China’s economy rides into Tibet

By James T. Areddy, August 24, 2006, The Wall Street Journal – NAGQU, China — China is trying to revive poor rural regions through economic development. In Tibet, the plan has hit a snag: Ni Ma won’t slaughter his yaks. Duan Xiangzheng, a Chinese Communist Party official charged with stimulating the economy in this Tibetan county, is pushing for the systematic slaughtering of yaks to kick-start a meat-packing industry. Mr. Duan says exporting the beefy-tasting meat and drapes of black wool to markets elsewhere in China makes economic sense and is an “inevitable” development.

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Yet Tibet also is still very much a rural place — some 80 percent of its 2.7 million population is spread out on grasslands that cover almost a quarter of the country. Tibetans are protective of their distinctive Buddhist culture, which abhors the killing of animals. Many are suspicious of Chinese interference and some see the economic integration, part of the government’s six-year-old “Go West” policy, as a form of colonization. Tibetans already believe the Chinese are taking over the economy. In Lhasa, it is difficult to find a local-born taxi driver, waiter or laborer, because Chinese from other provinces will work for lower wages.

Even on the $4.1 billion railway project, only about 10 percent of the 100,000 construction workers hailed from Tibet, according to Zhu Zhensheng, a Ministry of Railways official. Now completed, the train promises to deliver an extra 800,000 visitors a year.

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So far, however, there isn’t much cargo leaving Tibet. About 60 loaded freight cars a day have pulled into Lhasa since freight services began in March, some of them ferrying supplies for China’s military. Railway officials say that through July, only about two dozen stocked freight cars left Lhasa for other parts of China. In the Sichuan town of Manigango last year, some 300 ethnic Tibetans rioted and burned down a year-old slaughterhouse operated by Sichuan Longsheng Group. Ranchers said they faced government pressure to sell livestock to the company for slaughter, according to human-rights groups and an official at the company. The slaughterhouse has reopened “but business is not good,” says a Longsheng official. “Tibetans aren’t willing to kill their yaks. They just keep them and raise them,” he says. For Ni Ma, the train had an immediate financial impact. As the construction work stretched into Nagqu, he was hired as part of the preparation crew. The work tripled his $250 yearly herding income. Now the railroad is complete, Ni Ma says he recognizes the potential of a business-like approach to slaughtering his yaks. But for “family” reasons, he says he still isn’t comfortable with it in practice.

(Read this whole very long article on post-gazette.com).

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