By Lindsay Beck
BEIJING, Feb 28 (Reuters) - China’s railway to Tibet has strengthened government control in the remote region and led to policies that marginalise ethnic Tibetans, a U.S.-based advocacy group said on Thursday.
Nearly two years after the world’s highest railroad was completed at a cost of $1.4 billion, the International Campaign for Tibet said it was accelerating an influx of Han Chinese into the region and threatening its fragile high-altitude environment.
"Only a re-orientation of economic strategy towards local integration -- in effect ‘Tibetanizing’ development -- .... could reverse the trend of marginalisation and estrangement," the group said in its report, "Tracking the Steel Dragon".
Such marginalisation was undermining the efforts of China’s ruling Communist Party to maintain stability in the region its troops invaded in 1950, the report said.
China’s Foreign Ministry dismissed the key claims of the report and praised the Qinghai-Tibet railway for improving exchanges.
"We believe the Qinghai-Tibet railway has played a positive role in promoting Tibet’s economic and social development," spokesman Liu Jianchao told a news conference, adding it had proved a "huge benefit".
The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising and has since lived in exile in India.
But with Beijing hosting the Olympics in August, the status of Tibet has joined the list of issues that activists say China must address, such as human rights and its policies towards Sudan and Myanmar. The Dalai Lama has said Tibet supporters should protest peacefully against Chinese rule during the Games.
"Tracking the Steel Dragon" cited Tibet scholars as saying that despite years of Chinese diatribes against the Dalai Lama, a new generation of young Tibetans was increasingly exchanging views in cyberspace on sensitive issues. Chinese officials have also warned of an increase in activity by his supporters.
The report called for an overhaul of Chinese policies in Tibet, advocating preferential treatment for Tibetans in education and training opportunities, and locally oriented development of services and industries.
"We are urging governments to call for a proactive, affirmative and preferential policy towards Tibetans, while foreign investors in Tibet must implement guidelines that aim to ensure the genuine participation of Tibetans in the development of their economy," Mary Beth Markey, the group’s vice president, said in a statement.
The development model China is pursuing based on infrastructure projects and resource extraction was not sustainable and was leaving Tibetans dependent on subsidies from the central government, the report said.