FACTBOX: Why is remote Tibet of strategic significance?

Tue Mar 25, 2008 6:23am EDT

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(Reuters) - Tibet's unique history and strategic significance, sharing borders with India, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar, make security and stability higher priorities in the remote Himalayan region than in other parts of China, analysts say.

Here are some key reasons the region known as 'Xizang' -- 'western storehouse' or 'western treasure-house" -- in Mandarin is of special significance.

GEOPOLITICAL:

-- Tibet marks China's western edge and is a vital link between China, south and central Asia.

-- Like restive Xinjiang to its north, it was part of ancient trade routes. From the 7th to 20th centuries it was fought over by invading Mongol, Chinese, Nepalese and British forces.

-- In 1962, China fought an unresolved border war with India from the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). Years of talks to resolve ownership of an icy Austria-sized area, called Arunachal Pradesh by India, and as part of Tibet by China, have made little progress.

INTERNAL STABILITY:

-- Developing infrastructure in Tibet and nearby provinces with large Tibetan communities is a major part of China's Western Development Campaign.

-- Launched in 1999 to reduce the wealth gap between China's impoverished western hinterlands and rich eastern seaboard, the central government has invested billions in Tibet.

-- In 2006, China opened the first rail route into the isolated area. In 2007, it pledged to invest $13 billion in Tibet up to 2010, and build the world's highest airport in west Tibet.

-- Ironically, some analysts say China's economic push to ensure stability and unity helped fuel discontent that saw Tibetans attack Chinese-run businesses in Lhasa in early March.

WATER:

-- Tibet is dubbed 'Asia's Water Tower'. The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is a crucial water source and store for China, whose unevenly distributed water resources are said to be in crisis.

-- Tibet's glaciers and snow-fed highlands feed Asia's great rivers, the Brahmaputra, Mekong, Yangtze, Indus, Yellow and Salween.

-- Mineral water from the plateau has become one of the region's first commercially tapped resources since the Qinghai-Lhasa railway cut transportation costs in 2006.

OIL, GAS, MINERALS:

-- China's biggest copper deposit is at Tibet's Yulong copper mine. Tibet also has large iron, lead, zinc, and cadmium deposits, minerals China needs to feed its booming economy.

-- Geologists say Tibet has significant crude oil and natural gas reserves. But its harsh, high-altitude terrain makes extraction costly and challenging, and there is no significant commercial production at present.

TOURISM:

-- By 2010, about six million tourists, double the current number, will visit Tibet, the regional government said in July 2006. That amounts to about 10 percent of China's total expected tourist draw of more than 60 million tourists in 2010.

-- Tibet's tourist revenues are expected to double to at least $770 million by 2010, contributing about 12 percent of its gross domestic product, officials said.

CAREERS:

-- Analysts say the Tibet Autonomous Region acts as a strategic career stepping stone for senior Communist Party leaders.

-- President Hu Jintao oversaw attempts to calm the last serious bout of unrest in Lhasa in 1989, during his 1988-1992 stint as party secretary in the region.

Source: Reuters, Xinhua

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