Business, Finance & Economics

Can Tibetans be bought?


A Tibetan worker builds the house on June 21, 2009 in Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region, China.


Feng Li

China has announced its intention to spend $47 billion on the unruly Tibetan Autonomous Region before 2015.

The money, according to state-run Xinhua, will go toward 226 key projects ranging from infrastructure developments — like new highways linking Tibet with China's interior regions — to health care to better access to tap water and more.


That's very, um, generous of you, China.

Or is it?

Throwing money at the problem of restive populations isn't a new development for China. It's been going for years, and not just in Tibet.

China recently declared its desire to transform the Uighurs autonomous region, Xinjiang.

Hardly a selfless act, China was clear about wanting to turn Xinjiang into a major production base for petroleum and other energy-related industries.

A closer look at Tibet, and China's motives there are also far from altruistic.

China's new proposal for Tibet more than doubles what it spent on the region between 2006 and 2010.

That fact, coupled with the latest tourism figures out of Tibet (6.2 million folks came through in the first eight months of 2011 — a more than 20 percent jump from 2010), suggest that China's view of Tibet is changing. 

Just maybe not in the ways Tibet would like to see.

China knows a business opportunity when it sees one.

An added bonus, of course, would be to inject some good old-fashioned Han Chinese culture in there alongside the Tibetans.

Professor Samdhong Rinpoche, former head of the head of the exile Tibetan administration, told the pro-Tibetan independence website that China's efforts in the region only serve to dilute Tibetan culture.

Ever since the new railway line to Lhasa became operational in July 2006, it has facilitated Chinese population transfer to the plateau, contributing to the deterioration of Tibet's environment and provided easier means of exploitation of Tibet's enormous natural resources.

So, I suppose the question is, will it work?

Will, as the Shanghaiist wonders aloud, Tibetans "harmoniously fall in line if their standard of living is improved year-on-year"? 

It's worked until now for most of the rest of China.