January 11, 2010 / 2:18 PM / 10 years ago

China pledges more investment, religious controls in Tibet

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese leaders have pledged to increase investment in Tibet this year while keeping the restive region’s Buddhist monks on a tight leash, state media have reported, in an effort to use economic growth to quell dissatisfaction.

Tibetan monks take part in a religious gathering inside the Tashihunpu monastery at Shigatse Tibet Autonomous Region November 25, 2009. REUTERS/Nir Elias

Demonstrations in Lhasa that turned deadly on March 14, 2008 made the Chinese central government more aware of the economic roots of unrest in Tibet, although widespread demonstrations across the plateau were officially blamed on separatists loyal to the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader.

Economic growth for the remote region is targeted at 12 percent, and fixed asset investment at 18 percent in 2010, regional governor Qiangba Pingcuo announced this weekend, following estimated economic growth of over 12 percent in 2009.

Qiangba also said that the government planned to finish registering the qualifications of all living Buddhas, monks and nuns, in a speech on priorities for the upcoming year.

Tibet’s monasteries are kept under a close watch by Chinese authorities, since the monks and nuns have often called for more freedoms for Tibetans as well as maintaining links to the exile community.

Tibet’s economy has grown more quickly than the rest of China, sped by the completion of a railway to Lhasa and large mining projects, but those projects have also brought more Chinese migrants to Tibet, leading to many Tibetans’ perceptions that they have been left out of economic growth.

Since the demonstrations, the government boosted training programs and subsidies to raise employment in Lhasa, the Xinhua news agency said in a separate report Monday, which also implicitly recognized the economic roots to the unrest.

The new investment targets helped lift Tibet-related stocks on Chinese stock markets Monday. Engineering and construction firm Tibet Tianlu jumped by over 7 percent on Monday, while Tibet Tourism and agriculture-to-Internet conglomerate Tibet Galaxy rose by 10 percent.

The train line to Lhasa, which officially opened in mid-2006, has enabled large-scale mining projects in Tibet, including the Yulong copper deposit, under development by Western Mining and Zijin Mining Group Co Ltd. Spurs to other Tibetan cities are expected to be completed this year.

The Tibetan demonstrations were followed by far more violent riots in July 2009 in Urumqi, capital of another ethnically distinct region where locals feel they are not benefiting from China’s economic development.

Reporting by Lucy Hornby; Editing by David Fox

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