China opened the world's highest railway yesterday, linking Tibet with the rest of the country in a symbol of power that President Hu Jintao (
Hu launched the rail line at the mountain outpost of Golmud in Qinghai Province, with the event held to coincide with the 85th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party.
"The project is not only a magnificent feat in China's history of railway construction, it is also a great miracle for the world," Hu said, as railway workers and government officials applauded.
He then cut a ceremonial red ribbon as the first train with 900 passengers on board departed at 11:05am for the 1,142km trip to the Tibetan capital of Lhasa.
Another train departed Lhasa for Golmud moments later amid carefully choreographed dancing at the station by Tibetan and Han Chinese in traditional costumes, with all the events broadcast on state-run television.
The trains, with extra oxygen pumped into the Canadian-built cabins to prevent passengers from suffering altitude sickness, will traverse a mountain pass sitting 5,072m above sea level as they follow the Tibetan plateau.
However, critics argue the railway will allow the national majority Han Chinese to flood in to Tibet, leading to the devastation of the local Tibetan culture, as well as accelerate environmental degradation of the pristine region.
"China's Tibet railway has been engineered to destroy the very fabric of Tibetan identity," Lhadon Tethong, an exiled Tibetan and executive director of Students for a Free Tibet, said on Friday.
"China plans to use the railway to transport Chinese migrants directly into the heart of Tibet in order to overwhelm the Tibetan population and tighten its stranglehold over our people," Lhadon said.
Tibetans in exile said they would wear black armbands yesterday to symbolize a nation in mourning, and to demonstrate in front of Chinese embassies and consulates around the world.
The Dalai Lama has adopted a wait-and-see approach.
"If there is no political motivation and no hidden political agenda, the railway will be good for Tibet. This is why his holiness the Dalai Lama has declared his support for the project," his spokesman Thupten Samphel said.
"But if it brings environmental damage to Tibet, if there are more Chinese colonists, then it will have a disastrous effect on the life of Tibetans in Tibet," he said.
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