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The Qinghai - Tibet Railways Impact on Tibet 1

Brief Analysis of Important Issues

The Qinghai-Tibet Railways Impact on Tibet

Jung-sung Hsu
( Section Chief, MTAC)


China is currently in the process of constructing the

Qinghai-Tibet railway connecting Qinghai and Tibet, the ridge of the
world. The six-year construction project, which took off on June 29,
2001, exercises profound meanings for Tibets politics, economy,
military, traditional culture as well as the Tibetan Plateau
environmental protection. Chinas visions were taken with
suspicions and worry by Tibetans around the world as well as the
international community. Based on literature review, this paper
explores the basic facts about the Qinghai-Tibet railway, Chinas
visions and reasoning, the Tibetans suspicions over the
construction project, and the international communitys opinions
toward the project, presenting the picture of the railways
multi-dimensional contributions to China. The modernization that
comes along with the railway would inevitably cause significant
impact on the Tibetan culture. The reality remains that it is unlikely
for nations such as the US to successfully intervene in Chinas
decisions. The paper calls on the Chinese authorities to respect the
opinions of the Tibetans by granting them permission to speak up
and take into account issues related to the coexistence and
co-development between economy and the environment.

Keywords: The Qinghai-Tibet RailwayThe Tibetan Cul-

tureWestern China DevelopmentTibetan Pla-
teau Environmental ProtectionEthnic Solidarity
. Introduction
In February 2001, the Chinese State Council approved construction of
Qinghai-Tibet Railway, the worlds longest and highest plateau railway. This
monumental development project on Tibet, a place dubbed the roof of the world,
captured spotlight around the world. Construction of the railway on the
Qinghai-Tibet Plateau has special meanings for the economic development of
Tibet, as the railway is likely to boost Tibets capability for self-development,
and facilitate transformation of Tibets economy from supply-oriented to
market-oriented, which would be important in realizing Chinas expectations of
making Tibet surpass the western provinces and even lead the nation in terms of
economic development.1 Anyone can see that there is more to Chinas plan than
just economic development, as Tibet is also an important part of Chinas
territorial integrity. The borderline of the Tibet Autonomous Region extends
3800 km, linking up with Kashmir, India, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, and
Myanmar.2 Any major decisions concerning this region would need to take into
account ethnic, political, national defense, military, transportation, economic,
social, environmental protection, and cultural issues. Considering the status quo
in China, it is clear that the railway is being built for economic, political, and
military considerations. Whether China is prepared for the impact posed by the
railway to Tibets ecological environment and cultural heritage remains to be
seen. It is important to look at not just Chinas viewpoints but also the opinions
of the Tibetan people and the international community.

. Basic Facts of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway

Xinhua News Agency, March 9, 2001
The Qinghai - Tibet Railways Impact on Tibet 3

(1) In November 2000, Chinese President Jiang Zemin issued an important

instruction: Building the Qinghai-Tibet Railway is of great importance to
development of communications and tourism, and will promote economic and
cultural inter-flows between Chinas hinterland and Tibet. We should make
decision and undertake the project at an earlier date. This is a big decision that
we should make at the start of a new century. This must bring prodigious
encouragement to all people in national scale including the people in Tibet.
Jiang required government agencies concerned to grasp the moment to research
and comparatively analyze many schemes, so that the Party Central Committee
and the State Council could make a correct decision.3 In February 2001, the
State Council opened the premiers work meeting and approved construction of
the project.4
(2) Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji declared the start of construction of the
Qinghai-Tibet Railway in Golmud, Qinghai on June 29, 2001. Vice Premier Wu
Bangguo declared the State Councils approval of the construction project in
Lhasa. The declarations were followed by ribbon-cutting in Golmud and
(3) The Qinghai-Tibet Railway stretches 1,956 km from Xining, capital of
Qinghai Province, to Lhasa. The section of 814 km from Xining to Golmud was
completed in 1979 and opened in 1984. The railway is planned to be 1,142 km
long, including 1,110 km new line. Starting from Golmud in Qinghai, the
railway will pass through Nachitai, Wudaoliang, Tuotuohe and Yanshiping
before climbing over Tanggula Mountain to get to Amdo, Nagqu, Damxung,
Yangbajain and Lhasa in Tibet. Its highest point is 5,072 meters above sea level.

Xinhua News Agency, February 8, 2001, State Council Approved Construction of Qinghai-Tibet
Railway, People,
People, June 29, 2001,
About 960 km of the railway will be built 4,000 meters above sea level and 550
km of its tracks will be laid on permanently frozen ground. The highland
railway will break world records for its height and length. Bridges and tunnels
account for 8% of the railways total length.6
(4) Construction of the section linking Golmud with Lhasa, which began in
June 2001, is expected to be completed by July 2007.7 China plans to invest 5.5
billion RMB in the entire construction project with the hope of completion in
October 2005 and trial operation on July 1, 2006.8
(5) Some 2 billion RMB have been spent on environmental protection
facilities for the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, a record sum in this aspect for rail
construction in China. 100 million RMB have been invested in frozen ground
research. The constructions units utilized ventilative sheet-stone roadbeds,
ventilated ducts, and rubble slope, and built bridges to replace roads to protect
the fragile natural environment along the railway line. The construction units
have taken steps to protect plateau and alpine vegetation, natural reserves and
rare and endangered wild animal species, and plateau lakes and wetland
ecosystems along the railway. The frozen earth on the Tibetan Plateau and the
natural landscape along the railway are also carefully protected, while
considerable efforts are made to keep the discharge of pollutants to a
(6) The section linking Golmud with Lhasa involves a total investment of
26.2 billion RMB.10
(7) There are plans to extend the Qinghai-Tibet Railway eastward and

Ibid. Also see Xinhua Net (Qinghai), and
Yang Kai-hwang, A Study on Modernization of Tibetan Region in the Western Development
StrategyTaking the Tibetan Autonomous Region as an Example, p. 161, under the commission of the
Mainland Affairs Council in Taiwan, January 2005.
Xinhua Net,
China, April 13, 2005,
RFA Radio Free Asia,
Takungpao, March 6, 2005,
China, November 30, 2004,
The Qinghai - Tibet Railways Impact on Tibet 5

westward: construction of the 300-km Lhasa-Shigatse section and the 400-km

Lhasa-Linzhi section is expected to begin in 2006.11
(8) The Qinghai-Tibet Railway is part of Chinas Great Western
Development Strategy, which includes four ambitious flagship projects of (1)
the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, (2) the South-North Water Diversion Project, (3)
the East-West natural gas pipeline, and (4) the West to East power transmission
plan. The first two projects are directly related to Tibet.12

. Chinas Reasons for Building the Qinghai-Tibet Railway

(1) Anti-secession and economic development

Chinese President Jiang Zemin said in his written instructions on the
construction of Qinghai-Tibet railway in 2001, We must absolutely not allow
separation of Tibet from the motherland, and must absolutely not continue
seeing Tibet remain backward. Hidden in the lines is Chinas statement of
priorities: anti-secession comes first, economic development comes second. The
real meaning behind construction of Qinghai-Tibet Railway is to ensure Chinas
territorial integrity and social stability.13

(2) Facilitating economic development, improving material wellbeing,

consolidating border defense, maintaining national security,
strengthening ethnic solidarity, and safeguarding the unification of
the motherland
Jia Qingling, Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's

China, August 16, 2005,
Yang Kai-hwang, Note 6, p. 161-164. Also see Wu Fu-cheng, A Forecast on the Duration and Benefits
of Chinas Recent Major Public Construction Projects, Taiwan Institute of Economic Research, Chinas
HK News,
Political Consultative Conference and member of the Standing Committee of
the Communist Party of China Central Committee Political Bureau, said on
August 31, 2005, The building of the plateau railway project is a major
decision made by the Party Central Committee and the State Council, aiming at
accelerating the development of the country's western region and boost
economic and social development in Tibet. The project is up to common
aspiration of the whole Chinese people including Tibetan people, and it is an
agglomeration of painstaking efforts of the Party's three generations of central
leadership and the new central leadership with Hu Jintao as the General
Secretary. Construction of the railway will put an end to Tibets history as the
only autonomous region (province) in China inaccessible by rail. It is not only
essential for strengthening economic and cultural interflows between Tibet and
the hinterland, accelerating economic development of Tibet, and improving the
local farmers and herdsmens material well-being, but is also of great
significance for consolidating national defense in southwestern border,
strengthening ethnic solidarity, and safeguarding the unification of the

(3) Upgrading overall transportation facilities and investment

environment, accelerating exploitation of resources, facilitating cultural
interflows, and strengthening ethnic solidarity
Construction of the railway will put an end to Tibets history as the only
autonomous region (province) in China inaccessible by rail, and is also of great
significance for upgrading overall transportation facilities and investment
environment on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, accelerating exploitation of
resources and economic development in Tibet, strengthening communication
between Tibet and the hinterland, facilitating cultural interflows between the
Tibetan people and other ethnic groups, strengthening ethnic solidarity, and

Xinhua News Agency, August 31, 2005,
The Qinghai - Tibet Railways Impact on Tibet 7

improving the lives of people along the line.15

(4) National security and regional economy considerations

Chinese experts believe that Tibet, with its vast border, is vital for Chinas
national defense. Tibetan regions and other regions under the influence of
Tibetan Buddhism take up over two thirds of Chinas borderline. Therefore,
Tibets development should not been seen as simply an issue of regional
economy. It should be placed in the wider context of Chinas national security.16

(5) The worlds first-class, environmental-friendly plateau highway

According to the General Command of Qinghai-Tibet Railway
Construction, Chinese government agencies concerned have established strict
environmental protection standards for construction units and sites and have
repeatedly sent inspection groups to supervise compliance with the standards
since the beginning of construction. Any violation of the environmental
protection regulations and standards is severely punished. There have been no
reports of environmental pollution or damage caused by the railway. Chinese
officials made the pledge to make the railway the worlds first-class plateau

(6) Economic development, modern civilization, and golden tourism

In the essay What can the Qinghai-Tibet Railway Bring to Tibet?
provided by Chinas Xinhua News Agency on January 22, 2005, experts talked

Xinhua News Agency, June 29, 2001, China,
Du Ping, Shi Peihua, et al., Learning from the Westthe Policy Context and Historical Background of
Chinas Great Western Development Strategies, Beijing: Yanshi Publications, 2000, p. 353-354. Cited
from Yang Kai-hwang, Note 4, p. 168.
China Youth Daily, April 23, 2002, China,
about the railways profound influence on Tibets economic development, The
railway will mitigate the damages to Tibets already fragile ecological
environment caused by irrational structure of energy consumption, steer Tibet
toward modern civilization, and build a golden tourism route around Tibet.18

(7) The expressway of Tibets social-economic development

Xinhua (News Agency) Net reported on October 31, 2003 that the
Qinghai-Tibet Railway would become the expressway of Tibets
social-economic development: According to Lee Guo-yong, Chairman of the
Planning Committee of Tibetan Autonomous Region, the Qinghai-Tibet
Railway, the worlds highest-altitude railway, will provide a low-cost, 24-hour
means of mass transportation. It will be a revolutionary creation, bringing
fundamental changes to Tibet and accelerating economic development. The
report says that the railway will accelerate the blending of Tibet's plateau
economy with that of the interior, and bring considerable benefits to Tibet's
tourism industry, mineral and material products, and ethnic handicrafts.19

. Fears and Suspicions of the Tibetan People toward the Qinghai-Tibet


(1) Destruction of Tibets cultural and religious heritage and depriving the
Tibetan people of room for survival
In a meeting with Tibetan compatriots in Taiwan in spring 2001, the Dalai
Lama said, The Chinese are setting up railway tracks connecting Tibet with not
only Qinghai but also Yunnan, Xinjiang, and Sichuan, but it is not for economic
development. They have plans to transfer 20 million Han Chinese into Tibet.

Xinhua Net (Tibet), January 22, 2005,
The Qinghai - Tibet Railways Impact on Tibet 9

The purpose of the railways is basically to facilitate the transfer of population

and squeeze the Tibetan people out of Tibet by making them minorities in their
own land. The railway is Chinas attempt to sabotage Tibets cultural and
religious heritage. All Tibetans should stand up and fight for their very
survival.20 The Dalai Lama said following a speech in Idaho on September 12,
2005 that more pressure will be placed on native Tibetans by the Qinghai-Tibet
railway scheduled for completion in 2007. Increasing numbers of ethnic Han
Chinese have been moving to Tibet in recent years to work in construction and
other booming government industries. Some kind of cultural genocide is taking
place, the Dalai Lama told reporters. In general, a railway link is very useful
in order to develop, but not when politically motivated to bring about
demographic change.21

(2) Destruction of Tibets culture, environment, and religious heritage,

sinoization of Tibet, Tibetan people in Tibet have no say over the
railway, and strong political and military motives
The Tibetan government-in-exile slammed Beijing's plan to build the
Qinghai-Tibet railway in a statement on May 15, 2001. Minister of Information
and International Relations of the Central Tibetan Administration T.C. Tethong
said, "We are in favor of a railway that brings benefits to the Tibetan people, but
we strongly protest development projects which contribute to a flood of Han
Chinese into Tibet and undermine the Tibetan peoples ability to maintain their
distinct cultural and religious identity. The railway line will threaten the very
survival of the Tibetan people and the environment they live in." According to
Ngawang Phelgyal, spokesperson of Dalai Lamas New York Office, "Tibet

Liberty Times, April 2, 2001,
Dalai Lama: Rail Link 'Cultural Genocide' September 12, 2005'Cultural+G
itself will go the Inner Mongolia and Manchuria way, totally swamped by
Chinese and completely Sinoised. The railway line would bring in more
Chinese settlers to Tibet and Tibets untapped natural resources would find their
way into China. The project will create problems for Tibetans apart form
playing havoc with the ecology of the plateau. We strongly protest development
projects over which the Tibetan people have no say. 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. The railroad would devastate Tibet and jeopardize the security
of neighbors. The decision to go ahead with the railway line will have a major
negative impact not only on Tibet but also on Tibet's neighbors as this will
enormously increase Chinese ability to move troops and supplies rapidly across
the vast Tibetan plateau.22

(3) Marginalization of the Tibetan people

"This will be the means for more Chinese settlers coming into Tibet and
that will reduce and diminish the identity of the Tibetan people, will really
marginalize the Tibetan people. So that is of great concern to us," said Thubten
Samphel, the spokesman for Tibet's Government-in-Exile, based in Dharamsala.
Tibetan rights activists say they must counter the effects of Chinese rule over
Tibet, where cultural traditions are being lost under the majority Han Chinese.
The responsibility is falling to the large Tibetan exile community in India.
Tibetan activists admit there is a certain irony to the fact that Tibetan art and
culture may be best preserved and spread outside of Tibet. Still, they say, it is a
campaign they must continue to wage, to keep centuries of tradition alive. Mr.
Samphel admits there is little the exiled Tibetan government can do to save
Tibet's culture beyond international lobbying to press China on the point. "The
only thing we can do is to bring our concern to the attention of the international

Xizang-zhiye, May 17, 2001,
The Qinghai - Tibet Railways Impact on Tibet 11

community and to various important governments with which China has a lot of
trade dealings," said Mr. Samphel.23

(4) Military purposes, ecological damage, exploitation of resources, and

impact on peace and stability in South Asia
China began construction of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway with an eye on
effective suppression of riots in Tibet and timely mobilization of border troops.
With Chinas history of thinking more about national defense than economic
development, one can assume that the railway would become a threat to Tibets
ecological environment and facilitate a large-scale exploitation of Tibets
natural resources. Influx of Chinese cadres and technicians through the railway
is likely to result in the Tibetan people becoming minorities in their own land.
The railway, as a crucial element in Chinas plans to expand military bases, has
the potential of threatening regional security in South Asia and sparking arms
race or even warfare in the region. Considering the railways profound impact
on peace and stability in South Asia and Asia as a whole, it is easy to see
Chinas motives in building it.24

(5) The railway will dilute the already fragile Tibetan culture and lead to
greater tension between Chinese and Tibetans.
Modernization and the influx of tourists and outside business interests
threaten an ancient way of life in Tibet. At the front entrance to the Jokhang
Temple dozens of pilgrims prostrate themselves. Some doubt if the scene will
last long. Lhasa, like elsewhere in today's China, is on the track of

NCN, November 13, 2004,
Xizang-zhiye, Archives, Railway Construction and Colonialism,
modernization. The pilgrimage is being threatened.25 Many Tibetans say the
railway will consolidate Chinese control over their homeland. A Tibetan native
says that the railway will bring a flood of Han Chinese to the area and dilute the
already fragile Tibetan culture. She says she expects much more tension to
develop between Chinese and Tibetans.26

(6) Damages to the natural environment

Nyima Tsering, deputy director of the management committee of the
Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, said Qinghai-Tibet Railway has rendered the water of
the Lhasa River undrinkable. China has taken steps to catalyze development in
Tibet. For China, development is all about economic prosperity. But now all the
money in this world would not save Tibet from the ultimate catastrophe. The
money is useful in getting the roads fixed, and cars and high-rise buildings are
all very nice, but these should not come at the expense of the natural
environment. Economic development would be a curse, not a blessing, if the
environment is ruined and the people sacrifice morality for the sake of
money.27 Meanwhile, Voice of America reported on August 21, 2001 that
construction of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway has sparked environmental
conservation concerns and raised suspicion that China is using the railway as a
means to consolidate its control over Tibet.28

(7) Greater difficulty in finding a job, easier access to Tibet for criminals,
and changes in way of life
Chinese journalist Lin Gu has spent a month in Tibet: "What does it
(Qinghai-Tibet railway) mean to you and your city (Lhasa)?" I asked my young

BBC, January 9, 2005,
Secret China, August 24, 2001,
Epoch, 2005/8/15,
See Note 26.
The Qinghai - Tibet Railways Impact on Tibet 13

drinking companions in the bar. Their answers included cheaper prices, but they
are also worried about a greater influx of outsiders, which could make it more
difficult to find a job. Criminals may feel it is easier to enter Tibet thanks to the
convenience of the railway, and that's why my new friends have concerns about
public security, as well as anxieties that their way of life will change.29

(8) The train, although it may usher in rapid progress, also may transform
their nomadic culture and increase inequality in their land.
Tibetans opposed to Chinese control say the railroad's construction - which
began last year - has so far confirmed their worst fears: The train, although it
may usher in rapid progress, also may transform their nomadic culture and
increase inequality in their land. "We went to inquire about railroad jobs but
they said it's all been taken," said Tenzin, a 22-year-old Tibetan farmer from
Gansu, formerly part of Tibet, but now a Chinese province. "We've been here
four months and we can't find anything. We're willing to be waiters, security
guards, tour guides, anything. But no one wants us.30

. Views from the International Community

(1) Fear for Tibets traditional culture and Tibetan demographic

dominance being overwhelmed by Han Chinese migration
In additional to its continued focus on Tibets culture, language, religion,
and education, the US State Departments 2004 Country Reports on Human
Rights Practices in China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) raised the
railway issue, The Dalai Lama, Tibetan experts, and other observers expressed

See Note 25.
International Campaign For Tibet, 2003/11/11, The Qinghai-Tibet Railway: Prosperity or Destruction?
concern that development projects including the Qinghai-Tibet railroad would
continue to promote a considerable influx of Han Chinese, Hui, and other ethnic
groups into the TAR. They feared that the TAR's traditional culture and Tibetan
demographic dominance would be overwhelmed by such migration.31

(2) Control over Tibet, political considerations, drastic change in Tibets

demographic picture, and steps to ensure the Tibetan peoples control
over the situation
The Qinghai-Tibet Railway issue has been closely followed by the
International Campaign for Tibet (ICT). "Crossing the Line: China's Railway to
Lhasa, Tibet,32" an in-depth report from ICT, finds that the railway is being built
mainly to serve the Chinese government's goal of increasing political control
over Tibet. Impact of the railway includes the likelihood of a significantly
increased influx of Han Chinese migrants, and most of the Tibetan people will
not benefit from a railway under the present conditions. According to ICT
President John Ackerly, Competition for funds to build new railway lines
between provinces in China is intense and the Ministry of Railways employs
world-class economists and analysts, who engage in intensive study and debate
to determine sound investment. However, despite economic data showing it to
be a poor investment, the Tibet railway has been mandated by the central
government, according to officials at the Ministry of Railways. Unlike other
railways which are built for economic benefits, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, the
only railway in China mandated by the central government, is being built for
political reasons. The Ministry of Railways has no say over the construction
project and has no choice but to follow orders directly given by the central
government. The railway will cause a major blow to Tibets culture, and the
drastic change in Tibets demographic picture caused by the railway will change

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices -2004 Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights,
and Labor February 28, 2005
International Campaign For Tibet,
The Qinghai - Tibet Railways Impact on Tibet 15

the face of Tibet in many ways. The International Campaign for Tibet calls for
measures to ensure that Tibetans take full control of the railway and that the
railway does not facilitate greater influx of Han Chinese into Tibet.33

(3) The Tibetan people have no say over important decisions in the
course of Tibets transformation.
Professor Robert Barnett, Lecturer in Modern Tibetan Studies at Columbia
University, believes that the Qinghai-Tibet Railway would pose substantial
impact to Tibets social and cultural landscape. Since 1992, China has been
going all out in accelerating development in Tibet to make it catch up with
Chinas western regions in terms of economic development. Yet despite the
sugarcoated rhetoric, Beijings real intention is to make Tibet the same as the
rest of China. According to Barnett, Most Tibetan people I spoke to could see
the benefits of the construction of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway in regard to
economic development, but they also said it would have negative impact and
bring more criminals into the region. I think theyre trying to imply that theyre
worried about the influx of Han people in particular. According to Barnett,
economic activities in Tibet are mainly grasped in the hands of the Han people.
The key question is who should have the final say over important decisions in
the course of development. As the situation unfolds, it is clear that Tibetans are
not the one making decisions.34

(4) The core of the issue in Tibet is one of Tibetan national aspirations,
not material conditions.
Elliot Sperling, Associate Professor of Tibetan Studies and International
Relations at the Indiana University, said that China has embarked on a project

Epoch Times, 2003/9/5,
Epoch Times, 2005/2/17,
designed to further the economic and social integration of the PRC's western
regions with the rest of the country. This project, the "Great Western
Development Strategy (Xibu da kaifa)," has its own implications for Tibet. It is
important to note that while the project does seek to address the stark imbalance
in development that characterizes the differences between areas such as Tibet
and the wealthy coastal regions in eastern China, it also has the potential for
spurring Chinese migration into Tibet and further Sinicization there. Sperling
argued that the core of the issue in Tibet is one of Tibetan national aspirations,
not material conditions.35

(5) Military Applications, Economic Development, and Regional Stability

According to the report by Kate Saunders/Deccan Chronicle, Canada Tibet
Committee, the railway's high-load capacity and all-weather capability would
also greatly ease the delivery of heavy armaments such as field artillery and
missiles as well as heavy machinery for construction. The railroad project is not
only of critical significance to Beijing's plans for accelerated economic
development in the area but is also of tremendous strategic and political
significance to the Chinese government. New evidence shows that the railway
will contribute to the further exploitation of Tibets mineral and natural
resources by China. China's Qinghai Daily describes the railway as the
"political frontline in consolidating the south-western border of the motherland"
in other words, India's border. Its construction will further Beijing's political
objectives to assimilate Tibet into China and ensure "stability" in the region.36

. Analysis

World Tibet Network News, July 26, 2005
The Qinghai - Tibet Railways Impact on Tibet 17

(1) China reaps multiple major benefits in building the Qinghai-Tibet

Tibet is an integral part of Chinas national defense, a buffer zone with
strategic importance and a vast borderline connecting Tibet with its neighbors.
It is the scene of border conflict between China and India back in 1962, and
border disputes still linger on in the region to this date. In a show of harmony,
PRC State Council Premier Wen Jiabao and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari
Vajpayee issued a joint declaration on principles for relations and
comprehensive cooperation at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on June
23, 2003, and there has been improvement in the bilateral relationship since
then.37 Yet despite the friendly gestures, the threat of warfare and clash never
fade away, hence it is natural for China to use the Qinghai-Tibet Railway as a
convenient, efficient tool for the delivery of armaments and troops and logistics
in its strategic deployment. Moreover, with the Tibetan splittist movement still
looming, the railway would come in handy in the future in the suppression of
riots and mobilization of troops, which are needed to ensure Chinas
sovereignty and territorial integrity. The author agrees with the above line of
reasoning deduced by experts, which should be close to Chinas line of thinking
as it seeks to ensure its sovereignty and territorial integrity by building a railway
which provides military and political values and functions as an integral part of
Chinas national defense. Tibet is notorious for being a plateau with undesirable
natural conditions, which include bitter coldness and lack of oxygen. The arrival
of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway would be conducive to Tibets economic
development as it plays a vital role in transforming the economic system of
Tibet from supply-oriented to market-oriented, from blood-supplying to

China signed joint declaration on principles for relations and comprehensive cooperation with India,
Cross-Strait Interflow Prospect Foundation, Asia-Pacific Security Comprehensive Database, 2003/6/25, Last retrieved 2003/6/25%20

(2) The Tibetan culture must brace itself for the impact of modernization
that comes along with the Qinghai-Tibet Railway.
Culture is an expression of lifestyle and emotions, i.e., the kind of lifestyle one
desires. It is an ever-changing idea, not a vague, ambiguous concept. As a
comprehensive, convenient, and efficient means of mass transportation, the
Qinghai-Tibet Railway is bound to have a massive, immediate impact on
Tibets politics, economy, society, and culture. Such a massive impact will
bring in unperceivable changes and demand, and at the same time create a
massive wave of cultural transformation as well as a new world of challenges
and opportunities. While going with the flow of modernization, countries
around the world must brace themselves for the possible impact on traditional
culture. The dilemma is the same for China as well as Taiwan. Similarly, the
Tibetan culture cannot be exempted from the impact caused by the construction
and completion of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway. The Tibetan culture is a gem of
wisdom shared by all Tibetan people, not a monopoly of China, Dalai Lama, or
the Tibetan Government in Exile. The key to the survival and prosperity of
culture lies in its own adaptability. The ruling regime may throw its weight
around and dictate the course of cultural development, but it can never contain
the flexibility and adaptability of culture.38 China and the Tibetan Government
in Exile gave completely different portrayals of the future of Tibetan culture in
their propaganda, and it is difficult to tell which is more likely to come true.
Perhaps it is more realistic to expect China to take steps to protect the Tibetan

(3) Countries such as the US have no right to blow the whistle over the
Qinghai-Tibet Railway.

Yang Kai-hwang, Note 6, p. 56.
The Qinghai - Tibet Railways Impact on Tibet 19

Most comments on the Qinghai-Tibet Railways possible impact on Tibet come

from the press and the academic circle.39 Comments from official channels are
very difficult to come by. Even the US State Departments 2004 Country
Reports on Human Rights Practices in China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and
Macau) opted for a low-key and conservative tone, The Dalai Lama, Tibetan
experts, and other observers expressed concern that development projects
including the Qinghai-Tibet railroad would continue to promote a considerable
influx of Han Chinese, Hui, and other ethnic groups into the TAR. They feared
that the TAR's traditional culture and Tibetan demographic dominance would
be overwhelmed by such migration. Few other websites commented on the
railway. This might be caused by two reasons. The first reason is strategic
consideration in the context of national interests. In the eyes of US Secretary of
State Condoleezza Rice, freedom and democracy are hardly guiding principles
in developing international relations. In July 2000, the Bush Administration
Think Tank installed beneficial relationship with China as top priority in its
report on national interests. Democracy issue was the fifth item on the priority
list.40 The second reason has something to do with international politics.
Construction of the railway, after all, is Chinas internal affairs. Other countries
can only blow the whistle when there is a problem with human rights, cultural
heritage, or environmental protection.

(4) China should respect the opinions of the Tibetan people and allow
them to speak freely on important issues.
Just like what the Chinese officials said, construction of the railway is not
only essential for accelerating economic and social development in Tibet,

Lin Chung-pin: Taiwan Should Switch to Strategic Card Against the US,
improving the quality of life for the Tibetan people, and strengthening economic
and cultural interflows between Tibet and sister provinces, autonomous regions,
and special municipalities, but is also of great significance for consolidating
border defense and strengthening ethnic solidarity.41 The accuracy However, as
discussed above, the Tibetan people still have concerns over the railway, and
these concerns cannot be brushed off as objection for objections sake.
Political rhetoric is often shortsighted and short-lived. 42 In addition, the
uniqueness in Tibets geographical position, ecological environment, and ethnic
culture is well known to the rest of the world. Considerations on Tibets future
development should focus more on preserving such uniqueness than economic
development.43 All Tibetan people inside or outside Tibet are entitled to their
opinions, and should be allowed to speak freely on issues including Tibets
economy, culture, environmental protection, policy directions, and immigration
regardless of their position in the social hierarchy. The collective voice of the
Tibetan people should be useful in finding a new path that meets Chinas
multiple purposes cited above, helps Tibets economic development, and is
supported by the majority of Tibetans.

(5) China should focus on the coexistence and mutual prosperity of, and
the relationship between, economy and environment.
Tibet, dubbed the third pole, the roof of the world, and the top of the
world, should take the environment into account in the construction and
maintenance of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway. China claimed that it has made an
investment of more than 2 billion RMB in environmental protection work for
the world-class, environmental-friendly Qinghai-Tibet Railway, and pledged
that all efforts would be mobilized into building the world first-class plateau

See Note 9.
Yang Kai-hwang, Note 6, p. 98.
Yang Kai-hwang, Note 6, p. 55.
The Qinghai - Tibet Railways Impact on Tibet 21

railway that conforms to strict environmental protection standards. However, as

cited in Our Common Future, a report from the UN World Commission on
Environment and Development (WCED) published in 1987, The intensive
economic activities of mankind are the major cause of global environmental
stresses. Environmental stresses and patterns of economic development are
linked one to another. Environmental and economic problems are linked to
many social and political factors. The systemic features operate not merely
within but also between nations,44 China should fulfill its obligations as a
member of the global village and contribute to the sustainability of Tibet, China,
and the world.

(This paper was presented in the 525th MTAC commissioner meeting and the
1078th administrative meeting on September 12, 2005. Revision was completed
on September 19, 2005.)

world commission on environment and development (wced). 1987. our common future. pp. 37-38 new
york: oxford university press. Cited from Chi Chun-chieh, We Do Not Have a Common Future: The
Political Economy of the Dominant Environmental Concern in the West. Original text published in
Taiwan: A Radical Quarterly in Social Studies, No. 31, 141-168, 1998.

Major Events in the History of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway

1. The PRC center decided in the 1950s to build a railway connecting Lhasa.
Prompted by the PRC leadership, the First Survey and Design Institute of the
Ministry of Railways began preliminary surveying and design for the
2000-kilometer line connecting Lanzhou and Lhasa.
2. In 1973, Mao Zedong said China was going to build the Qinghai-Tibet Railway
when he met the Nepal King Birendra. On November 26, the former National
Development Commission conducted a meeting on the construction of the
Qinghai-Tibet line in Beijing. The Chinese Communist Party Center and the State
Council issued repeated instructions asking the construction units to move forward
with the construction to complete the railway at the earliest possible date.
3. In 1984, Xining-Golmud section begins operation.
4. The Chinese Communist Party Center and the State Council conducted the third
forum on Tibets development in July 1984. Construction of a railway linking Tibet
was brought up in the forum. The idea was welcomed by General Secretary Jiang
Zemin. The post-forum summary cited the instructions move forward with the
preparation work for the construction of a railway linking Tibet.
5. The Ministry of Railways began the preliminary research for the construction of a
railway linking Tibet in 1995. The Ninth-Five-Year Plan of the Peoples Republic of
China on National Economy and Social Development and Outlines of Objectives in
Perspective of the Year 2010 approved in the fourth assembly of the eighth National
Peoples Congress in 1996 specifically requested research for the construction of a
railway linking Tibet to be completed within the first decade of the new century.
6. Officials of the National Planning Commission brought up the idea of moving
forward with the early-stage work for major projects including the Qinghai-Tibet
Railway and the East-West Natural Gas Pipeline in the press conference following
the third assembly of the ninth National Peoples Congress on March 7, 2000. In
November 2000, Jiang Zemin, the former Chinese President, urged to start the
construction project of Qinghai-Tibet Railway as soon as possible. In December
2000, the State Planning Commission summoned an appraisal meeting in Beijing,
The Qinghai - Tibet Railways Impact on Tibet 23

and submitted an official report to the State Council on construction of the

Qinghai-Tibet Railway.
7. On February 8 2001, the State Council opened the premiers work meeting,
listening to the report by the State Planning Commission on construction of the
Qinghai-Tibet Railway and examining the proposed schemes. The meeting
approved construction of the project.
8. On June 29, 2001, the Golmud-Lhasa section of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway started
construction. By the end of the year, the rail base of the Golmud-Wangkun section was
Xinhua News Agency, June 29, 2001,
Compiled by Jung-sung Hsu, MTAC


Four Flagship Projects of Chinas Great Western Development Strategy

Project Duration Costs Descriptions Expected Benefits
The June 2001 July Estimated at 26.2 Building a 1,142-km 1.317 kilometers of track
Qinghai-Tibet 2007 RMB railway stretching from have been laid on the
Railway Golmud in Qinghai to Qinghai-Tibet Railway
Lhasa in Tibet line. Construction is
expected to be completed
on schedule.
2.The operational speed is
expected to exceed 100
3.The railway will connect
Tibet with the interior of
China and facilitate
exploitation of Tibets
natural resources.
The West to First-phase Not applicable as Building coal-fired and 1.The project will increase
East Power construction construction is still hydropower plants on power capacity by more
Transmission began in under way suitable sites in Great than 8 million kilowatts.
November 2000 Western China to form All parts of construction
a horizontal electric are expected to be
network consisting of completed on schedule.
northern, central, and 2.The project will create a
southern routes to nationwide electric
supply power for network for China and
central and eastern alleviate power shortage
China, Fujian, and in central, eastern, and
Guangdong southern China.
The February 2002 Estimated at 120 1.Building a 1.48% of the construction
East-West end of 2005 billion RMB 4,000-kilometer project has been
Natural Gas natural gas pipeline completed. The entire
Pipeline stretching from pipeline is expected to
Lunnan, Xinjiang in begin operation by the end
the west to Baihe of 2004, one year ahead of
Town, Shanghai in schedule.
the east 2.The pipeline will facilitate
2.Launching 5 exploitation of natural
construction projects resources in Great
in Tarim and Kuerle Western China and satisfy
in Xinjiang, energy demand in eastern
Yanchuan Loess China.
Highlands in Shaanxi,
Wuxi High-tech
Development Zone in
Jiangxi, and Baihe
Town in Shanghai
The Construction still Estimated to be Building three lines 1.Construction of the
South-North under way since over 170 billion (eastern, central, and East/West line has begun,
Water its beginning in RMB southern) to divert and the first phase of the
Diversion December 2002, water from upper, southern line is under
Project completion date middle, and lower planning. All levels of the
not applicable Yangtze River to Chinese government are
because water-short north and urging for higher intensity
construction is northwestern China efforts to complete the
running behind project at the earliest
schedule possible time.
2.The project will alleviate
water shortage in northern
China and push ahead
with socio-economic
development in the region.
Source: Taiwan Institute of Economic Research,
The Qinghai - Tibet Railways Impact on Tibet 25

Appendix 1

Sketch map of the route of Qinghai-Tibet railway

The Qinghai-Tibet Railway is the world's highest and longest plateau railway. Some 960 kilometers of
its 1118-kilometer tracks are located 4,000 meters above sea level. About 600 kilometers of the tracks
run on perennial frozen earth. The railway extends from Qinghai's Golmud in the east to Tibets Lhasa in
the west.

Map created by Zhou Da-qing, Zhang Yue, and Xiong De (Released by Xinhua News
Agency, China)

Source: Xinhua News Agency, February 8, 2001,

Appendix 2

International Campaign For Tibet - China's Controversial Railway

in Tibet

International Campaign For Tibet,