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China's push to develop Tibet harming the region's people, environment, report says

December 11, 2007

2007-12-10

NEW DELHI (AP) - China's push to develop Tibet is leaving Tibetans
behind and threatening the fragile environment of the plateau, the
source of rivers that feed hundreds of millions of people in Asia,
Tibet's government-in-exile said in a report released Monday.

The report said the solution was the same as the problem _ Beijing
should stop dictating the future of the region and give Tibetans a say
in how the plateau is developed.

«Many past mistakes can avoid being repeated if Tibetans are treated as
equal partners,» the report said, echoing demands by the Dalai Lama,
Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, that China give the region full autonomy.

Despite the report's often confrontational content _ it says China is
responsible for Tibet's abysmal 48 percent literacy rate, for example _
its authors insist they are not looking to assign blame.

Rather, they say their aim is to work with Beijing to improve conditions
in Tibet.

The report «will make the Chinese understand that the development taking
place in Tibet does not help the Tibetan people,» said Kalon Tempa
Tsering of the Central Tibetan Administration, the India-based exile
government led by the Dalai Lama.

Whether Beijing will listen is another matter. Beijing has long insisted
it helped Tibetans by ending the Dalai Lama's rule _ which Chinese
officials often deride as «feudal» _ and that its efforts to develop and
industrialize the region will result in a modern, thriving Tibet.

Tibet's exiled government says otherwise, and the report catalogs
numerous problems created by Chinese rule _ from the erosion of Tibetan
culture to threats to the plateau's fragile environment.

A central issue is a new railroad linking Beijing to Tibet's capital,
Lhasa. Tibetans fear that an influx of China's Han majority, which has
grown since the train began running last year, will overwhelm the
region's Tibetan Buddhist culture.

The train is also bringing tourists _ some 2.45 million in 2006, a 36
percent jump over the previous year, the report said.

«Such a drastic increase in tourism will surely overwhelm this
destination, which is considered to be a place of spiritual power,
mental purification and transformation,» it said.

The railway is also making it easier for Beijing to mine the plateau,
which is rich in iron, copper, zinc and other minerals, and speed
construction of numerous dams that will provide hydroelectric power
needed to fuel China's growing economy.

Tibet, the world's highest plateau, is the source of rivers that feed
hundreds of millions of people and such projects could «seriously
decrease the water supplies» across South and Southeast Asia, the report
said.

Chinese Communist troops occupied Tibet in 1951 and Beijing continues to
rule the region with a heavy hand. Beijing enforces strict controls on
religious institutions and routinely vilifies the 71-year-old Dalai
Lama, who fled to India in 1959 amid an aborted uprising against Chinese
rule.

China says it has ruled Tibet for centuries, although many Tibetans say
their homeland was essentially an independent state for most of that time.
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