Xinhua: Qinghai-Tibet Railroad to Begin Trial Operation on July 1, 2006

March 8, 2005

Minister of Railways Liu Zhijun announced that the controversial Qinghai-Tibet railway will commence trial operations on July 1, 2006, according to a March 7 Xinhua report. The 1,142-kilometer (714-mile) section from Golmud, in Qinghai province, to Lhasa will be completed by the end of 2005. More than 80 percent of the sector will be above 4,000 meters (13,124 feet) elevation and will have a high point of 5,072 meters (16,641 feet). When construction began in 2001, officials estimated the cost at 26.2 billion yuan ($3.16 billion); but the figure has now risen to some 30 billion yuan. According to Xinhua, when the railroad opens for business in 2007 and connects Lhasa to Xining, the capital of Qinghai province, the Tibetan region will be linked to "the major cities of Beijing, Chengdu, Shanghai, and Guangzhou."

CECC Comment

Officially designated one of China’s top infrastructure projects, the railway will end the TAR’s status as the only provincial-level area in China without rail service. Chinese officials defend the project, saying that it will boost trade, create jobs, and raise the standard of living. Analysts outside China suggest that the railway’s most profound impact may be on the population mix, officially 15 Tibetans to 1 Han, and point to the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region as a precedent. Railroads there were built decades ago, and ethnic Han now outnumber ethnic Mongols by more than five to one.

Tibetan officials in the TAR dismiss the notion that ethnic Han influx into the TAR is either a current issue or will become one. Chairman of the TAR government Nampa Phuntsog said in a 2003 interview that "bad weather and geographical conditions" will keep Han from staying permanently, and "the ratio of ethnic groups in Tibet will not change dramatically."

Recognizing that international pressure could not halt the railroad’s construction, foreign advocacy groups instead adopted more activist tactics. A report by the International Campaign for Tibet called for measures to limit the influx of non-Tibetans, ensure that Tibetans enjoy a significant share of economic benefits, provide Tibetans a free and meaningful voice in planning and management, and take into account the full range of environmental consequences.

China’s effort to improve the project’s image by attracting international participation has met with little success. Xinhua reported on February 25, however, that Railways Minister Liu had announced that a consortium led by Bombardier, a Canadian industrial group, had signed a $329 million contract to manufacture 367 "state-of-the-art" cars for the railway. The consortium operates a factory in Shandong province and won Chinese contracts worth more than $500 million in 2004.

Additional information about the Qinghai-Tibet railway and related issues is available in the CECC 2004 Annual Report.