Qinghai-Tibet Railway Begins Operation

July 25, 2006

President Hu Jintao inaugurated passenger service to Lhasa on the Qinghai-Tibet railway in a July 1 ceremony in Golmud, Qinghai province, according to a Xinhua report dated the same day. Hu, however, did not join the approximately 600 government officials, model railway workers, and Chinese journalists who were selected to make the first trip from Golmud to Lhasa. The Chinese leader described the railway’s completion as "an important expression of the constant increase in the comprehensive national strength of our country," and of "very great significance" to accelerating regional economic and social development and "enhancing ethnic solidarity and consolidating the motherland’s frontier defense" (Xinhua, in OSC 1 July 06). Ragdi (Raidi), an ethnic Tibetan who currently serves as a Vice-Chairman of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC), described the railway during its first week of operation as the Tibetan people’s "road to heaven." He predicted that the railway would "have a profound and far-reaching historical significance," according to a July 6 Xinhua report.

Official news media reports also rejected the assertions of critics that the railway will result in increased ethnic Han migration into the TAR, or threaten Tibetan culture and the environment. A July 1 Xinhua editorial dismissed claims that "an influx of the Han people" would lead to Tibetan "cultural genocide," countering that the railway will benefit Tibetans by providing them access to "modern civilization." According to another Xinhua report the same day, Lhasa mayor Norbu Dondrub said, "Tibetan culture will not disappear when there is market demand for it." He added that, "The Tibetan culture will not have fundamental changes with the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway. On the contrary, it has a bright future." Wu Yingjie, the Vice-Chairman of the TAR government, told foreign reporters that "Tibet’s unique natural conditions make it impossible for the Han people and other ethnic groups to settle down here," according to a July 12 Xinhua report. Wu's statement is inconsistent with official Chinese census data that record an increase of Han population in the TAR from 80,837 in 1990 to 158,570 in 2000.

Passenger traffic from Beijing to Lhasa averaged 800 persons per day, or 95 percent of the daily train's capacity, during the first 10 days of operation, according to a July 12 China Tibet Information Center report. During the initial period, however, the railway did not serve all the routes that official news media had announced in May. Trains from Shanghai and Guangzhou did not begin service on July 1, as senior railway officials had previously announced, even though tickets on the first trains reportedly were sold out. A June 27 China Daily report (via Xinhua) commented on the revised schedule, saying, "[A]s we learned yesterday, there will only be three pairs of passenger trains running between Lhasa, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, and Beijing, Chengdu/Chongqing, and Xining/Lanzhou during the trial operation period."

Minister of Public Security Zhou Yongkang congratulated the People's Armed Police (PAP), the Public Security Bureau, and the Railway Public Security Bureau on July 4 for maintaining "normal social order" throughout the inaugural period, according to a July 12 report by the International Campaign for Tibet. Zhou said that the security forces had "strengthened safety and security work in every aspect, guaranteed the celebration and safety of the first train . . . and laid the solid foundation of the safety for the entire line of this railroad in future." At a June 15 conference in Lhasa, Vice President Zhang Jun of the Supreme People's Court said that the courts of the TAR and Qinghai province must be active participants in the "comprehensive management of public security" along the railway. Wang Yibin, the head of the TAR Public Security Department, spoke at the conference about judicial requirements linked to the TAR’s "current anti-splittist struggle and public security situation."