Since the 19th Party Congress, where Chinese President Xi Jinping’s pet project “Belt and Road Initiative” has been moulded into the constitution of the People’s Republic of China, China is witnessing a new trend among its regional governments. They are seen formulating projects in order to secure resources from Beijing and to cash in on this broad and largely undefined “initiative.”
According to a recent report in Xinhua, the official state-run press agency of the People’s Republic of China, China is planning to build three new airports in Tibet.
China will build these three new proposed airports in Ngari, Shigatse and Lhoka. The construction of the airports, “all above the altitude of 3,900 meters, should begin in 2019,” the report said.
The report has also given names of the companies that will undertake the construction of these airports. The report said, “Capital Airport Holding Company will be responsible for the construction of the airport in Shannan, Shanghai Airport Authority responsible for the airport in Xigaze and West Airport Group responsible for Ali.”
According to a source who is well acquainted with the region, it is believed that the airport in Lhoka is going to be built near the historic Lhuntse Dzong. The site where His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama declared the so-called 17-Point-Agreement — which was signed under duress – void on 29 March, 1959.
Currently there are five operating civil airports in the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region, which are in Lhasa, Chamdo, Nyintri, Ngari and Shigatse.
In another report in an English daily based in Hong Kong and commented on by a researcher of the Tibet Policy Institute, China has discovered a new mine in Lhuntse Dzong in Tibet which is valued at nearly US$60 billion by Chinese state geologists.
In an article published on tibetpolicy.net, Tempa Gyaltsen writes: “As per 2010 Chinese census, Lhuntse County has a population of 35248, with more than 99% being Tibetans. But the demography could quickly change as expansion of mining activities in the region would attract thousands of Chinese migrant workers, accompanied by cluster of Chinese shops, restaurants and night clubs. The area also has a heavy military presence whose numbers were not included in the local population census.”
In another report, China has developed a new data centre for tourism and traffic information.This data centre is aimed at being a one-stop office for all travelers’ need in Lhasa.
Although failing to cite the relevant source of data, the report suggests staggering number of tourists visiting Tibet. It said, “Statistics showed that in the first five months of 2018, Tibet received 5.6 million tourists, up 38 percent year on year. Total revenue rose 41.4 percent to 7.1 billion yuan (about 1.1 billion U.S. dollars).”
These new developments since the 19th Party Congress could have huge implication beyond China. These projects could pave way for China to easily and quickly deploy its forces along the long Himalayan border it acquired after annexing Tibet.
It is difficult to ascertain to what extend will these projects transform the demography in specific areas in Tibet as reliable and relevant data are hard to come by. However, these projects should be seen in the light of all other projects to connect Tibet with China’s heartland. As the tentacles of Chinese development projects now spread through the folds of mountainous Himalaya in Tibet and now inching closer to India’s border where two Asian giants square up miles above the sea level, one could only hope that the sparks doesn’t flare up.
*Dr. Tenzin Desal is a research fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Tibet Policy Institute.