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Railway stirs fresh concerns about Tibet

February 15, 2008

Project in China. Activists urge firms like Bombardier to examine benefits

The Gazette, Canada
February 13

A 2,000 kilometre Chinese railway to Tibet has generated millions of dollars in Canadian foreign investment, but also new concerns for the future of the

Tibetan Autonomous Region, an activist group says.

During a briefing yesterday in Ottawa, the International Campaign for Tibet called on Canadian companies like Bombardier Inc. - which manufactures train cars for the railway - to ensure Tibetans are benefiting from the $4.2-billion (U.S.) project.

Canadian companies account for the majority of businesses now investing, or looking to invest, in the Tibet region, the U.S-based group said. They include B.C.-based Continental Minerals Corp. which is working to obtain a mining licence on a copper and gold deposit in Tibet.

Since service began 18 months ago, the railway - which links China's northwest Qingha province with Tibet's capital, Lhasa - has generated minimal economic spinoffs for most ethnic Tibetans, a report by the group says.

In 2007, the new railway contributed to a record number of tourists - 4 million said China's Xinhua state news agency - visiting the Himalayan region, which has less than 3 million residents.

Although the Chinese government says the railroad will bring economic benefits to the impoverished region, the report said the train is accelerating the influx of skilled, Chinese workers.

To support ethnic Tibetans, the report urges Canadian companies operating near Lhasa to hire Tibetan managers, develop vocational training for locals and use the Tibetan language.

"Obviously, there's some trickle down effect (because of the railway)," said Dermod Travis, president of the Canada Tibet Committee. "Obviously, people who make arts and crafts will have more people to sell to.

"But Tibetans did not work on the building of the railway, or on the building of the cars."

In 2005, Bombardier Transportation received a $78-million share of a contract to build 361 pressurized cars for the railway, which runs as high as 5,000 metres. Passenger cars have already been completed, while 50 higher-end cars aimed at tourists are still being developed, said Dave Slack, a spokesperson for Bombardier Transportation.

Ethnic Tibetans aren't working on the cars because they're being manufactured in a factory "on the other side of China," Slack said.

However, a $1-million, three-year project funded by Bombardier is under way to train 20 ethnic Tibetans in hotel and restaurant management.

"Bombardier has spent a good amount of time speaking to

Tibetan activist groups trying to address this issue," Slack said.

A spokesperson for B.C.'s Continental Minerals said it tries to hire local Tibetans who are already used to working at a high altitude; the mining site is at 4,000 metres. "It's high altitude so you don't want to bring in people from other parts of China," said Dickson Hall, vice-president of business development.

Continental publishes information about the mine in Tibetan as well as English, and Mandarin, he said. Continental is completing a social and environmental impact assessment on the site.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
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