Tracking the Steel Dragon: How China’s economic policies and the railroad are transforming Tibet

railway bridge on the Kyichu River

An image of the new railway bridge on the Kyichu River in the Toelong Dechen area in the western area of Lhasa.

The first major report on the impact of the world’s highest altitude railway across the Tibetan plateau reveals how it is changing Tibet, to the detriment of the Tibetan people and land, and details the dramatic implications for the whole of Asia.

Mary Beth Markey, Vice President of the Washington, DC-based International Campaign for Tibet, said today: “Tibet’s new railroad, hailed as a ‘golden path to prosperity’ by China, is quite the opposite. It is the most visible symbol of a political and strategic agenda aimed both at strengthening the Chinese state’s authority and control over Tibetan areas, and beginning large-scale extraction of Tibet’s natural and mineral resources for the first time. This coincides with a time in Tibet’s history when ordinary Tibetans have no real say in decision-making on their country’s future.

“We are urging governments to call for a proactive, affirmative and preferential policy towards Tibetans, while foreign investors in Tibet must implement guidelines that aim to ensure the genuine participation of Tibetans in the development of their economy.”

The railroad from Qinghai to Lhasa is the most high-profile symbol of China’s strategy to develop its western regions, which is one of the most important dynamics of contemporary China. The aim of its construction is to expand the influence and consolidate the control of the Chinese Communist Party, which regards this as crucial to China’s successful rise in the 21st century. As the linchpin of China’s plans to begin large-scale extraction of Tibet’s mineral and other natural resources, the new railroad has changed the dynamic of investment, drawing foreign corporations to enter the Tibetan economy for the first time.

China seeks to present an image of progress and prosperity in Tibet to the outside world. It blocks any dissenting opinion or contradictory information, leading to a climate of fear about open discussion of the railway’s impact. Despite the increasingly oppressive political atmosphere in Tibet, ‘Tracking the Steel Dragon‘ uncovers the facts behind the propaganda, bringing together the views and experiences of Tibetans, Chinese, foreign scholars and policy-makers with data gathered from the field.

ICT’s new report, ‘Tracking the Steel Dragon‘, documents the immediate impact of the railroad 19 months from its construction in the context of China’s strategic and economic objectives and shows that Beijing’s policies on the Tibetan plateau are:

  • Leading to a ‘second invasion’ of Tibet by accelerating the influx of Chinese people;
  • Causing the further exclusion of Tibetans from economic activity – which even some Chinese analysts believe risks provoking the very despair and opposition among Tibetans feared by the Chinese state in its quest for ‘political stability’;
  • Damaging Tibet’s fragile high-altitude environment, with disturbing implications for hundreds of millions of people in the entire Asian region;
  • Threatening the extinction of one of the last examples of sustainable pastoralism on earth, through the enforced settlement of Tibetan nomads;
  • Heightening military readiness on the Tibetan plateau through the expansion of Chinese influence and construction of civil and military transport links, causing concern in neighboring India linked to disputed territory issues in the border areas between the two Asian giants;
  • Causing serious concern for the survival of Tibet’s culture and religion, which is integral to Tibetan identity and important not only to Tibet, but also to China and the wider world;

‘Tracking the Steel Dragon: How China’s economic policies and the railroad are transforming Tibet’ (260 pages, with more than 40 images from inside Tibet) is published by ICT and available for download »

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