July 3, 2006

Tibet: Political Repression Intensifies as Tibet Railway Opens

The world's highest railway across the Tibetan plateau opens Saturday (1 July) in Lhasa in an increasingly repressive political climate
The world's highest railway across the Tibetan plateau opens Saturday (1 July) in Lhasa in an increasingly repressive political climate. Security is tight in Lhasa this week as the government steps up its patriotic education and "strike hard" campaigns, and Tibet's Party chief emphasizes a "fight to the death struggle" against the Dalai Lama and his supporters.

Completion of the 1,142 kilometer rail link from Golmud (Ge'ermu) in Qinghai province to Lhasa in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) despite the high cost and considerable technical difficulties reflects the Beijing leadership's political and strategic objectives in the region.

Described by the official press as the "center-piece" of China's high-profile campaign to develop the Western regions, the $4.1 billion rail link1 connects Lhasa with Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Guangzhou via Xining, bringing Beijing much closer to achieving the goal set by Mao Zedong over 40 years ago to integrate Tibet with China.

Chinese President Hu Jintao, a former Party chief of Tibet, is rumored to be boarding the first train to Lhasa as Beijing draws attention to its technological and engineering achievements in constructing the railroad, approximately half of which is built on permafrost, or frozen earth. New methods have been pioneered in order to build a fixed track on the unstable, moving ground of the high plateau.

In the buildup to the railroad opening, senior Party leaders have intensified their focus on the "anti-separatist struggle" in Tibet, indicating their determination to crack down on any dissenting views and actions.

At a meeting last month in Lhasa, the new TAR Party Secretary Zhang Qingli called for the intensification of the political "patriotic education" campaign, as he said the Party is engaged in a "fight to the death struggle" against the Dalai Lama and his supporters.2 Zhang, who was formally appointed as TAR Party Secretary on May 26 from a senior post overseeing the immigration of Chinese into ethnic Uyghur areas in Xinjiang (East Turkestan), described the Dalai Lama as "the biggest obstacle hindering Tibetan Buddhism from establishing normal order".

TAR Party leaders also focused on the need to "strike hard" against any possible "illegal activities along the railroad" and to "assure the harmony and stability of the Qinghai-Tibet area, particularly the safe operation of the railroad" through legal mechanisms, at a conference in Lhasa on June 15.3.

Over the past ten years in Tibet, administrative and legal mechanisms have been developed by the Chinese government that enable them to clamp down on any activities such as religious practice or peaceful protest that could be described as a threat to social stability and national unity, while claiming that they are operating according to a "rule of law".

This report is accompanied by new images of the development of Lhasa and the construction of the railway, demonstrating its impact on the Tibetan landscape and people. The Qinghai-Tibet railway is the most visible and costly element of China's "Great Leap West" (Chinese: xibu da kaifa),4 a high-profile political campaign, initiated by the then Party Secretary and President Jiang Zemin in 1999-2000.

This drive to develop the Western regions of the territory claimed by the People's Republic of China affects 56% of China's land area and almost a quarter of China's population, including Tibetans, Uighur Muslims and other "national minorities".