Dharamsala, 15 May 01 "The proposed Lhasa-Golmud railway line will mean that more Chinese settlers will swamp Tibet and Tibet's un-tapped natural resources will find their way to China," said Kalon T.C. Tethong of the Department of Information and International Relations of the Central Tibetan Administration based in north India.
"Tibet itself will go the way of Inner Mongolia and Manchuria, totally swamped by Chinese settlers and completely sinicised," Tethong said.
"This is because the decision to construct the line connecting central Tibet with China is a political decision and has a strong political and military objective of cementing Chinese rule over the Tibetan plateau," Tethong said. "The decision to go ahead with the railway line, despite experts' objections about the un-sustainability of the project, will have a major negative impact not only on Tibet but also on Tibet's neighbours as this will enormously increase Chinese ability to move troops and supplies rapidly across the vast Tibetan plateau," Tethong said.
The decision to construct the Lhasa-Golmud line was made in March this year by both the National People's Congress and the State Council of the People's Republic of China. Plans to connect Tibet with China by a railroad were discussed as far back as in the 1950's. These plans were shelved because China's technological capabilities then did not match with the extremely harsh topographical challenges like large swathes of permafrost, swamps and high peaks that are the main features of this part of Tibet. Even now experts are uncertain whether China has the technological know-how and capability to overcome these enduring natural obstacles.
The Lhasa-Golmud line is 1,118 kilometres long and a total of 30 bridges need to be built and tunnels dug. The total length of bridges and tunnels is more than kilometres and constitute about 2.80% of the length of the railway line. China announced that it would start constructing the line sometime in the middle of this year and the projected total cost of the railway construction based on 1995 price index will amount to a wopping 2.34 billion US$ (19.4 billion yuan). This is the first railway line. But there are plans to construct three other railway lines connecting Tibet with China. One is the Chengdu-Kongpo-Lhasa route, the other Dali-Kongpo-Lhasa and the third, Lanzhou-Nagchu-Lhasa.
These projects, the largest of its kind, are directed toward enhancing "national defence and domestic stability" and to further integrate the Tibetan economy with that of mainstream China.
Experts are debating the cost analysis of these mammoth projects and whether the potential financial benefits of these projects will cover the huge financial outlay in completing the four railway lines.
For the construction of the Lhasa-Golmud line, the Chinese authorities will employ about 67,000 workers from outside of Tibet and about 16,000 local workforce. Experts feel that the indirect costs such as exemption from taxes and subsidisation on agricultural and pastoral land would put incredibily high pressure on scarce local resources. Apart from this, there are deep concerns about the effect the railway lines will have on Tibet's fragile ecosystem and their impact on exacerbating erosion, silting, and pollution.
"We are not against development per se," Tethong said. "But we strongly protest development projects over which the Tibetan people have no say and which contribute to undermining their ability to maintain their distinct cultural identity."