By Dolma Tsering*
Recently the Hindustan Times published an article by the Chinese government diplomat to India, titled “China’s Tibet: A story of Progress”. The article gives a quick overview of how Tibet had progressed in the last 60 years under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. Among hosts of topics that he covers, economic development of the region stands out as one of the most important subjects, where he mentioned that “the region over the last 26 years enjoyed double-digit GDP growth rate and is leading the country”. Like every other propaganda published by the Chinese government, this article also has two key features: statistics and glorification of those statistics. This short assessment on the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), as a response to the ambassador’s article attempts a quick assessment of the TAR economy with the help of statics published by the National Bureau of Statistics, PRC.
Economic development as an agency has played a series of crucial role in China’s Tibet policy. It served as an important propaganda tool to legitimise the Chinese government policies and leadership in Tibet. It also served as a significant card that is often being helpful for the Chinese authority to divert discussion on human rights violations in the region, particularly in international platforms. Since the late 1990s, after series of protests in Tibet and internationalisation of Tibet issue, the government has adopted “development and stability” as the cornerstone of China’s Tibet policy. Subsequently the government had pumped huge amount of state investment in the region. Therefore, economic development of the region is not only an effective propaganda tool, but the government also hopes to bring stability in the region through development.
A quick overview of the TAR economy: 60 years of Democratic Reform
The TAR economy is one of the fastest-growing economies in China, particularly about the GDP growth rate. The regional GDP growth has increased from 129 million Yuan in 1951 to in 2018 was 147.763 billion RMB Yuan (Sun Weidong: 2019). For the 26 years, the region has successfully maintained the required double-digit GDP growth rate when the national economy struggles to maintain a 6 per cent GDP growth annually. The rapid GDP growth of the region served as one of the unique features of the regional economy. Such rapid GDP growth of the region stuns many given that the majority of the labour shares of the region are absorbed in sectors that have made least contribution in the regional total GDP share.
Nevertheless, over the last 60 years, the TAR economy had witnessed a massive transformation. The total GDP share of the agro-pastoral economy or the primary sector had declined from 97 per cent share in 1951 to 9.7 per cent in 2017. The tertiary sector that has 2.7 per cent (1951) of the regional total GDP share has increased to 51.7 per cent in 2017 (CSYB, National Date: 2017). By the end of 2017, the two biggest sectors of the region, in terms of GDP contribution are the construction sector and the public management and party organisation sector. These two sectors had about 46 per cent of the regional total GDP share. It is important to note that GDP value of these two sectors is driven by subsidised investment from the central government and by other provinces through Aid Tibet Policy (See Andrew Fischer 2005, 2014 about the role of state subsidies in the TAR GDP share).
In short, the rapid GDP growth of the TAR is determined by the state investment in these two sectors. In other words, when it comes to the economic development of the region, infrastructure development and investment in public security had a dominant position in the regional development policy perspective. These two sectors had major role in maintaining regional stability.
Nevertheless, the rapid GDP growth rate had a major impact on change in the employment structure of the region. The rapid GDP growth and the structural transformation over 60 years had led to the shift of labour from the primary sector to the service sector. Unfortunately, the majority of such shift has occurred towards the low value-added sector like wholesale and retail sector plus hotel and catering services. In 2016, these two sectors had about 40 per cent of the employment share of the tertiary sector and about more than 20 per cent of the regional total employment share(CSYB, National Date:2017, Tibet Statistical Yearbook:2017). Therefore, the primary sector (37.4%), plus, wholesale and retail and the hotel services sector has more than 56.2 per cent of the regional total employment share. It is important to note that most of the wholesale and retail business value of the regional are low as one can see from the GDP contribution of these two sectors, which was 5.6 per cent in 2016( Tibet Statistical Year Book:2017). In addition to these sectors, region had experienced a rapid increase of self-employed persons of 448,000 persons in 2017(CSYB, National Date:2017). If we summarise, the majority of the TAR employed persons are dependent on sectors that have low total value-added. The rapid GDP growth has led to the shift of labour towards, informal and unorganised that fails to guarantee decent income and benefits like insurances and pension enjoyed by the organised and formal sector. By the end of 2016, about 70 per cent of the TAR total employed persons are engaged as well as employed in sectors with GDP contribution about only 20 of the regional GDP share(Tibet Statistical Year Book:2017). Therefore, value-added of per employed persons of the majority of employed person in the TAR is poor and little impact on the overall growth of the Tibetan living standard. A major concern is, with the top-down rural resettlement projects and a growing number of the Chinese migrants, the competition for employment and business opportunities is will further increase. Given the Chinese migrants’ language advantage in the market, if government fails to create genuine economic opportunities for Tibetan, the hypothetical analysis of development and stability will prove false soon.
The sectors that have the largest GDP share of the region, in 2016, has only about 17.3 per cent of the regional total employment share (Tibet Statistical Yearbook: 2017). The construction sector and the public management and party organisation that had more than 40 per cent of the regional total GDP share with about less than 20 per cent of the regional total employment share. The public sector, especially those engaged in the public management and party organisation, are the major beneficiaries of the rapid GDP of the regional economy. Therefore, it is clear the income inequality between the organised sector and the unorganised sector remains critical and a clear case of marginalisation of the majority of Tibetan in wake rapid GDP growth economic development strategy.
Furthermore, the sector like education, health and culture protection has the lowest GDP and employment share. The total GDP share of each of these three sectors in 2016 accounted for less than 3 per cent of the regional total. The total number of employed persons in these two sectors accounted about less than 3 per cent of the regional total employment share (Tibet Statistical Yeabook:2016)
The data published by the Chinese government indicate the marginalisation of Tibetan in public, organised and formal sector. The rapid GDP growth had led to a shift of employment structure towards unorganised and informal sector. The employment stability of the region is worse than the agro-pastoral economy enjoyed by the majority of the Tibetan population until today. The construction sector and the public management and party organisational are the major drivers of the regional rapid GDP growth rate. The region may have experienced an unprecedented robust GDP growth but failed to produce a quality growth.
* Dolma Tsering is a Ph.D candidate at Centre for East Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University and currently studying Chinese language course in National Chengchi University, Taiwan.