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China eyes grand plan to develop Tibetan regions

January 24, 2010

By CARA ANNA, The Associated Press
The Washington Post
January 22, 2010

BEIJING -- China's top leaders say Tibet's
development must include Tibetan areas in
neighboring provinces - a move likely aimed at
tying the region tighter to the rest of the
country after deadly riots two years ago.

Chinese President Hu Jintao told the first
high-level meeting on Tibet in nine years that
the development would require hard work to
prevent "penetration and sabotage" by separatists
working for Tibet's independence, the state-run
Xinhua News Agency reported late Friday.

Hu also said at this week's meeting that
residents' awareness of being part of China
should be constantly enhanced, Xinhua reported.

The meeting was the first of its kind since the
deadly riots in March 2008, the largest uprising
against Chinese rule in decades. Chinese-owned
shops and government offices were attacked in
Tibet's capital, Lhasa, and other traditionally
Tibetan regions of western China. The government
says at least 22 people were killed in Lhasa, and
Tibetan rights groups say nearly 140 Tibetans died.

Beijing, which sent troops to occupy Tibet
following the 1949 communist revolution and
insists it has been part of Chinese territory for
centuries, has sped up its drive to develop the
region's economy since the violence.

China's leaders agreed in the meeting Monday
through Wednesday to develop Tibetan regions in
neighboring Sichuan, Gansu, Yunnan and Qinghai
provinces as well, Xinhua said. Most, if not all,
saw protests shortly after the 2008 violence.

One expert on Tibet said China's leaders like to
"homogenize" Tibet's problems as a development
issue to downplay the region's distinct culture.

"They're persisting in this argument that it's
all about money and that Tibetans have no other
concerns," said Michael C. Davis, a professor at
the Chinese University of Hong Kong. "Including
or connecting the Tibetan Autonomous Region with
other autonomous areas may just be more of that. Maybe I'm too suspicious."

Davis said the move to include areas outside
Tibet in the development drive seems to be more
about connecting them to the rest of China than to each other.

The research director for the government-backed
China Tibetology Research Center, Lian Xiangmin,
told the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post
in a report Saturday that widening the
development focus to other Tibetan areas was a major policy change.

Reports on the Tibet meeting gave no details on
how much money would be poured into the region,
but Hu said the per capita income of Tibet's
farmers and herdsmen should be close to the
national level by 2020, Xinhua reported. As of
last year, it was barely one quarter of the
national average of around $2,000 a year, according to the government.

China this month appointed a former soldier as
Tibet's new governor, reasserting hardline
policies there in the face of resentment over
political restrictions and perceived economic exploitation.

But the governor's post is largely ceremonial.
Tibet policy is formulated at the highest levels
of China's central government under Hu, who was
Tibet's party boss from 1988 to 1992.
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