Mon, Sep 10, 2007 - Page 2 News List

Activists say Tibet railway is `tool of conquest'

WRONG OWNER Although Beijing argues the railway is for the welfare of Tibetans, many contend that it can only benefit Tibetans if its administration is in their hands

By Loa Iok-sin  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Qinghai-Tibet railway completed last year is a "tool of conquest" that serves to strengthen China's "colonial rule" in Tibet, Tibetan rights activists said yesterday during a conference on human rights in Tibet.

Yesterday was the second and final day of the International Symposium on Human Rights in Tibet, held in Taipei by the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission and co-organized by the Taiwan Culture Foundation and Taiwan Friends of Tibet.

The construction of the 1,956km Qinghai-Tibet railway that connects Xining, capital of Qinghai Province, and Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, began in the 1970s.

However, as a result of technical difficulties, the construction was halted after the section from Xining to Golmud was completed.

In 2001, more advanced engineering technology allowed for construction of the rail line to resume. The Golmud-Lhasa section was finally completed and came into service last year.

Although the Chinese government said the construction of the railroad was for the welfare of Tibetans, Tibetan rights activists see it otherwise.

"A railway can be a tool of conquest," said John Ackerly, director of the International Campaign for Tibet.

"During colonial times, railways can be used as a tool of colonial rule and resource extraction," Ackerly said.

Zeng Shan (臧山), a former Chinese geological engineer who worked in Tibet for five years during the 1980s, backed Ackerly's views with his own experience.

"In the 1980s, mining authorities in China discovered three rare minerals in Tibet: Chromium, sylvite and gold," Zeng told the audience.

"With the railroad completed, the transportation costs of the minerals can be lowered by a large margin -- however, I doubt local Tibetans will benefit much from the extraction of their resources," Zeng said.

Rinchen Tashi, deputy director for the International Campaign for Tibet, voiced other concerns.

"Operation of the railroad has strengthened Beijing's political control over Tibet and sped immigration to the center and west of Tibet as well as the assimilation of Tibetan culture," he said.

Ruan Ming (阮銘), consultant with the Taiwan Research Institute, said the railroad is essentially good and important for economic development in Tibet, but warned that "it should be a good tool for Tibetans, but [only] in the hands of Tibetans."

Participants' opinions were divided when it came to what Tibet support groups worldwide should do as the 2008 Beijing Olympics approach.

Willy Fautre, president of Human Rights without Frontiers International, said that groups should pressure heads of state to turn down the invitation to participate in the games.

However, Ross Terrill, a senior East Asian research scholar at Harvard University, disagreed and believed that all heads of state should accept the invitation.

While they are in Beijing, they should "hold a joint press conference on human rights," Terrill said. "That would be much more powerful."

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