By Tenzin Dharpo
Qinghai Tibet railway/file
DHARAMSHALA, Oct. 12: China is set to begin work on a new railway line in occupied-Tibet, dubbed the “world’s most challenging” railway line. President Xi Jinping on Wednesday announced the “full launch” of the planning and construction work of the ambitious Sichuan-Tibet railway line in Beijing.
The project costing 250-billion-yuan ($36.16 Billion) will see the coverage of 1700 kilometers track with train travelling at a speed of 160 to 200 kilometers per hour. The mammoth project is expected to be completed by 2026, media reports said.
The line that will cross through the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, considered one of the world's most geologically vibrant terrains. The new project when completed is expected to supplant the Sichuan-Tibet highway that remains closed for up to six months due to natural disasters and will reportedly cut travel time from Chengdu to Lhasa from 48 hours to about 13 hours.
Sun Zhang, a rail expert and professor at Shanghai Tongji University told official mouthpiece Global Times
, "The shortened travel time will enable faster movement of goods and people between Tibet and wealthy regions of China, injecting new vigor into Tibet's economy."
However, there is skepticism on what other purposes the lines may be used for. International observers say that millions of Chinese have migrated into Tibet over the course of the last few decades, essentially outnumbering Tibetans in their own homeland. Exile Tibetans have also accused that with migration of Chinese settlers into Tibet, majority of the economic benefits have also been reserved for ethnic Han Chinese mass.
The Qinghai-Tibet railway line that opened in 2006 espoused similar sentiments of development and prosperity for Tibetan. On the contrary, exile Tibetans say that marginal economic benefit for Tibetans have far outstripped overall living conditions and rights of the repressed natives.
Also the new line will, China’s state-run Global Times
said, promote ethnic solidarity, safeguard national unity and consolidate the stability of the frontier, as well as bolstering Tibet's economic and social development. Observers however say that national unity and stability of the frontier are standard euphemisms for more domestic clampdowns and more offensive campaigns into India which shares 4057 kms of border with Chinese controlled regions including Tibet.