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FACTBOX: Why is remote Tibet of strategic significance?

August 18, 2008

March 25, 2008

Tibet's unique history and strategic significance, sharing borders
with India, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar, make security and stability
higher priorities in the remote Himalayan region than in other parts
of China, analysts say.

Here are some key reasons the region known as 'Xizang' -- 'western
storehouse' or 'western treasure-house" -- in Mandarin is of special


-- Tibet marks China's western edge and is a vital link between
China, south and central Asia.

-- Like restive Xinjiang to its north, it was part of ancient trade
routes. From the 7th to 20th centuries it was fought over by invading
Mongol, Chinese, Nepalese and British forces.

-- In 1962, China fought an unresolved border war with India from the
Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). Years of talks to resolve ownership of
an icy Austria-sized area, called Arunachal Pradesh by India, and as
part of Tibet by China, have made little progress.


-- Developing infrastructure in Tibet and nearby provinces with large
Tibetan communities is a major part of China's Western Development Campaign.

-- Launched in 1999 to reduce the wealth gap between China's
impoverished western hinterlands and rich eastern seaboard, the
central government has invested billions in Tibet.

-- In 2006, China opened the first rail route into the isolated area.
In 2007, it pledged to invest $13 billion in Tibet up to 2010, and
build the world's highest airport in west Tibet.

-- Ironically, some analysts say China's economic push to ensure
stability and unity helped fuel discontent that saw Tibetans attack
Chinese-run businesses in Lhasa in early March.


-- Tibet is dubbed 'Asia's Water Tower'. The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is
a crucial water source and store for China, whose unevenly
distributed water resources are said to be in crisis.

-- Tibet's glaciers and snow-fed highlands feed Asia's great rivers,
the Brahmaputra, Mekong, Yangtze, Indus, Yellow and Salween.

-- Mineral water from the plateau has become one of the region's
first commercially tapped resources since the Qinghai-Lhasa railway
cut transportation costs in 2006.


-- China's biggest copper deposit is at Tibet's Yulong copper mine.
Tibet also has large iron, lead, zinc, and cadmium deposits, minerals
China needs to feed its booming economy.

-- Geologists say Tibet has significant crude oil and natural gas
reserves. But its harsh, high-altitude terrain makes extraction
costly and challenging, and there is no significant commercial
production at present.


-- By 2010, about six million tourists, double the current number,
will visit Tibet, the regional government said in July 2006. That
amounts to about 10 percent of China's total expected tourist draw of
more than 60 million tourists in 2010.

-- Tibet's tourist revenues are expected to double to at least $770
million by 2010, contributing about 12 percent of its gross domestic
product, officials said.


-- Analysts say the Tibet Autonomous Region acts as a strategic
career stepping stone for senior Communist Party leaders.

-- President Hu Jintao oversaw attempts to calm the last serious bout
of unrest in Lhasa in 1989, during his 1988-1992 stint as party
secretary in the region.
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