These occasional events are used by Beijing to mark important moments in Tibet policy—the first followed on Hu Yaobang’s reform initiative in 1980 and the second, in 1984, announced a series (43) of mostly prestige projects in Tibet; some were financed by various Chinese provinces in an initiative called the ‘Help Tibet’ campaign.
The Third Work Conference last July served to reinforce the support of the central leadership for rapid economic growth and hardline positions on religious and nationalities policy. Unlike the 1984 meeting, emphasis was placed on “strengthening basic industries and the improvement of infrastructural facilities”. As President Jiang Zemin explained to Xinhua, “a relatively longer period of time is needed to lay the foundation of socialist market economy in Tibet, due to the undeveloped commodity economy and other reasons”.
In fact, the proposals approved by the July conference, like several already implemented since 1992, represent an unprecedented and ambitious attempt to make Tibet more accessible and profitable for the mainland economy, through infrastructure development. Energy generation and improved facilities for road and air travel will increase the profitability of resource extraction, allow for greater population density and reduce Tibet’s remoteness.
The Work Conference unveiled 62 projects as its development flagship, half of them funded or supported by provincial and municipal governments (24 percent of the total 2.3 billion Yuan investment). Included are three high-profile and somewhat controversial schemes, the power station at Yamdrok Lake (opposed by the late Panchen Lama), the Pangda airport renovation in Chamdo Prefecture, and ‘China’s largest chromite mine’ known as ‘Norbusa’ in Lhoka Prefecture. Also prominent is highway construction on the Nepal and Qinghai routes.
A surfaced road to Tsethang (Lhoka) has already been completed. As reported by Tibet Press Watch in October, the US-based pressure group International Campaign for Tibet has also picked up a report that the long-mooted Qinghai-Tibet railway (dreaded by Tibetans, longed for by Beijing planners, and conspicuously absent, from the 62 projects) is to be revived at anew projected cost of 20 billion Yuan. However, this has not been confirmed and seems to be belied by the serious investment already committed to road construction.
Among the 62 projects are also included the construction of middle schools, communications development such as telephone exchanges and a TV receiving station, a new Xinhua bookstore in Lhasa, agricultural development, and a water supply scheme in Shigatse. Tourism and food processing are also covered.
Overall, the development aims are clear: generating energy and improving infrastructure mainly for industrial use and fostering an economic climate favourable to economic migration from the mainland. Virtually all of the projects have been awarded to non-Tibetan contractors, and several have gone to the People’s Liberation Army and the People’s Armed Police (Wu Jing).
The first of September, 1995, will be the 30th anniversary of the founding of the TAR, and its official celebration will be used to inaugurate the New Lhasa, with its gleaming modern architecture and wide boulevards. There is presently a construction frenzy in the city as workers struggle to meet the deadline.
For devout Tibetans, however, the wood-pig year (beginning in March 1995) is an inauspicious time for any such undertaking, since it is the khak or obstacle year in the personal astrology of the Dalai Lama, a time when the whole country is prone to disaster. The “New Tibet” is founded on such contrasts and contradictions, and the latest series of ostentatiously modern chrome and glass facades in Lhasa will be no exception.