The Qinghai-Tibet Railway
The Qinghai-Tibet Railway originates in Xining, capital of Qinghai Province, which is 1,142 kilometers (713 miles) long. With about 600 kilometers of the railway is built within the Tibet Autonomous Region, it is however, the first railway that linking Tibet with the western part of China, and it will extend from Lhasa, the Tibetan capital to Golmud, a traffic hub in Qinghai Province. Once the construction completed, it will become the longest and most elevated railway built on highlands in the world, and will later be extended to Shigaze and Linzhi in Tibet, and Yunnan Province in southwest China.
The acme of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway is 5,072 meters above sea level, and more than 960 kilometers, or four-fifths of the railway will be built at an altitude of more than 4,000 meters. Nearly half of the railway (550 kilometers) will be laid on continuous and permanent frozen earth, and the rest of the railway will pass through the grasslands, natural reserve zone, wetlands, and also the arid desert region.
The Chinese Government has wanted to build such a railway since the 1950s, shortly after the Communist Army took over control of Tibet. However, the project was postponed for decades due to the construction difficulties with the altitude, terrain, and also the shortage of capital sources. Nevertheless, the dream of building such a railway linking to Tibet has never been gave up by the Chinese Authorities, for which the construction planning, reconnaissance, and feasibility research study has been took place in Qinghai-Tibet plateau for many years ever since the 1960s.
In 1984, the Xining-Golmud Railway was completed, the first phase of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, which is 815 kilometers long. However, the construction discontinued due to extreme weather condition, terrain, and altitude. In February 2001, the China State Council has approved the construction plan of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway after reviewed the official report submitted by the State Planning Commission. The construction project will take seven years to complete with a sum of 4 billion US Dollars (approx. 32 billion Chinese RMB) total investment. Building the world’s most elevated and longest railways, indeed, is not only a trial to a Country’s combine national power, and her technology level. In contrast to its several billion dollar of investment, the short-term economic benefit is incommensurate de facto, but it serves for a long-term economic benefit and extensively political and military meanings.
Currently, the only transportation to Tibet is limited to ground and air transport, which is deficiency to meet the demand for developing Tibet’s economy. In compare to the prosperous eastern seaboard, Tibet remains as the most backward region in China at a little bit more above the national average income for farmers and herdsmen.
According to the Himal South Asian magazine (Sept 2002); the current disparity between rural, “impoverished” Tibetans and urban, “developed” Chinese then, is a problem for the Beijing administration. The dominant point of view in Beijing is that Tibet has been a messy backyard that remains an embarrassment; for they realize that a radically under-developed Tibet will tarnishes the image of a new China. It is neither the result of a coherent and successful policy, nor a carefully crafted plan to keep Tibetans down.
It is an undeniable fact that, once the Qinghai-Tibet Railway is completed, it will bring a convenient transportation way to and from Lhasa, and it eventually lead to a result of overwhelming influx of Chinese migrants, unemployed, and the laid-off workers of the over-saturated eastern coastal cities to migrating to the Tibet Autonomous Region seeking for working and business opportunity. However, these Chinese do not come all the way here to Tibet just to preach Maoism or even Han-ism, and they are concerned about Tibetans only in as much as a Tibetan might endanger or increase their chances to make money. Their opportunities mainly depend on the large government-subsidized projects that fuel Tibet’s tertiary economy. Without these, they would have to be left floating again and would drift to the next prospective region all over the country.
This controversial railway construction plan has gained great attention for Overseas Tibetans and Tibetan observers over the world after the Chinese government reveal its plan as part of the so-called Western Development Strategy. The Tibetan Action Committee stated that they are afraid once the Qinghai-Tibet Railway plan completed, it will decimate the Tibetan’s cultural and traditions and therefore it will destroyed Tibetan’s unique identity and turn Tibetan to become sinicize. As the action committee still regards the presence of Communist administration in Tibet since the 1950s as an occupation; in contrast to what the Communist administration called it the “peaceful liberation”. Therefore, it is not too hard to understand for their worries of the railway construction that link to Lhasa will bring tightening military grip over Tibet , and a much faster and convenient way for logistics supply.
Looking at it another way, once the railway is completed, Tibetan herdsman can easily sell their sheer product outside the border, plus more consumer products can enter Tibet which can be improve Tibetans’ living standard, where the price will go down due to scarcity of goods. This will greatly benefit Tibetan throw off poverty and enter to a much faster economy development track, isn’t it just great for everyone?
As business is business, the company needs not to get involve into politic that much. Like the Chinese saying “The water that bears the boat is the same that swallows it”; if you take weapons like gun for example, it can be use for murder, robbery, self-protection, and of course, use by authorities to saving civilian’s life. Thus, it is absolutely depending on how people use it; anything else is out of the question.
What the Tibetan Action Committee worries can be taken as a consideration for the company while considered the offer, but it shall not be the sole consideration factor that affects the company on the railway contract offer by the Chinese Government.