|By Phurbu Thinley
The first train from Lhasa Railway Station travels on the Tibetan grasslands near Lhasa, Tibet Saturday July 1, 2006. China's high-speed, high-altitude railway to Tibet carried troops to the region for the first time, state media reported late Friday Nov. 30, 2007, in a development likely to fuel concerns about the railway's impact on the restive Himalayan area. (AP Photo/Color China Photo)
China’s state controlled news agency on Monday glorified the new railway linking Tibet to the rest of China and addition of another airport as factors mainly responsible for the drastic rise in the tourist influx into the Himalayan region saying a record four million tourists will have visited Tibet this year.
The number of tourists will have jumped over 60 percent from last year bringing in an expected 4.8 billion yuan (650 million dollars) in tourism revenues, 73 percent more that last year, Communist State’s news agency said.
But China’s state controlled media dare not to raise concerns about the railway's impact on the restive Himalayan area.
Ever since the railway was first launched on July 1 last year, exiled Tibetans have raised fears that the railway is being used as a tool to consolidate Beijing’s hold over Tibet and further dilute the region’s unique Buddhist culture.
Tibetans and critics have also maintained that one of the purposes of the Tibet railway was to transport troops in larger numbers and at much reduced costs from the mainland China into the Tibetan territory.
China, in the meanwhile, kept a stony silence over the allegations and also refrained from immediately using the railway for this purpose in order to avoid giving rise to a new controversy.
However, the recent move confirms Beijing's strategic purposes. Xinhua News Agency, last month, reported China's high-speed, high-altitude railway to Tibet carried troops to the region for the first time.
The brief report on November 30 did not say how many soldiers were aboard the train that left a provincial city Friday for the Tibetan capital of Lhasa.
The report cited unnamed sources in the People's Liberation Army as saying that the "railway will become a main option" for transporting troops to Tibet, replacing the air and road routes used since Chinese troops occupied Tibet in 1950.
Exiled Tibetans condemn the railway as being primarily designed to further accelerate the Chinese population transfer into Tibet, where Han Chinese population is already said to have outnumbered the Tibetan population.
Tibetans argue the rail line is allowing the region to be flooded with more ethnic Han Chinese, who are dominating the business and, eroding the Tibetan traditions and linguistic identity.
The latest report released by Tibet's government in exile on World Human Rights Day last week accuses China of sidelining Tibetans and endangering the fragile region's environment.
The third comprehensive report of its kind titled- Tibet: A Human Development and Environment Report
, said Beijing should stop dictating and give Tibetans a say in how the high plateau region is developed.
The report said China was to blame for erosion of Tibetan culture, partly because of a new railroad linking Beijing to the capital, Lhasa, which has brought an influx of the Chinese Han majority and huge numbers of tourists.
The report has pointed out that China has been carrying out large scale exploitation of the highland plateau’s resources in the name of economic development which do not actually benefit Tibetan people. The report also finds China’s railway to Tibet is also making it easier for Beijing to mine Tibet, which is rich in iron, copper, zinc and other minerals, and speedy construction of numerous dams that will provide hydroelectric power needed to fuel China's growing economy.