New strategic rail network to Tibet’s borders endangers environment, raises regional security concerns (Updated)

Railroad map

Updated April 17, 2015: A Chinese railway construction engineer stoked speculation last week in the international media with the news that a new rail link from Tibet to Nepal could involve tunneling under Mount Everest (Chomolangma in Tibetan).

Railway and ‘tunnelling expert’ Wang Mengshu was cited by China Daily on April 9 as saying: “The line will probably have to go through Qomolangma so that workers may have to dig some very long tunnels.” (http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/world/2015-04/09/content_20406196.htm ) A Chinese business website created a graphic speculating on the location of the tunnels through Mount Everest:
(http://www.91b2b.com/news/201504/11/49097.html )

Mount Everest is in an area designated as the Qomolangma National Nature Reserve, a vast area traversing several counties in Shigatse(Chinese: Rigaze) prefecture in the Tibet Autonomous Region close to the border with Nepal including Nyalam (Chinese: Niela), Tingri (Chinese: Dingri) and Kyirong (Chinese: Gyirong).

In reports on the proposed rail link over the past five or more years, the Chinese official media has stated that the rail link would reach Nepal via Shigatse (Chinese: Rigaze) and Kyirong, on the border, where a new ‘land border post’ has been established. The route Shigatse-Kyirong would not naturally pass through the Mount Everest area, unless there were particular reasons from the Chinese side – for instance if there was an impetus to divert from mining projects in the area.

Feasibility studies appear to have focused on the route from Dram (Chinese: Zangmu) in the Tibet Autonomous Region, which is the other side of Nepal’s Friendship Bridge (and the route taken by road overland from the Tibet Autonomous Region). A Chinese correspondent who joined a 2012 study on the route from Dram into Nepal in 2012 detailed two possible routes that had been charted: “From the Chinese side and across Nepal, two possible routes with three main alignment options are suggested. The northern lines will involve several long tunnels at great depth, some reaching more than 20km long and with more than 2,000m cover.” In an account of the trip published in a specialist magazine on tunneling, Zheng Yan Long added: “The most difficult section would be on the Chinese side of the alignment where the elevation drops by about 2,000m over a distance of 20km between the towns of Nyalam and Zhangmu. A spiral solution could be adopted to stay within the vertical gradient allowance of less than 15% for electric railway operations.”

The ‘TunnelTalk’ report specifically does not mention tunneling under Mt Everest. It is not clear whether Wang Menshu had a particular agenda in making the comment about the tunnel through Chomolangma given the unlikelihood of this eventuality. It is known to be an issue of some regional sensitivity: the official media reported the international press coverage, and India’s concern over the strategic implications of China’s rail expansion.

The comments followed a visit by Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi to Kathmandu in December (2014) and a return visit by Nepalese President Ram Baran Yadav to Tibet in March (2015). During his visit, the Chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region, Lobsang Gyaltsen, told the Nepalese President that China will extend the existing Tibet railway to Kyirong, the town nearest to the border with Nepal.

Wang Mengshu, who was cited on the Everest tunnel issue, is a senior engineer in the department of tunneling and underground projects of the Railway Ministry of China and of China Railway Tunnel Group. He has previously been in the news speaking about his idea for a “China-Russia-Alaska-Canada-U.S. high-speed rail,” which would start in northeastern China, go through eastern Russia toward the Bering Sea, cross the Bering Strait via a tunnel, arrive in Alaska and eventually traverse Canada to the United States. The tunnel across the Bering Strait alone would be about 125 miles long, Mr. Wang was cited in a New York Times blog as saying.

  • China has confirmed plans to extend the railway in Tibet to the borders of India, Bhutan and Nepal by 2020, and the construction of a new line east from Lhasa close to India’s border, in a new strategic network. The Chinese state media has announced the beginning of construction of a new line to Nyingtri this year, close to the sensitive area of Arunachal Pradesh in India, which China claims as part of the PRC. The developments have created alarm in India with implications for regional security being raised by commentators in India and South Asia.
  • The new rail links follow the opening of a new checkpoint and ‘land port’ on the border of Nepal and Tibet in October (2014), and the planned opening of the Nathula pass route from Sikkim in India to the sacred Mount Kailash in Tibet, announced in September (2014).
  • The planned new construction follows the completion of the first extension of the Qinghai-Lhasa railway to Shigatse in the Tibet Autonomous Region, which was inaugurated in August. The railway and its connection to Shigatse has been crucial in the expansion of mining in Tibet, making it possible to transport more ores out of Tibetan areas, many of which were previously remote and inaccessible.
  • The new railway lines are among several new planned routes that will either traverse or terminate on the Tibetan plateau. This represents a dramatic increase in the number and capacity of linkages with the rest of the Chinese rail network, facilitating further large-scale exploitation of Tibet’s natural resources as well as enabling greater population migration into Tibet, both seasonal in terms of tourists and migrants, and permanent settlers. The routes under discussion include two railway lines through some of the most culturally significant areas of Tibet, and areas that remain under a crackdown since widespread demonstrations across Tibet in 2008. The ambitious plans were mapped out by China’s Minister of Railways and his Deputy, both now serving suspended death sentences commuted to life in prison for corruption.
  • The expansion of infrastructure in Tibet is likely to have a dramatic impact on the Tibetan landscape, in the context of warnings of an ‘ecosystem shift’ on the plateau due to climate change and human activities, reducing future water supply to China and South Asia. Just weeks after the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet railway in 2006, the Chinese state media announced that fissures had begun to develop in its concrete structures due to the sinking and cracking of its permafrost foundation. Now scientists have warned that warming temperatures, together with the boom in infrastructure construction and urbanization, are combining to create irreversible damage in the ecosystem, including the predicted disappearance of large areas of grasslands, alpine meadows, wetlands and permafrost on the Tibetan plateau by 2050.

 

Summary

“Instead of the obsessive political focus on eradicating the influence of the Dalai Lama from Tibetan hearts and minds – an impossible task – and from the agenda of democratic governments, the Chinese authorities need to confront the disturbing outcomes of their policies and address them before it is too late. As scientists and experts have proposed, there must be an integration of science-based conservation with Tibetan stewardship of the land, an increased emphasis on environmental security and a re-orientation of economic strategy towards Tibetan priorities.”

– Matteo Mecacci, President of the International Campaign for Tibet

Massive investment in infrastructure in Tibet by the Chinese government – railways, airfields and roads – has served the dual purpose of facilitating an unprecedented tourism boom, expansion of mining Tibet’s resources and serving China’s strategic and military objectives. This report will outline the new routes and their significance in the context of China’s ambitious infrastructure plans, regional security concerns, and new scientific findings on the fragility of Tibet’s high-altitude environment, which is warming more than twice as fast as the global average. While Chinese scientists have observed and recorded accelerating environmental degradation, no responsibility for policy failures has been taken by the Chinese government.

Matteo Mecacci, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: “The Chinese government’s claim that rail expansion on the plateau simply benefits tourism and lifts Tibetans out of poverty does not hold up to scrutiny and cannot be taken at face value. This dramatic acceleration of infrastructure construction has dangerous implications for regional security and the fragile ecosystem of the world’s highest and largest plateau, which is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, not to mention the preservation of Tibetan livelihoods and culture from assimilation. These developments should be of global concern, particularly given Tibet’s importance as the source of Asia’s major rivers, which support about 1.4 billion people downstream. The railway has also made mining on a much larger scale possible, leading to further environmental degradation, despite Tibetans’ courageous actions in seeking to protect their land.

“Instead of the obsessive political focus on eradicating the influence of the Dalai Lama from Tibetan hearts and minds – an impossible task – and from the agenda of democratic governments, the Chinese authorities need to confront the disturbing outcomes of their policies and address them before it is too late. As scientists and experts have proposed, there must be an integration of science-based conservation with Tibetan stewardship of the land, an increased emphasis on environmental security and a re-orientation of economic strategy towards Tibetan priorities.”

China confirms rail links to India, Nepal borders and new route bordering Arunachal Pradesh

railway bridge

One of the railway bridges to Lhasa was designed to be shaped like traditional Tibetan blessing scarves (khatags), in the early stages of the bridge’s construction.

The construction of the world’s highest railway across the Tibetan plateau from Golmud (Chinese: Ge’ermu) to Lhasa, completed in July, 2006, was the most high-profile symbol of Beijing’s ambitious plans in Tibet and the Western regions of the People’s Republic of China. The large-scale exploitation of Tibet’s mineral and other natural resources was a key element of the authorities’ motivation in building the railway, together with strengthening the Party-state’s authority over Tibetan areas.[1]

Today, the extension of China’s rail network into central Tibet, which China describes as ‘the south-western frontier of the motherland’, and its projected expansion to India and Nepal and close to India’s border east from Lhasa, underlines the Chinese leadership’s priorities of maintaining control in Tibet and expanding the CCP’s influence in the region.

According to reports in the Chinese and Nepalese media, the construction of Tibet’s railway from the new link at Shigatse, open since mid-September, to the borders of India and Nepal is scheduled for completion by 2020. The new line will connect Lhasa and Shigatse with Kyirong (Chinese: Gyirong) on the Nepal border, and Yatung (Dromo in Tibetan) in the Tibet Autonomous Region, on the border with Sikkim, India, and Bhutan.[2] Commentators in India have described India, Bhutan and China as “part of a strategic triangle in the Eastern Himalayas with the inverted apex jutting in the form of the all important Chumbi Valley in Yadong (Yatung) county of Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR).”[3]

Increasing the complexity of regional security concerns, the Chinese state media announced on November 4 (2014) that the Lhasa-Nyingtri (or Kongpo, Chinese: Linzhi) railway is expected to start construction in December 2014, with a declared investment of over 36 billion yuan (nearly US$6 billion), according to Xinhua (November 4, 2014).[4]

Nyingtri Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in the Tibet Autonomous Region borders the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh to the south, which the Chinese authorities claim as part of the PRC and call ‘southern Tibet’, and over which India and China fought a brief but bloody war in the 1960s. Although the Chinese authorities have stressed that the railway will enable more tourists and help to alleviate poverty, the Lhasa-Nyingtri Railway would provide convenient access for China’s military in a region with extremely difficult terrain and very limited road access. The prefectural capital of Nyingtri, Bayi, is known as a base for the People’s Liberation Army.[5]

The Nyingtri link was one of a number of railway projects approved by China’s economic planning body with a total investment of about 200 billion yuan ($32.7 billion) and announced on November 6 (2014). The state media said that the new link would help “safeguard national unity and promote sound and rapid economic development of Tibet Autonomous Region” (Xinhua, November 2, 2014).

It was also reported that the National Development and Reform Commission had approved 16 railways and five airports, and the financial press reported that it was because Beijing was stepping up infrastructure commitments “to offset a cooling economy.” (Dow Jones, November 6, 2014).[6] A section of the Golmud – Korla (Xinjiang) route, which traverses part of the Tibetan plateau, was also approved by the Chinese state planners.[7]

The new infrastructure has been announced in the context of a high-stakes struggle for influence in the region between India and China. Tensions have increased following numerous incursions by the Chinese military into India’s northern Ladakh region – notably during the first meeting of China’s leader Xi Jinping and India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi in September.[8] In Nepal, characterized as “the yam between two boulders”,[9] the Chinese government has increased its leverage, making inroads into its political and developmental decision-making, and worsening the situation for Nepal’s Tibetan community and refugees from Tibet.[10]

News of the new rail links to Tibet’s borders was welcomed in Nepal, with Nepalese Vice President Parmanand Jha saying on September 26 (2014): “The people of Nepal are happy to note the opening of the Lhasa-Shigatse Railway, and are eager to see its further extension toward Nepal.[11] But they were greeted with alarm in India, with commentators raising concern about strategic implications.

Although the Chinese government has generally sought to depict the purpose of the new lines to India and Nepal in terms of deepening of trade and tourism, the Chinese state media characterizes the plans overall as a “strategic rail network”.[12] “Railways linking Lhasa with cities in north-west and south-west China will increase China’s influence in Nepal and Bhutan, states India has traditionally regarded as vital strategic buffers,” said Asia analyst John Garver (China Quarterly, 2006).[13]

The Indian government has announced plans of an increase in expenditure on infrastructure along their side of the PRC border. In October, Kiren Rijiju, the Minister of State for Home Affairs in India, stated the government’s intention to build a 1,800 km road in Arunachal Pradesh, bordering Tibet Beijing responded to the announcement of the road, which is of a far smaller scale compared to China’s infrastructure development in Tibet, by stating that it would “complicate” the situation.[14] While China depicts the construction of infrastructure in the Tibet Autonomous Region as merely ‘balancing’ India,[15] the Indian side acknowledge that there is a “a wide asymmetry in infrastructure”, with Minister of State for External Affairs V. K. Singh, a retired general, saying: “Our projects were in hibernation in the last 15 years,” according to India Today (November 2, 2014).[16]

An Indian analyst, Jayadeva Ranade, a member of the National Security Advisory Board, wrote: “Extension of the railway from Lhasa to Kathmandu and onward to Lumbini,[17] which is being discussed, will have serious strategic implications for India. If Chinese plans for the development of Lumbini and building an airport [there] materialise, that will add to India’s discomfiture as will the establishment of any Chinese settlement on India’s borders.” (November 5, 2014, New Indian Express).[18]

A further plan by the Chinese government for another line out of Shigatse is likely to be of concern for India’s military and security establishment. This line, towards the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, would pass through the disputed border area of Aksai Chin and could enable projection of China’s military reach. As yet ICT has not monitored any news of its imminent construction in the Chinese state media.

The Chinese state media acknowledged for the first time in December 2007 the military applications for the Golmud-Lhasa railway and its extensions, reporting that it was used for transporting troops from Xining to Lhasa. Xinhua stated: “In the past, all the troops entering or leaving Tibet had to be transported by air or road, but in the future, the railway will become a main option for the armed forces to transport troops.”[19]

An Indian analyst noted the significance for transportation of troops in a commentary following the opening of the Shigatse link. Sana Hasmi, an associate fellow at the Centre for Air Power Studies in India, wrote: “The extension of the railway line reduces the travel time between Lhasa and Shigatse to just two hours, which would allow the rapid transportation of troops and weapons to the southern part of Tibet.”[20]

Following the announcement of the new Nyingtri link, China analyst Gordon C Chang wrote: “New Delhi is far behind China’s efforts to build roads and railroads near disputed territory. Modi, supported by a reviving economy, may be able to make up some ground in building transport links. Yet one thing is certain: two giants are competing with each other to build the logistical infrastructure that will be used to supply two large armies high in the Himalayas.”[21]

The routes to Yatung and Nepal

The route to Yatung, Tibet Autonomous Region, was confirmed by Yang Yulin, deputy director of the railway office of the Tibet Autonomous Region government, in the Chinese state media shortly before the Lhasa-Shigatse link became operational (Global Times, July 24, 2014). The town of Yatung (Tibetan: Dromo) is close to the border of Sikkim in India and Bhutan, and is connected to Sikkim via the Nathula Pass. The town has a military garrison.

At the inauguration of the Lhasa-Shigatse rail link in August, Chinese officials confirmed to Nepalese journalists: “We plan to extend the line up to Kerung [Kyirong] in the long run”.[22] The Nepalese authorities also welcomed the new ‘land port’ at Kyirong which China’s Tibet reported on October 11 (2014), saying that it “will be opened wider to the outside world this October featuring its ‘ancient path, land port and folk customs’”.[23]

Engineering specialists say that international rail links between China, Nepal and India “would require the construction of more than 500km of new rail line through some of the most magnificent mountain topography and most tectonically disturbed geology in the world” (Zheng Yan Long, TunnelTalk China Correspondent, May 2012).[24]

Completion of Lhasa-Shigatse railway construction

workers on the tracks


An image from the Chinese state media report announcing the new link to Nyingtri from Lhasa depicted workers on
the tracks of the Qinghai-Tibet railway (November 2, 2014).

The new rail links to India and Nepal followed the recent completion of a rail link connecting Tibet’s historic and cultural capital, Lhasa, to Shigatse (Chinese: Rikaze) in the Tibet Autonomous Region, 240 kilometers away westwards towards the border with Nepal. A group of Chinese travelers were the first to be allowed to travel on the new $13.28 billion line that was initially due to have been completed in 2010.[25] A state media report stated that by September 15, 67,000 passengers travelled along the route.[26] It was the first extension of the world’s highest altitude railway, which expanded Tibet’s connection to the Chinese hinterland for the first time since the opening of the Golmud-Lhasa route across Qinghai in 2006.[27]

Shigatse, about 250 km southwest of Lhasa, is routinely referred to as Tibet’s “second city.” It stands at the confluence of the Yarlung Tsangpo and Nyang rivers, and is also a major road hub between Lhasa, Nepal and western Tibet. The city is home to Tashilunpo Monastery, founded in the 13th century and one of the main seats of learning in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism, and the traditional home of the Panchen Lamas.

One of the main functions of the Lhasa-Shigatse Railway will be to transport mineral ore from mines in Shetongmon County (Chinese: Xietongmen) immediately west of Shigatse to processing plants in mainland China. This is one of the biggest copper and gold deposits in the PRC, and the Shetongmon Copper Mine was once run by a Canadian mining company.

The head of Continental Minerals, the Canadian mining company in charge of the mine at the time, acknowledged the rail link’s importance in 2007: “What makes this project economic is that [the Chinese authorities] built a railroad [to] Lhasa, and it is to be extended all the way towards the project. What this does, because of the existing rail system that you have in China, is give you access to all the smelters.” Continental sold its holdings in Shethongmon to a Chinese mining company in 2010.[28]

The presence of the large-scale transportation infrastructure that is now in place has attracted significant new investment in Tibet’s mining sector, allowing for greater exploitation of Tibet’s mineral resources. Gabriel Lafitte, a specialist on mining in Tibet,[29] writes: “The biggest copper and gold deposits in Tibet, from west to east, are in Shetongmon, Gyama and Yulong districts [in the Tibet Autonomous Region], where central planners say there will be many mines, ore crushers, chemical concentrators and smelters. Large-scale industrial mining has arrived. These mines contain silver, lead and zinc as well as copper and gold, although the lead and zinc will go to waste. And all these mines are situated in the watersheds of Asia’s major rivers that support hundreds of millions of people downstream.” (China Dialogue, September 5, 2011).[30]

In March, 2013, an avalanche of rock, mud and debris struck one of Tibet’s major mining sites, Gyama copper and gold mine near Lhasa, on March 29, killing 83 miners who were mostly Chinese migrant workers. The disaster drew attention to the toll of mining and industrialization in Tibet.[31]

The rail link to Shigatse was initially listed as a centrepiece of the TAR 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-2010), and was one of 180 major infrastructure projects in the TAR supposedly approved by the central government. A key imperative broadly identified in the TAR 12th Five-Year Plan for construction of the Lhasa-Shigatse Railway is the development of the city’s “tourism resources.” But the Lhasa-Shigatse Railway was the only one of those 180 projects not to have been started during that period.

A possible explanation for the delay may have been funding; a November 2008 article in the official Chinese media quoted an “industry insider” saying in the midst of the global financial crisis that the Tibet Autonomous Region had applied to the State Council for additional funding to cover the 11 billion yuan (US $1.68 billion) cost of constructing the line, and that work would commence as soon as the State Council gave its approval.[32] According to the same report, the route and sites for stations along the line had been decided as early as 2002. An April 2012 report implied labor problems on the project, while a November 2011 report referred to China’s railway construction as ‘cash-starved’.[33]

The first passengers on the Lhasa-Shigatse train in August discovered that tickets for Shigatse were in the Chinese language only. This prompted complaints by Tibetans on social media including Weibo about the authorities’ negligence. To date these complaints have not been addressed. While many major Chinese railway stations have dedicated English-language ticket counters for foreign tourists, there are no ticket counters dedicated to the Tibetan language in Tibet.

Planned new railway routes and their impact

The expansion of the rail network in Tibet along with the rapid and large-scale development of mineral and hydropower resources across the plateau are key elements of China’s centrally planned development targets for Tibet, which include the development of tourism.[34] The construction of the new rail lines bring the Chinese government much closer to the goal set by Mao Zedong over 40 years ago of integrating Tibet with China, and exacerbating Tibetan fears for the survival of their cultural and religious identity.[35]

The lines to Nepal and India are among a number of rail lines proposed in 2008 to connect to the Qinghai-Tibet railway in addition to the now complete Lhasa-Shigatse route. These are as follows: Shigatse to Kyirong county;[36] Shigatse to Dromo (Yatung), Tibet Autonomous Region, close to the border with Sikkim, India and Bhutan;[37] Shigatse-Khotan, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (East Turkestan); Golmud (Chinese: Ge’ermu) to Chengdu (the provincial capital of Sichuan) via Ngaba (Chinese: Aba); Lhasa to Nyingtri/Kongpo (Chinese: Linzhi) in the Tibet Autonomous Region;[38] Nyingtri to Chengdu (via Kardze in Sichuan) and Nyingtri to Kunming in Yunnan.

In addition, a high-priority route for the Chinese authorities has been a ‘high speed Silk Route’ that will link the capitals of Gansu province and Xinjiang, traversing part of the Qinghai-Tibet plateau and the Gobi desert. The 1,776-km long project, now under construction, has already completed some testing and is due to be open later this year.[39]

Massive investment in railways in Tibet has been accompanied by a multi-million dollar program to make old airports operational and build new ones across the plateau. These enable tour groups to quickly reach Lhasa from major Chinese coastal cities, but also create a circuit around Tibet, without the time and discomfort of overland travel. Mostly, they are dual-use civil-military, enabling mobilisation of troops consistent with the authorities’ approach of a ‘war against secessionist sabotage’ in Tibet[40] and maintaining its ‘territorial integrity’ in the border areas.[41]

Plans for the new rail lines traversing the plateau in the Tibet Autonomous Region, and the Tibetan areas of Amdo and Kham, were discussed on the sidelines of the March 2011 National People’s Congress March in Beijing. They include two routes through some of the most culturally significant areas of Tibet, and areas that remain under a security crackdown since widespread demonstrations across Tibet in 2008.[42]

With three of the new rail lines originating in Golmud, there will be a dramatic increase in the number and capacity of linkages between the Qinghai-Tibet Railway and the rest of the Chinese rail network, facilitating further large-scale exploitation of Tibet’s natural resources as well as enabling greater population migration into Tibet, both seasonal in terms of tourists and migrants, and permanent settlers.[43]

As the ‘centerpiece’ and most visible symbol of Beijing’s plan to develop the western regions of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the 1142 km railroad from Golmud to Lhasa in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) railway, completed in July 2006, and in August 2014 to Shigatse, has had a dramatic impact on the lives of Tibetans and on the land itself.

The planned new railway link from Sichuan to Lhasa, passing through resource-rich and restive Tibetan areas, is likely to have an even more significant and detrimental impact than the Golmud-Lhasa route. News of the start of this link emerged in 2009, and analysis shows that, based on comparisons of population and economic data, the potential scale of demographic, economic, and environmental impact that the Sichuan-Tibet railway could have on Tibetan autonomous areas in China could far surpass the impact of the Golmud-Lhasa route.

The state media first reported the planned new 1,629-km-long railway in 2009,[44] and Tibet Autonomous Region Party Secretary Chen Quanguo called for acceleration of work on the route in November 2011.[45]

However, plans for advancing construction are likely to have been impacted by China’s dismantling of its Railway Ministry and liabilities of 2.66 trillion yuan ($428 billion)[46] following the imprisonment of former Railways Minister Liu Zhijun for corruption. Plans for Lhasa-Sichuan routes were in the initial stages under the oversight of former Minister Liu, who was arrested in April 2013 on corruption charges and was sentenced to death in July 2013, commuted to life in prison. Last month, the former deputy chief engineer of China’s disbanded railways ministry was given a suspended death sentence for corruption, according to Chinese state media.[47]

Following the sentencing, it was announced that the Chinese government was dismantling its railway ministry, and splitting it in two, with a new company, China Railway Corp., taking over commercial operations.

It could be speculated that some lines across Tibet – which are unusually costly due to the engineering challenges posed by the terrain – could be delayed as a result, although news that the Lhasa-Nyingtri route is now going ahead could presage a later announcement of plans for the Lhasa-Chengdu (Sichuan) line.

Warnings of an ‘ecosystem shift’ with infrastructure construction as a driver

railway bridge

Kiang (wild donkeys) near railway bridge, Qinghai Tibet route (above).

The expansion of infrastructure in Tibet is likely to have a dramatic impact on the Tibetan landscape, in the context of new warnings of an ‘ecosystem shift’ on the plateau due to climate change and human activities.

Climate warming on the Tibetan plateau is now more than double the global average, and together with other factors appears to be triggering large-scale changes in the ecosystem. One of those factors includes urbanisation and infrastructure construction, according to new scientific findings, which state: “[In addition to climate change] a host of other drivers—urbanization/infrastructure development, land-use/agricultural practices, upstream/downstream water management and ongoing nation-state security conflicts—interact with climate signals to produce complex changes across ecological and social systems.”[48]

The research, by scientists from the Kunming Institute of Botany, concluded that large areas of grasslands, alpine meadows, wetlands and permafrost will disappear on the Tibetan plateau by 2050, with serious implications for environmental security in China and South Asia. Beth Walker for TheThirdPole.net reported: “Warming temperatures, combined with a dramatic infrastructure boom, a growing population and over grazing will combine to push fragile ecosystems on the world’s largest and highest plateau from one state to another. This irreversible shift which will mean the region no longer provides key environmental services – such as water and carbon storage – to the rest of Asia.”[49]

Rising temperatures have led to the melting of snow and glaciers and the degradation of permafrost – the perennially frozen layers of soil which underpin two thirds of the Tibetan plateau and provide essential carbon and water storage.

Only weeks after the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet railway in 2006, the Chinese state media announced that fissures had begun to develop in its concrete structures due to the sinking and cracking of its permafrost foundation.[50] Chinese scientists have since admitted that the safety of the Golmud-Lhasa railway (and other rail links across the plateau), could be threatened by melting permafrost on which the tracks are built.[51]

In his book on mining in Tibet, Gabriel Lafitte writes: “All scientific research on the rehabilitation of degraded landscapes on the Tibetan plateau says it is a very difficult and slow process to prevent erosion, once started, and harder still to repair damaged land. This is because in the intense cold of Tibet soil builds up slowly, as hardy grasses and sedges, which hold most of their biomass in their roots, die and slowly decompose. Once this dense mat of living turf is cut, be it for road-making, fence construction, gold digging or mechanized riverbank dredging, an unstoppable chain of erosion is set in motion. […] […] Chinese scientists have observed accelerating degradation, over recent decades, without being able to name the policy failures that have caused it.”[52]

The authors of the new paper from Kunming on the ‘ecosystem shift’ posit four strategies to address the crisis in the Himalayan-Tibet plateau, as follows: “Application of cross-sector coordinated planning, strategic integration of science-based conservation with developing local-level hybrid knowledge, recognition of the critical role of governance in support of change, and increased emphasis on environmental security.”[53]

Transforming Tibet: The new railway links in detail

The planned routes through Sichuan and Yunnan

The planned Sichuan-Tibet route would pass through some of Tibet’s most culturally and historically significant regions and towns, including areas which have a long history of unrelenting opposition to Chinese rule, and where acts of protest continue despite the Chinese authorities’ often brutal measures to suppress or conceal dissent.

The proposal for beginning construction of the Sichuan-Tibet railway was submitted on March 10, 2008, the 49th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising on March 10, 1959 and the same day peaceful protests broke out in Lhasa and across Tibet in China’s Olympic year.[54] Delegates from Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) TAP in Sichuan tabled a proposal at a national parliamentary meeting in Beijing calling for work on the new line to start as soon as possible.[55]

Within the boundaries of the Tibet Autonomous Region, a line will eventually continue from Bayi at the end of the Lhasa-Nyingtri Railway to Pome (Chinese: Bomi), around 140 km to the east. From Pome, according to the “Mid- to Long-Term National Rail Network Plan,” the Sichuan-Tibet line would continue east towards Dartsedo (Kangding) in Sichuan Province, and the Yunnan-Tibet Railway will continue southeast towards Gyalthang (Chinese: Zhongdian) in Dechen (Chinese: Deqing) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province and terminate in Kunming, the provincial capital.

Beyond Pome towards Chamdo Prefecture (Ch: Changdu) in the TAR and into the Tibetan areas of western Sichuan Province the terrain becomes very mountainous with several towering mountain ranges and the deep Yangtze, Mekong and Salween river valleys running north to south. The proposed route of the entire Sichuan-Tibet Railway, including the Lhasa to Nyingtri section, closely follows the existing National Highway 318 running east to west, which is frequently closed due to seismic activity and landslides and rock falls, as well as heavy snowfalls well into the late spring.[56]

The first westward stage of the Sichuan-Tibet Railway, which begins in Chengdu at the foot of the Tibetan plateau, was originally projected to reach Dartsedo by around 2017, although it is likely now to be later.[57] The announcement that construction on the Lhasa-Nyingtri route will begin before the end of 2014 could presage news of plans for the Lhasa-Chengdu route.

In research published in October, 2009 comparing key demographic, industrial and other indicators in Qinghai and Sichuan, the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) noted that the difference between the size and make-up of the industrial economies in Sichuan province and the TAR could prove to be of even greater significance than the difference in the size of population in shaping the Sichuan-Tibet railway’s impact on the TAR and other Tibetan autonomous areas.

While Qinghai, which the current railway passes through, is one of the poorer provincial administrations within the People’s Republic of China with a largely rural population of around 5.5 million people, Sichuan has a highly dynamic economic and industrial base and a population of over 80 million people. The population of Chengdu alone is well over 11 million people. Reports from 2007 in the Chinese media were claiming that the Sichuan dialect of Chinese was already the most widely heard in Lhasa, described as the “back yard” of Chengdu,[58] even with the relative ‘inconvenience’ of access being limited to long road and air trips, or a long and circuitous train journey from Sichuan through Qinghai.[59]

Impact of the line on Tibet’s forests

The CECC also points out that the railway could facilitate significant expansion of Chinese government exploitation of Tibetan forestry resources. The TAR has the largest volume of total standing forest (2.29 billion cubic meters) of any provincial-level area in China, according to China Statistical Yearbook 2008 data,[60] while Sichuan province—approximately 52 percent of which is made up of Tibetan autonomous areas —has China’s second-largest volume of standing forest (1.58 billion cubic meters).[61] The CECC states: “The Sichuan-Tibet railway will cut across three prefectural-level areas that are rich in forestry resources: Ganzi (Kardze) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan and Chamdo (Changdu) and Nyingtri (Linzhi) prefectures in the Tibet Autonomous Region. A low-resolution, Chinese-language map reprinted in a September 1, 2009, state-run media report shows that five of the seven principal stops between Chengdu and Lhasa cities are in Ganzi, Changdu, and Linzhi prefectures. Commission staff analysis shows that approximately three-quarters of the length of the railway will be within the three timber-rich prefectures.”[62]

The environmental action group Greenpeace noted in 2011 that logging on a scale reported to be unsustainable was already taking place in parts of northern Kardze Prefecture.[63]

During the March 2008 protests across all of Tibet, ICT monitored dozens of separate protests across all parts of Kardze Prefecture along the proposed route of the line and into the TAR towards Lhasa, particularly in the days immediately following the escalation of the protests in Lhasa on March 14, 2008.

Dozens of Tibetans were imprisoned in a new wave of protests in Kardze in 2011 despite already intense repression in the region. At least 30 Tibetans, including some senior monks, nuns and laypeople, were detained in at least 15 separate peaceful demonstrations, calling for freedom, the release of local and respected religious teachers, and for the Dalai Lama to return home. The incidents, carried out with the knowledge that violent reprisals and imprisonment are certain on detention, indicated the strength of Tibetans’ determination to express themselves and protect their cultural and religious identity despite the dangers of doing so.[64]

The link to earthquake-hit Yushu

According to the state media one of the planned lines, from Golmud in Qinghai to Chengdu in Sichuan province, will pass through the town of Kyegudo in Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture that was devastated by a major earthquake on April 14, 2010. The same line will pass through Ngaba (Chinese: Aba) where the wave of self-immolations began with a Tibetan monk from Kirti monastery setting himself on fire in February, 2009.[65]

Yushu suffered serious damage in an earthquake in April 2010 resulting in the loss of over 2600 lives. The town has been the scene of large-scale protests in reaction to local government measures to appropriate tracts of land for reconstruction, while the original owners and residents of the land – whose homes and businesses were destroyed in the earthquake – are being pressured to move into poorly built and inadequate properties far from the center of the town, as the Chinese authorities implement ambitious plans for a new, redeveloped Chinese city.[66]

The prospect of a railway through Kyegudo is likely to have been a major enticement for property developers, which may in turn be a contributory factor behind efforts to move the original Tibetan inhabitants to the town’s periphery. Typically, although not confirmed in this particular case, local governments can raise significant amounts of revenue by selling land to developers and then offering limited compensation from the proceeds to the displaced or evicted residents. A new railway into Yushu is certain to attract businesses and entrepreneurs from the Chinese mainland, driving up property values and radically altering the demographics of the town. Wang Yuhu, the Party Secretary of Yushu Prefecture, was quoted at the National People’s Congress saying, “Poor transport communications have always hampered the social and economic development of Yushu. If a railway can come through Yushu, it will undoubtedly play an enormous driving role in the construction of Yushu.”[67]

It should be noted that despite initial reports of the line going through Kyegudo in Yushu Prefecture, an official map issued by the Ministry of Railways shows the Golmud to Chengdu line crossing Qinghai far to the north of Kyegudo. This may indicate that officials from Yushu were lobbying for the railway during the National People’s Congress, and that the route shown on the map is subject to change.

Another of the five rail lines planned for Qinghai province will run from the provincial capital Xining to Kunming in Yunnan province and pass through Chamdo (Chinese: Changdu) in the Tibet Autonomous Region, eastern Tibet, a major center of Tibetan cultural and political identity.[68] Construction of the lines through Yushu and Chamdo was going to be started during the period of the 12th Five-Year Plan, an economic and social planning blueprint covering the years 2010 to 2015, but there is so far no indication of the beginning of their construction.

Journey to Shangri La

In Yunnan Province, a line already extends from the provincial capital Kunming to the town of Lijiang, which is currently being extended north towards Gyalthang (Ch: Zhongdian), the administrative capital of Dechen (Ch: Diqing) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, which was expected to be completed by 2012, according to early projections, but is not complete.[69] Gyalthang was officially renamed Shangri La (Chinese: Xianggelila) in 2002 as part of an effort to boost tourism to the region.[70]

The Yunnan-Tibet Railway will connect Tibet to southeast Asia via a high-speed line from Kunming in Yunnan Province to Singapore, passing through Vientiane in Laos, Bangkok in Thailand, and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia – construction of which started in April 2011, and construction of at least one more international line out of Kunming to Rangoon in Burma – was also planned to start in 2011.[71]

ICT has not monitored any projected completion dates for linking the railheads in Bayi in the Tibet Autonomous Region with Gyalthang and Dartsedo in Yunnan and Sichuan respectively, suggesting that given the challenging terrain – and possibly the challenges of funding the projects – the planning process is likely to be long and protracted.

Tibet railway construction: official representations challenged

“Renzin had a soft spot for the imported goods a middle-class person could afford; he wore Nikes, a black DKNY sweatshirt, and a fake Seiko watch almost every day. But he felt strongly that the larger changes occurring in Tibet weren’t benefiting Tibetans and that the Chinese vision was grossly out of step with what the TAR really needed. ‘What is happening here is not development,’ he said. ‘It’s just construction. Development would include new schools, health care and programs to improve the standard of living.’”

– from Abrahm Lustgarten, ‘China’s Great Train: Beijing’s drive west and the campaign to remake Tibet’

Despite the growing body of evidence that the Qinghai-Tibet Railway is exacerbating the social and economic marginalization of the Tibetan people in Tibet, the Chinese authorities consistently maintain that railway construction in Tibet is an accelerator for social and economic development. Zhang Qingli, the then Party Secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region, said in 2007, “The Qinghai-Tibet Railway has epoch-making significance. There are some people who make irresponsible remarks, but we Chinese people, any Chinese person with any knowledge can raise their thumbs and say with justice on their side, this is an economic line, an environmental line, a line of unity and a line of prosperity, and it is a shining golden path quickly leading the people of Tibet and Qinghai towards a beautiful future.”[72]

In 2000, then-Chinese president Jiang Zemin claimed the Qinghai-Tibet Railway “would benefit the development of Tibet’s communications and tourism, and promote economic and cultural exchanges between Tibet and the interior.” President Jiang later added in an interview with the New York Times that construction of the line was unlikely to be economically viable, but that it was a “political decision” to build it.[73]

China’s Premier Li Keqiang framed the railway construction as a means of ‘helping the poor’ as opposed to supporting the Party’s strategic and economic objectives when he visited a visit to a construction site for the Muzhailing tunnel on the Lanzhou-Chongqing Railway in August, 2013. Premier Li said: “It’s an arduous project, building railways in the mountainous areas of west China, but your efforts are opening the door to fortune for the poor.”[74] However, prominent Chinese academics and politicians have long warned of the potential for serious social friction as a consequence of migration to the “western regions” of the PRC in the context of centrally planned development strategies. Li Dezhu, then-Director of the State Ethnic Affairs Commission warned in 1999 at the outset of the Western Development Strategy that “some changes in the proportions of the nationalities” could cause “conflicts and clashes” if not properly handled. And the sociologist Professor Ma Rong from Beijing University warned of a “fatal threat to the success” of China’s development strategies if migrant labor was favored over local indigenous people and their concerns and welfare.[75]

Other Chinese scholars and policy-makers question the basis of current development policies for Tibet, pointing out that migration and profit extraction from outside on this scale are neither beneficial nor sustainable.[76]


Footnotes
[1] See ICT report, ‘Tracking the Steel Dragon: How China’s economic policies and the railroad are transforming Tibet

[2] Chinese official Yang Yulin was cited by the Chinese state media publication Global Times that during the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020) period, the construction of a railway connecting Shigatse with Gyirong county, which has a checkpoint connecting Nepal and with Yatung county, a trade center bordering India and Bhutan, will start. ‘”Sky rail” to run from Lhasa to south Tibet’, Global Times, July 24, 2014. Kyirong is one of the four counties that comprise the Qomolangma (Everest) National Nature preserve, together with Dinggye, Nyalam and Tingri.

[3] ‘India-Bhutan-China Strategic Triangle: Analysis’ by By Rahul Bhonsle (an Indian army veteran, Eurasia Review, July 18, 2012 (http://www.eurasiareview.com/18072012-india-bhutan-china-strategic-triangle-analysis/)

[4] The report, published on China Tibet Online on November 4, 2014, stated: “Lhasa-Nyingchi Railway, running 433 kilometers and covering 34 stations, including nine major ones, will build 402 kilometers new lines, which are designed to have an average speed of 160 kilometers per hour. Expected to be finished within seven years, the Lhasa-Nyingchi Railway will largely reduce the travel time. It will take less than one hour to travel from Lhasa to Lhoka Prefecture, and take two hours to arrive at Nyingchi Prefecture.” Early state media reports had indicated optimistically that work could start as early as 2013, although others noted that as of February 2011, a final decision had not been made on either a southern or northern route from Lhasa into Bayi, the small town which serves as the capital of Nyingtri Prefecture, and which is mainly known for its military garrisons. Commentator Claude Arpi cited the official Chinese media saying that in addition, “Beijing announced its plans to invest 278 million yuan ($45 million) for expanding the Mainling (Nyingtri) airport, just north of the McMahon line. China Tibet Online says: “The abundant tourism resources and many famous scenic spots in the region attract more and more tourists to Nyingtri as their first stop for Tibet. In the first half year of 2014, Nyingtri totally received 836,200 tourists from home and aboard.” The project has a vital military angle as Bayi, the main Chinese garrison in Southern Tibet, is located close by.” Daily Pioneer, India, November 6, 2014, ‘Good for the goose, good for the gander’, http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/edit/good-for-the-goose-good-for-the-gander.html

[5] Before he came to power as Party Secretary, Xi Jinping visited Bayi, where he “extended his greetings to the officers of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the People’s Armed Police Force and the police forces in Nyingchi, expressing his appreciation for their contributions to the social progress, ethnic unity and the improvement of local people’s lives in the area.” (China Daily, July 22, 2011, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/tibet2011/2011-07/22/content_12958006.htm).

[6] http://www.nasdaq.com/article/china-approves-7-more-railway-projects-20141106-00134

[7] Chinese state media report (in Chinese), November 6, 2014 http://news.163.com/14/1107/00/AADI6JOH00014JB6.html?utm

[8] DNA India, September 18, 2014: http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-chinese-army-makes-fresh-incursion-into-ladakh-pm-narendra-modi-likely-to-raise-issue-with-president-xi-jinping-2019524 and other Indian media sources

[9] A term referring to its relationship with India and China, coined by a Nepalese King Prithvi Narayan Shah in the 18th century

[10] The impact of this influence is documented in ICT’s report, ‘Dangerous Crossing: Conditions Impacting the Flight of Tibetan Refugees’, 2011 Update, http://www.savetibet.org/dangerous-crossing-2011-update/. In an article entitled ‘China’s Strategic Advantage in Nepal’, Vijay Sakhuja wrote in the Jamestown Foundation’s China Brief on June 17, 2011: “New Delhi is desperately trying to limit Chinese influence to prevent Nepal from becoming China’s backyard. Indeed, greater access to Kathmandu could enhance China’s ability to probe the geographical and historical buffer that Nepal has offered India.” (http://www.jamestown.org/single/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=38070#.VFuPUvTF_vM).

[11] ‘Nepali Vice President hopes for Tibet-Nepal railway’, ‘Tibet Insights’, Centre for China Analysis and Strategy (http://ccasindia.org/), September 28, 2014. Vice-President Jha said that a great deal of trade between China and Nepal had been conducted through Tibet, and hoped that better road and rail connections between Nepal and Tibet would help Nepal further explore the Chinese market.

[12] Xinhua, March 7, 2011, http://politics.people.com.cn/GB/1026/14072794.html

[13] ‘Development of China’s Overland Transportation Links with Central, South-West and South Asia’, John Garver, The China Quarterly, (2006), 185, pp. 1-22

[14] Press Trust India, October 13, 2014, http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2014-10-15/news/55059221_1_nyingchi-border-issue-border-dispute

[15] Liu Zongyi, a scholar at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, told the Chinese state media newspaper the Global Times that the expanding railway network “will increase Chinese activities in this area, balancing Indian moves. Ananth Krishnan wrote in India Today on November 2 (2014): “’The Indians have lately been working on adding infrastructure in the South Tibet region [as China refers to Arunachal], in order to strengthen control,’ Liu Zongyi, a scholar at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, told the Communist Party run Global Times newspaper in an interview in July about the new Tibet railway lines. ‘They have been sensitive to how the Chinese government moves in the southwestern area of Tibet,” he said, noting that “the bargaining chips will be increased on the Chinese side if people in the South Tibet region see better economic development in southwestern Tibet.’” ‘China moves forward with Tibet rail extension, rail line will run close to border with Sikkim and Arunachal after new expansion plan’, Ananth Krishnan from Beijing for India Today, November 2, 2014: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/china-moves-forward-with-tibet-rail-extension-border-with-sikkim-arunachal/1/398801.html

[16] ‘China moves forward with Tibet rail extension, rail line will run close to border with Sikkim and Arunachal after new expansion plan’, Ananth Krishnan from Beijing for India Today, November 2, 2014: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/china-moves-forward-with-tibet-rail-extension-border-with-sikkim-arunachal/1/398801.html

[17] Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha, is in Nepal, close to its border with India. It has been subject to competing interests, specifically controversial Chinese proposals for its redevelopment. Mikel Dunham, blog: http://www.mikeldunham.blogs.com/mikeldunham/2012/03/lumbini-part-ten-himalayan-buddhist-community-wants-its-say-too.html and Gabriel Lafitte: http://rukor.org/lumbini-reborn-nepal-reborn-buddha-reborn/

[18] http://www.newindianexpress.com/columns/China%E2%80%99s-Nepal-Gambit/2014/11/05/article2507741.ece

[19] Xinhua, December 1, 2007. See ICT report, ‘Tracking the Steel Dragon’ for further details.

[20] Sana Hasmi concluded that there could be advantages for India, however: “China’s efforts to develop infrastructure offers challenges and opportunities for India. A stronger India equipped with remarkable connectivity along the borders and the wherewithal to deal with any eventuality will also be able to see the developments on the Chinese side in a holistic perspective and may also benefit: that is, if the two sides can arrive at a mutually agreeable solution.” (Asia Times Online, September 17, 2014)

[21] ‘Railway Wars in the Himalayas’ by Gordon C Chang, November 6, 2014, World Affairs, http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/blog/gordon-g-chang/railway-wars-himalayas

[22] Yang Chu Lin, an official at the Shigatse Railway Service, told Nepali journalists during the inauguration of the Lhasa-Shigatse track, according to a ‘Tibet Insight’ report by the Delhi-based Centre For China Analysis and Strategy (http://ccasindia.org/) on September 28, 2014. The Nepalese news outlet Ekantipur reported the development on August 9 (2014), saying: “the Chinese government has announced plans to extend the Qinghai-Tibet Railway to Nepal by 2020. As per the scheme, the rail line will be linked to Rasuwagadhi in Nepal through the Shigatse-Kyirong stretch. China has already constructed a blacktopped road up to the Nepal border from its national highway linking Tingri, Lhatse and Shigatse.” (http://www.ekantipur.com/2014/08/09/business/china-steps-up-construction-work-at-kyirong-border/393347.html).

[23] Cited by the Delhi-based Centre for China Analysis and Strategy, Tibet Insight No: 19/14, http://ccasindia.org/insightdetails.php?tid=79. There has also been news of a new link between India and the Tibet Autonomous Region via the Nathula pass in Sikkim. A Memorandum of Understanding between the Ministries of External Affairs of India and China signed during Xi Jinping’s visit to India in September (2014) allows for the opening of a new route for Indian pilgrims to the holy Kailash mountain via the Nathula pass in Sikkim. The new route will pass through the city of Shigatse, which is part of the Tibetan Autonomous Region. (The Hindu, September 19, 2014: http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/xi-announces-new-route-to-kailashmansarovar/article6423741.ece).

[24] http://www.tunneltalk.com/Trans-Himalayas-railway-May12-Prefeasibility-study.php, May 2012. Zheng Yan Long also wrote: “Recent growth in trade and the movement of people between China and India and Nepal provides sufficient evidence to support the development of a fixed rail link through the mountains. Over the past decade the volume of bilateral trade between China and India has increased fifteenfold, and by sevenfold between China and Nepal (Figs 1 and 2). According to a Joint Communiqué released in December 2010, a target for Sino-Indian trade in 2015 is US$100 billion. Currently most cargo is transported by ship, with land transport through the Nathu La Pass accounting for a small fraction of the volume. Transport has become a bottleneck for growing Sino-Indian bilateral trade.”

[25] One commentator noted that the inauguration of the line took place on the same day as Indian Independence Day on August 15. Sana Hashmi, Associate Fellow at the Center for Air Power Studies in India, Asia Times Online, September 17, 2014. (http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/SOU-01-170914.html)

[26] China Tibet News Online from Lhasa Evening News, September 18, 2014. “Every train has been fully packed since its operation started,” the same report stated.

[27] Footage of the new link was broadcast on television in India and can be viewed on this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eU3JLZjgyVY

[28] ‘High on Tibet: Continental Minerals expects Xietongmen feasibility in mid-2007’, Stephen Stakiw, Northern Miner, Canada, March 5, 2007. ‘Jinchuan to buy Continental Minerals for C$432 million’, Reuters, September 17, 2010, www.reuters.com/article/2010/09/17/continentalminerals-idUSN1712712320100917.

[29] See Gabriel Lafitte, ‘Spoiling Tibet: China and Resource Nationalism on the Roof of the World’, Zed Books, 2013

[30] ‘China’s Mining Menace’ by Gabriel Lafitte, China Dialogue, https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/4509-Tibet-s-mining-menace-

[31] ICT report, April 5, 2013, http://www.savetibet.org/disaster-in-gyama-draws-attention-to-impact-of-mining-in-tibet/

[32] “Strive to start construction of the Lhasa-Shigatse Railway next year” [in Chinese: La-Ri tielu lizheng mingnian kaigong], November 25, 2008, Tibet Commercial News [in Chinese: Xizang shangbao], via chnrailway.com: www.chnrailway.com/news/20081125/2008112510205387337782.shtml.

[33] Cited by the CECC in its annual report for 2012, http://www.cecc.gov/publications/annual-reports/2012-annual-report. CECC cites the following sources: “Full Speed Ahead for Tibet Railway Extension,” Xinhua, 17 January 12 and “Tibet’s New Railway To Open in 2014,” China Daily, 2 September 11.”China’s Railways Ministry Auctions 30 Bln-Yuan Bonds,” Xinhua, 8 November 11.

[34] The development is taking place in the context of the construction of numerous lines between several of China’s major industrial and commercial hubs, as well as international rail links with Indo-China, Southeast Asia, and even to Europe via Central Asia. It is now possible to travel from Germany via Russia, Belarus and Poland to Chongqing, for instance, on the 11,179-km Chongqing-Xinjiang-Europe International Railway, which officially came into service in 2012.

[35] It is beyond the scope of this report to explore the impact of the railway and infrastructure development on Tibetans’ cultural and religious identity; for further information on this topic see ICT report, See ICT report, ‘Tracking the Steel Dragon: How China’s economic policies and the railroad are transforming Tibet’, http://www.savetibet.org/tracking-the-steel-dragon/. A fascinating account of the coming of the railway can be found in Abrahm Lustgarten’s book ‘China’s Great Train: Beijing’s Drive West and the Campaign to Remake Tibet’ by Abrahm Lustgarten, Times Books, Henry Holt & Co, 2008.

[36] As detailed earlier in this report.

[37] British Pathe archive footage provides a fascinating glimpse of the journey between Kalimpong and Yatung/Dromo before the Chinese invasion of Tibet, in 1943: http://t.co/iAsHGCaRDg

[38] See details earlier in this report; the Chinese authorities have announced construction will start this year (2014). In April 2012, TAR officials called for starting construction on the eastbound segment from Lhasa to Nyingtri that would be part of the Sichuan-Tibet railway and the Yunnan-Tibet railway. Cited by the CECC in its annual report for 2012, http://www.cecc.gov/publications/annual-reports/2012-annual-report.

[39] According to the Chinese media, the railway crosses a variety of challenging terrain, including Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, the arid sands of the Gobi Desert and a number of high-wind areas. These features make construction of the rail link a difficult and risky task. (http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/epaper/2013-07/12/content_16767977.htm).

[40] The state media declared in February 2012 that the situation in Tibet is so grave that officials must ready themselves for “a war against secessionist sabotage.” Tibet Daily, February 10, 2012.

[41] In September, 2013, China opened the world’s highest civilian airport in the restive, remote Tibetan area of Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi), Sichuan, which will cut journey times from the provincial capital Chengdu from two days to a little more than one hour, facilitating tourist flow to the ‘Greater Shangri-La’ region. Daocheng (Dabpa in Tibetan) airport in Kardze is 4,411 meters (14,472 feet) above sea level, and overtakes Chamdo (Chinese: Changdu) airport in the TAR, which sits at 4,334 metres above sea level, for the title of world’s highest. (Xinhua, September 13, 2013). Two major high-altitude airfields close to the border have just become operational in the Tibet Autonomous Region – the first at Ngari opposite Demchok in Ladakh, and the second at Menling in Nyingtri, north of Arunachal Pradesh in India.

[42] “During the 12th Five-Year Plan a strategic rail network to be built through Tibet, Xinjiang” [in Chinese: Shi’er wu qijian jiang jiancheng guantong xizang xinjiang zhanlue tielu wang] March 7, 2011, Xinhua, http://politics.people.com.cn/GB/1026/14072794.html. A map of the routes can be viewed at: http://www.savetibet.org/new-qinghai-railroads-to-pass-through-sensitive-tibetan-areas/ (ICT report, April 21, 2011).

[43] A full analysis of demographic shifts is beyond the scope of this report. After 2009, TAR yearbooks ceased to report county-level population data, hindering demographic analysis. For further insights and analysis see the Annual Report 2014 produced by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, available at: http://www.savetibet.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/cecc-2014-report-Tibet.pdf

[44] China Daily, September 1, 2009, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/bizchina/2009-09/01/content_8642709.htm – report includes map of the route.

[45] Chen Quanguo, Tibet Autonomous Region Party Secretary, ‘‘Firmly and Unswervingly Take the Road of Development With Chinese and Tibetan Characteristics, and Struggle in Unity To Achieve Development by Leaps and Bounds and Long-Term Stability and Security’’,Tibet Daily, 18 November 11, reprinted in China Tibet Information Center (translated in Open Source Center, 4 December 11).

[46] According to Bloomberg, March 11, 2013, ‘China Unveils Rail Ministry Breakup to Curb Corruption’ by Jasmine Wang, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-03-10/china-unveils-rail-ministry-breakup-to-curb-corruption.html

[47] BBC News report, October 17, 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-29655466

[48] ‘Building ecosystem resilience for climate change adaptation in the Asian highlands’ by Jianchu Xu and R. Edward Grumbine, August 28, 2014, http://wires.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WiresArticle/wisId-WCC302.html

[49] Beth Walker, ‘Tibetan plateau faces massive “ecosystem shift”’, October 23, 2014: http://www.thethirdpole.net/tibetan-plateau-faces-significant-ecosystem-shift/

[50] For details of the engineering work and expenditure required for building on the shifting permafrost of the Tibetan plateau, see Abram Lustgarten, ‘China’s Great Train: Beijing’s Drive West and the Campaign to Remake Tibet’, Times Books, 2008. A railway technology website stated: “Some 550m of its tracks are on frozen earth, passing through both the world’s most elevated tunnel – Fenghuoshan Tunnel (4,905m) – and the longest plateau tunnel – Kunlun Mountain (1,686m) – to be built on frozen earth. […] Around half of the Golmud to Lhasa section was laid on barely permanent permafrost with winter temperatures that plummet to -35ºC, while the summer’s 30+º sees the upper layers thawing to mud. The engineers approached this problem by constructing elevated tracks and causeways over some of the most difficult terrain, while in other areas, pipes have been installed to circulate liquid nitrogen below the rail bed to keep the ground frozen.” (http://www.railway-technology.com/projects/china-tibet/)

[51] Reuters, citing China Meteorological Administration head Zheng Guoguang, May 6, 2009: http://www.reuters.com/article/2009/05/06/us-china-climate-tibet-idUSTRE5451IM20090506

[52] Gabriel Lafitte, ‘Spoiling Tibet: China and Resource Nationalism on the Roof of the World’, Zed Books, 2013

[53] See paper for full outline: ‘Building ecosystem resilience for climate change adaptation in the Asian highlands’ by Jianchu Xu and R. Edward Grumbine, August 28, 2014, http://wires.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WiresArticle/wisId-WCC302.html

[54] For accounts of the 2008 protests and crackdown, see ICT reports ‘Tibet at a Turning Point’ http://www.savetibet.org/tibet-at-a-turning-point/ and ‘A Great Mountain Burned by Fire’, http://www.savetibet.org/a-great-mountain-burned-by-fire-chinas-crackdown-in-tibet/

[55] Submitting a proposal at the National People’s Congress – China’s rubber-stamp parliament –is often reported in the official media as a dramatic and even theatrical episode, with local officials depicted as working tirelessly to promote the interests of their ‘constituency.’ Local officials from Yushu TAP in Qinghai Province submitted a proposal at the March 2011 National People’s Congress calling for work to start on a rail line passing through Yushu as soon as possible.

[56] The eight-hour travel time between Chengdu and Lhasa given in the state media appears to allow no time for stops or for sub-maximum speeds while traveling through mountainous terrain. The train would complete the 1,629 kilometer journey in eight hours and nine minutes only if it maintained an average speed of 200 kilometers per hour for the entire journey.

[57] “Construction of the Chengdu-Kangding section of the Sichuan-Tibet Railway to start within the year”, January 5, 2009, Sichuan Online, www.ganzixhw.com/content/2009-1/5/200915103919.htm.

[58] ICT Report “Tracking the Steel Dragon,” February 2008, p. 41, available for download at: www.savetibet.org/documents/reports/tracking-steel-dragon.

[59] The CECC concludes the Sichuan-Tibet railway will link the TAR to a Sichuan provincial economy that includes nearly 23 times more industrial enterprises that generate at least five million yuan revenue from principal business than the Qinghai provincial economy that the Qinghai-Tibet railway linked to the TAR, according to China Statistical Yearbook 2008 data. Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Special Topic Paper on Tibet, 2008-9, http://www.cecc.gov/publications/issue-papers/cecc-special-topic-paper-tibet-2008-2009#385.

[60] CECC cites the National Bureau of Statistics of China (Online), China Statistical Yearbook 2008, Table 11-33. The Tibetan autonomous areas of Sichuan province make up nearly 52 percent of Sichuan province. (Steven Marshall and Susette Cooke, ‘Tibet Outside the TAR: Control, Exploitation and Assimilation: Development With Chinese Characteristics’. Washington, DC: self-published CD-ROM, 1997. Available from ICT’s online store and some extracts can be downloaded from http://www.savetibet.org/resources/fact-sheets/tibet-outside-the-tar/). Tibetan autonomous areas in Sichuan province are the following: Ganzi (Kardze) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, 153,870 square kilometers; Aba (Ngaba) Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, 86,639 square kilometers; and Muli (Mili) Tibetan Autonomous County, 11,413 square kilometers. (The total area of Ganzi TAP, Aba T&QAP, and Muli TAC, based on sources cited in Tibet Outside the TAR, Table 7, is approximately 251,922 square kilometers, or approximately 51.9 percent of Sichuan province based on a provincial area of 485,000 square kilometers.)

[61] National Bureau of Statistics of China (Online), China Statistical Yearbook 2008, last visited 30 September 09, Table 11-33.

[62] Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Special Topic Paper on Tibet, 2008-9, http://www.cecc.gov/publications/issue-papers/cecc-special-topic-paper-tibet-2008-2009#385

[63] ‘Ganzi refutes Greenpeace allegations,’ Global Times, March 23, 2011.

[64] ICT report, June 27, 2011, https://www.savetibet.org/dozens-of-tibetans-imprisoned-in-new-wave-of-kardze-demonstrations-protest-in-lhasa-by-dargye-monk/. In 2007, a Tibetan nomad called Runggye Adak made a bold peaceful protest at Lithang horse festival which led to his imprisonment and sentencing for eight years. Video of the protest can be viewed at http://www.savetibet.org/bold-public-expression-of-support-for-the-dalai-lama-that-led-to-imprisonment-of-tibetan-captured-on-video/ (ICT report, “Bold public expression of support for the Dalai Lama that led to imprisonment of Tibetan captured on video,” August 2, 2010)

[65] ICT report, ‘Storm in the Grasslands: Self-immolations in Tibet and Chinese policy’, http://www.savetibet.org/storm-in-the-grasslands-self-immolations-in-tibet-and-chinese-policy/

[66] ICT report, Reconstruction of earthquake-hit area excludes Tibetan participation, ignores local concerns: one year on from earthquake, http://www.savetibet.org/reconstruction-of-earthquake-hit-area-excludes-tibetan-participation-ignores-local-concerns-one-year-on-from-earthquake/ [also add other link to new city]

[67] (“During the 12th Five-Year Plan a strategic rail network to be built through Tibet, Xinjiang,” March 7, 2011, Xinhua [in Chinese].)

[68] There is a continued determination among Tibetans in Jomda (Chinese: Jiangda) county in eastern Chamdo (Chinese: Changdu) prefecture in the Tibet Autonomous Region, to resist repressive measures imposed after protests that began in March 2008. This is despite a dramatic tightening of security in the area and the imposition of ’emergency’ measures by the authorities including a “readiness to defend to the death key sites, key aims, and key areas at sensitive and highly critical periods,” according to a notice of new strategies issued by the Chamdo government. ICT report, ‘Determination to resist repression continues in ‘combat-ready’ Chamdo, frontline of ‘patriotic education’, December 2, 2009, http://www.savetibet.org/determination-to-resist-repression-continues-in-combat-ready-chamdo-frontline-of-patriotic-education/

[69] “Construction starts on the Lijiang-Xianggelila Railway, connecting ‘Fairyland’ in three years” [in Chinese: Lijiang zhi Xianggelila tielu kaijian, sannian hou liantong ‘renjian xianjing’], June 11, 2009, Xinhua, http://news.xinhuanet.com/travel/2009-06/11/content_11525067.htm.

[70] A major fire gutted the town of Gyalthang earlier this year – ICT report: http://www.savetibet.org/major-fires-over-past-year-devastate-important-tibetan-towns-monasteries/

[71] “The power and risks of China’s high-speed railways to southeast Asia” [in Chinese: Zhongguo gaotie zouxiang dongnanya de dongli yu fengxian], Oriental Daily [in Chinese: Dongfang Zaobao], April 25, 2011, http://www.dfdaily.com/html/63/2011/4/25/596558.shtml.

[72] “Tibet-Qinghai Railway An Engineering Miracle,” Undated, Xinhua, www.tibetinfor.com.

[73] ICT Report “Tracking the Steel Dragon,” February 2008, p. 196, available for download at: www.savetibet.org/documents/reports/tracking-steel-dragon.

[74] China Daily, August 18, 2013, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2013-08/18/content_16902334.htm

[75] ICT Report “Tracking the Steel Dragon,” February 2008, p. 40, available for download at: http://www.savetibet.org/tracking-the-steel-dragon/

[76] A full analysis is beyond the scope of this report. Among Chinese scholars who have spoken about this issue is Professor Jin Wei from the Central Party School, whose study of development aid in Tibet attracted attention outside China, as she argued that that government funding to the area had failed to make a contribution to genuine economic growth, saying that many of the programs failed to factor in cultural contexts and relied on government-oriented measures. (Lan Fang, “Aid Programs in Tibet Lack Efficiency, Says Scholar”, Caixin, December 18 2012 (http://english.caixin.com/2012-12-18/100473750.html). Also see ICT report, ‘Tracking the Steel Dragon’.

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