September 17, 2008

Tibet: Authorities Admit to Migration Policy Role

Sample ImageChinese authorities concede migration policies played a role in Tibetan unrest.

Below is an article published by the International Campaign for Tibet :

At a government conference in Lhasa on September 2 [2008], the TAR Deputy Party Secretary Zhang Yijiong acknowledged that there had been many 'problems' with management of the 'floating population' of Chinese migrant workers to Tibet, particularly since the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet railway. Zhang specifically linked this problem to the security situation when he said that: "All areas and all departments in Tibet should, from the strategic high ground of protecting state security and protecting Tibet's stability, deeply understand the important significance of carrying out well service and management work for the floating population in Tibet." The comments suggests that the Chinese authorities are aware that large-scale migration from China was a destabilizing factor in the recent protests in Tibet, particularly on March 14 [2008] in Lhasa, when Tibetans burnt shops and houses belonging to Chinese.

The authorities rarely acknowledge the issue of Chinese migration to Tibetan areas, and sometimes officials have denied the scale of it. Relevant statistical information on in-migration to Tibet is generally not published, and it is not known with certainty whether it is even compiled. Migration into Tibet is generally actively encouraged under China's ambitious 'Western Development Strategy' (xibu da kaifa) and is enshrined in legislation as a part of the Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law (REAL). This is in contrast to the situation in China, where the migration of people to cities and other areas is actively discouraged by means of a system of residency registration.

Tibetan fears that the opening of the new railroad from Golmud in Qinghai to Lhasa would result in a 'second invasion' of Chinese people to Tibet were well-founded. In its first year of operation, the railroad transported 1.5 million passengers into Tibet, according to official statistics, and the majority of these people were migrant workers or business people rather than tourists. Tibetans in Lhasa have been increasingly marginalized, and appeared to reach a breaking point on March 14 [2008], when a confrontation between monks at the Ramoche temple, local people and security personnel broke out into a riot. This was suppressed with extreme brutality and a crackdown imposed that is still in force today.
TAR Deputy Party Secretary Zhang Yijiong made his comments about Chinese migration to the inaugural meeting of the TAR Floating Population Services and Management Work Leading Small Group held in Lhasa on September 2 [2008].

The meeting was presented as part of a broader nationwide agenda to better manage China's vast 'floating population' of migrant workers, which by some estimates amounts to 250 million people - that is, almost 20% of the entire population of China on the move and in search of steady employment and income.

Despite the limited acknowledgement of the problems in Tibet with regard to this population flow, Zhang Yijong's other comments suggested that rather than considering the imposition of curbs on migration or attempting to otherwise ameliorate its effect on the Tibetan population, the Chinese authorities are instead intent on providing improved services and support to the migrant workforce in Tibet. Zhang also said: "The floating population is an important force for constructing a Tibet which is well-off in an all-round way, a peaceful Tibet and a harmonious Tibet. The Party must therefore persist in serving them well and... enable them to enjoy in equality the results of social and economic development and thoroughly feel the generosity of the Party and government." It was not clear in the reports from the conference as to exactly what measures the Chinese authorities in Lhasa and elsewhere in Tibet will take to address their concerns about 'state security' in relation to the migration issue.

Analysts have observed that there is no doubt that the Chinese state has a far greater role to play in coordinating health, education and other social provisions for Chinese migrants. When migrant workers leave their registered place of residence, they then have no access to state-provided services. Migrant workers from China's rural hinterlands are generally poorly educated compared to their urban counterparts, and therefore tend to be offered only menial or dangerous employment in China's cities, leaving them and their children socially and economically vulnerable.

In the Tibetan context, however, when these same migrant workers travel to Tibet in search of work they are generally educated to a higher level than the local Tibetan population, and are therefore more employable - the average female migrant worker from rural Sichuan province looking for work in Lhasa is better educated than the average local Tibetan male in the same labor market. In addition, migrant workers in Tibet are often favored over local Tibetans because of language - the Sichuan dialect has become the language of business in Lhasa - and because of a familiarity with Chinese work practice.

The TAR is one of the only jurisdictions in the People's Republic of China where migrant workers have a natural advantage over the local workforce, and can expect better employment prospects and better salaries than their local counterparts.

Even the official Chinese media has reported estimates by observers that 'more than half' of the population of Lhasa is now non-Tibetan, and with the opening of the railway the number of migrants coming to Lhasa is growing rapidly. In the coming years as part of far-ranging plans to attempt to turn Lhasa into a hub of regional trade, the size of the city is to be expanded by 60% and accommodate a population increase of 110,000 people, according to official reports. Some Chinese scholars and policy makers expressed concern about this trend even before the riot erupted in Lhasa in March [2008]. Chinese academic Ma Rong from Beijing University pointed out as early as 2003 that the trend of using migrant labor within centrally managed development strategies in the western regions of the PRC including Tibet, coupled with neglecting to provide adequate education and training opportunities for local people created the risk of serious ethnic tensions.

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