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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Tibet in Turmoil: Canadian bankers and miners help luxury train to Lhasa keep on track amid chaos

April 1, 2008

GEOFFREY YORK
The Globe and Mail
March 31, 2008

BEIJING -- The timing was awkward, to say the least. On March 13, as
Lhasa was about to explode into bloodshed, a tourism company was
announcing that China's first luxury train would soon be carrying
"travel connoisseurs" to Tibet - complete with butler service "to cater
to the whims of each guest."

The next day, Lhasa was in flames and Tibetan monks were battling
Chinese police. Hundreds of people would be killed or injured over the
following two weeks. But none of the violence has deterred the
entrepreneurs - including Canadian financiers and mining companies - who
still see Tibet as a happy hunting ground for potential profits.

China has banned almost all foreigners from entering Tibet since the
protests began but foreign investors have managed to keep their projects
going.

"We're pleased that we're moving forward," said Bill Edward,
vice-president of marketing at Tangula Group Ltd., which is charging as
much as $5,500 (U.S.) per ticket for the luxury train to Tibet,
beginning shortly after the Beijing Olympics this summer.

He admitted that ticket sales have been "a little bit quieter" since the
Tibetan protests erupted. "But we're still getting requests for group
bookings," he said. "Our plans are definitely going ahead. We're on
track to launch on Sept. 1."

The company says it is offering "the ultimate in luxury rail travel" - a
kind of Orient Express for today's wealthiest tourists. It promises an
experience of "relaxed elegance" that provides "remote exploration in
comfort and style." Passengers will have "privileged access" to
"mystical Buddhist monasteries" and can enjoy the opportunity of
"sipping tea with grassland nomads."

Its train cars will feature flat-screen televisions, wireless Internet
service, entertainment systems, en-suite bathrooms and showers, gourmet
meals, around-the-clock butler service, and in-room "wellness"
treatments. "Every need is anticipated, every whim satisfied," the
company boasts.

Canadian investors were instrumental in launching the luxury train
company, although a majority stake was purchased by a Hong Kong tourism
company for $52.9-million last November. Its 49 custom-built train cars
were manufactured by a joint venture between a Chinese company and two
Canadian firms - Bombardier Inc. and Power Corp.

Some Tibetan activist groups, calling for a boycott of the luxury
trains, have criticized the heavy Canadian business involvement in the
region. One group, Students for a Free Tibet, has said it is "appalling"
that Canadian companies are profiting from China's "colonial policy" in
Tibet.

But Canadian entrepreneurs are still gung-ho on Tibet, despite the
violent protests and the eviction of foreigners from Tibet.

Howard Balloch, a former Canadian ambassador to Beijing, is one of the
shareholders in the luxury train company and served as an adviser to
help it get started. He believes that the Tibet crisis will not have a
serious impact on foreign investors in Tibet. "I don't think this will
deter the Chinese government from encouraging foreign businesses to
invest in Tibet," he said in an interview.

Mr. Balloch, who heads an investment banking firm in Beijing, insists
that foreign investment is beneficial for Tibetans. "I continue to
believe that development is good and has a positive impact on people's
lives," he said. "Tourism brings in a substantial amount of activities
which local people can benefit from."

At the same time, Canadian investors in Tibet should make sure that they
are helping local residents, he said. "I hope Canadian companies will
make a special effort to maximize their benefits to the local community.
If recent events have opened up wounds in Tibet, it's all the more
important to show that their activities have benefits to the local
communities."

Continental Minerals Corp., a Vancouver-based mining company, is pushing
ahead with plans for a $500-million copper and gold mine in central
Tibet, even though the Tibetan crisis has disrupted some of its
activities in recent weeks.

"At the moment, it seems to be getting back to normal, and we have no
plans to change our business plan," said Dickson Hall, the company's
vice-president of business development.

"From day one, we have worked very carefully to establish ourselves as
good corporate citizens in the area," he said. "We'll monitor and see
what happens, but we feel that the project will continue."

Continental has finished its feasibility studies and is aiming to apply
for a mining licence by the middle of this year for what would become
the first foreign-owned mine in Tibet.

The company's office in Lhasa was closed for 10 days because of the
violent protests and some of its business was interrupted by the
temporary shutdown of banks in Lhasa, but these were "nothing but minor
headaches," Mr. Hall said.

He agreed with Mr. Balloch that community benefits are crucial to
business projects in Tibet. His company has cultivated relations with
local villagers around the mine site by providing jobs, training, road
equipment, electrification and donations to the local school.

Several other Canadian companies have invested in Tibet and the broader
Tibetan regions of China, including other mining companies and a
producer of mineral water.

Bombardier and another Canadian company, Nortel Networks, played key
roles in supplying equipment for China's controversial railway to Tibet
in 2006.
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