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"For a happier, more stable and civilized future, each of us must develop a sincere, warm-hearted feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood."

Tibetans of Dechen Shangrila

October 5, 2011

Australian Broadcasting Corporation has broadcast a 30 mins doco on southeastern Tibetan Dechen prefecture, marketed as the authentic Shangri-la.

This doco will soon be available online for viewing anywhere:

ABC Radio broadcast an interview with their foreign correspondent Stephen McDonnell, who made the story. Here is a transcript of his interview:

Ethnic Tibetan areas face China's economic juggernaut. ABC PM program 27 Sept 2011

MARK COLVIN: Tibet is normally out of bounds for foreign correspondents in China. If reporters are allowed in then they are accompanied at all times by a government minder.

That's also true of other ethnic Tibetan areas beyond what's officially called the Tibetan Autonomous Region.

But for tonight's Foreign Correspondent program on ABC Television, a team from our Beijing bureau gained extensive access to Tibetan Yunnan.

It's a remote region scarcely touched by the modern world but now coming face to face with China's economic juggernaut.

China correspondent Stephen McDonell reports from Diqing.

STEPHEN MCDONELL: In the wild and isolated part of Yunnan Province called Diqing the lives of mountain farmers is today pretty much the same as it has been for centuries. Pigs, chickens, corn and barley have been the key to a subsistence life which goes on for the most part without any cash.

Since ancient times this has been the gateway to the upper reaches of the Tibetan Plateau. Tibetans from here have long interacted with other ethnic groups like the Naxi and Lisu. Yet until recently China's economic miracle has barely touched what remains a mysterious, beautiful and quite poor place.

But even here change is coming. Huge money is being thrown into the development of transport infrastructure and with highways and airports the tourists come.

Australian National University lecturer Ben Hillman has spent years studying Diqing.

BEN HILLMAN: From say the mid 90s, where there would have been visitors or numbers of arrivals in the tens of thousands, now in 2011 we're talking about millions.

STEPHEN MCDONELL: We drive with Ben Hillman on the road to Weixi. He's developed a unique experiment to catapult young Tibetans out of poverty and he's in search of recruits.

While doing his PhD he realised that locals were by and large being left out of the mini-boom here which tourism was creating. Not because Han Chinese employers didn't like them but because Tibetans who dropped out of high school simply lack the training they need to get work.

BEN HILLMAN: I think what's most important to local business people and certainly the business people that I talk to regularly is that they find people who have the skills that they need and if they can't find these skills in the local labour market then they will hire people from other areas. And there will be opportunities for people with those skills to come and work here.

And I think that there was a real danger, and a danger that still exists, that local ethnic minorities, Tibetans and other ethnic groups, become marginalised in their own economy, unless they're given the opportunity to learn the skills that they can use to participate in the emerging tourism industry and in the changing economy.

STEPHEN MCDONELL: Ben Hillman's answer has been to set up the Eastern Tibet Training Institute: a school which runs four month intensive courses. Because it's funded by international donors it's free for Tibetan students who are chosen from the most disadvantaged areas.

He thinks that this type of training could possibly take some of the heat out of the most tense parts of the wider Tibetan region, which have seen violent conflict over recent years.

BEN HILLMAN: One of the key reasons for the tensions, especially in the urban areas where we've seen in recent years a lot of violence, a lot of demonstrations, has been this sudden economic change.

Because there are a lot of new jobs in construction and in services, which are attracting migrants from other parts of China, and these jobs often pay high wages and so Tibetans, especially young men, are looking for work and who see that people who are not from that area, who they might think don't belong there, are getting these jobs and who are making more money.

And I think that that is certainly one of the factors that's driving the social tensions in Tibetan areas.

STEPHEN MCDONELL: And as for Ben Hillman's training school, well the proof of the pudding is in the jobs. He says some 95 per cent of graduates are getting work, in many cases providing their families with the first regular source of money that they've ever had


Ben Hillman's website:

CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
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