One person’s aid is another’s oppression. Or so it always seems in Tibet, where the CCP is striving, as usual, to create harmony through relatively lavish investment.
They come by new high-altitude trains, four a day, cruising 1,200 miles past snow-capped mountains. And they come by military truck convoy, lumbering across the roof of the world.
Han Chinese workers, investors, merchants, teachers and soldiers are pouring into remote Tibet. After the violence that ravaged this region in 2008, China’s aim is to make Tibet wealthier — and more Chinese.
Chinese leaders see development, along with an enhanced security presence, as the key to pacifying the Buddhist region. The central government invested $3 billion in the Tibet Autonomous Region last year, a 31 percent increase over 2008. Tibet’s gross domestic product is growing at a 12 percent annual rate, faster than the robust Chinese national average.
The perennial problem, of course, is that a lot of Tibetans feel they get the short end of the stick, with job opportunities and favors going disproportionately to the Han Chinese. The more investment and “progress,” the more disenfranchised many Tibetans seem to feel.
Robert Barnett, a scholar of Tibet at Columbia University, said the goal of maintaining double-digit growth in the region had worsened ethnic tensions.
“Of course, they achieved that, but it was disastrous,” he said. “They had no priority on local human resources, so of course they relied on outside labor, and sucked in large migration into the towns.”
Now, a heavy security presence is needed to keep control of Lhasa. Around the Barkhor, the city’s central market, paramilitary officers in riot gear, all ethnic Han, march counterclockwise around the sacred Jokhang Temple, against the flow of Tibetan pilgrims. Armed men stand on rooftops near the temple.
It’s not quite Lost Horizon.
The article doesn’t overlook the fact that much of the aid and investment is appreciated by many Tibetans. But with the apartheid-like pattern of Han bosses and Tibetan laborers as well as simmering resentment over education (classes are conducted in Mandarin) and CCP indoctrination, not to mention armed Han guards patrolling outside their temples, it’s a safe bet ethnic strife won’t be going away any time soon.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.