of minorities.
Hollywood director Steven Spielberg recently backed out as an artistic adviser to the games because he felt China wasn’t doing enough to pressure its ally Sudan into ending the humanitarian crisis in its Darfur region.
The criticism has been detracting from Beijing’s hopes of using the event to showcase a glittering, dynamic “new China.” Part of its plans include an ambitious Olympic torch relay that will make a stop at the top of Mount Everest in Tibet.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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