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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Chinese migrants may flee Tibet as tourism stalls

February 13, 2009

Thu Feb 12, 2009 8:16am IST

By Emma Graham-Harrison

LHASA, China (Reuters) - A year after Tibetan rioters set parts of Lhasa
ablaze, aiming their fury at migrants from elsewhere in China, the
mountain city is divided between migrants looking to flee and locals
short of work as tourism collapses.

Many workers and traders from other ethnic groups who moved to the
remote region in search of a better living said they were considering
leaving for good, driven away by the tourism slump and icy anger of
local Tibetans.

Beijing clamped down after the violence in which 19 died, sending away
many Tibetans who had settled in Lhasa without papers -- and depriving
local shopkeepers of many customers.

Tourism has plunged with just a trickle of Western visitors. Gruesome
television footage of the riots and stories of unrest in other
ethnically Tibetan areas deter Chinese visitors.

Compounding the traders' misery, many Tibetans are boycotting
celebrations of their traditional New Year, which falls around Feb. 25,
in quiet defiance of the crackdown.

"Business has not been good at all. People have less money and now many
of them are not planning to celebrate the New Year. They are not coming
in to buy anything for the house," said an ethnic Muslim fabric seller
from northwest China who has been in Lhasa four years.

Many of the traders selling food and goods on Lhasa's streets are Hui
Muslim from nearby provinces.

The fabric seller said his uncle's shop was gutted in the rioting and
although his own was spared there have been growing ethnic tensions ever
since.

"Before the Tibetans were friendly when they came in to buy things. Now
it's just about business, they don't even want to chat," he added,
asking not to be named because both the riots and ethnic relations are
politically sensitive topics.

But Tibetan-owned businesses that depend on migrant workers and tourists
are struggling too.

"It has been a problem for residents in the area, because many of them
had bigger houses and rented out rooms to people from other areas," said
Dorchong, head of a Lhasa neighbourhood committee, who like many
Tibetans goes by only one name.

"But due to the riots fewer people have been coming to Lhasa so they
couldn't rent out rooms," he added.

REVERSE MIGRATION?

Almost everyone in Lhasa, from top officials to vegetable sellers,
agrees that last year's unrest damaged the local economy, although there
is disagreement about by how much.

The government says Tibet's economy recovered from the unrest and grew
10.1 percent in 2008, aided by a transfusion of state-spending -- long a
mainstay of regional growth.

The No. 2 Communist Party official for the region, Lekchok, said the
worst had passed. But on the streets ethnic Han Chinese shopkeepers are
haunted by their memories and complain the worst is not yet over.

"I am safe going out in the day now, but I can't forget it. We had to
lock ourselves into our house and didn't go out for days even after we
ran out of food," said one migrant from Hubei province who sells gloves
metres from the burnt-out remains of a building she says was destroyed
in the riots.

"We will be leaving soon I think, I can't live like this."

If there are many more like her, it could change the face of a city that
has become increasingly Chinese, and complicate Communist Party efforts
to control it.

China has always kept a tight rein on Tibet, since Communist troops
marched into the remote, high-altitude plateau in 1950.

One of the most controversial aspects of Beijing's rule has been
migration by other ethnic groups into Tibet, which critics say is
encouraged by the government because it makes the region easier to govern.

The exiled Dalai Lama, called a separatist by Beijing but still
spiritual leader for most Tibetans, has accused China of cultural
genocide, particularly after it opened a railway to Lhasa that allowed
easier access. China denies the charge.

But even traffic on that line has fallen, deputy station director Xu
Haiping told a small group of journalists visiting Tibet on a tightly
controlled, government organised trip.

The biggest winners may be those who moved to Tibet as officials or to
work in state-linked jobs such as writing for official magazines. They
are offered salaries sometimes more than twice hometown levels to tempt
them to the plateau.

"For graduates we can offer 2,400 yuan ($350) a month, while in (Sichuan
provincial capital) Chengdu they would only earn 1,000 yuan," said one
media worker who turns away several applicants for every job he advertises.
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