LIFE IN LHASA RETURNS TO NORMAL: Vehicles run on a street in front of Potala Palace in Lhasa, capital of Tibet Autonomous Region, March 19, 2008. (Xinhua)
Tranquility was smashed in Lhasa, capital city of Tibet Autonomous Region on March 14. Armed with stones, bricks and sticks, the rioters left a trail of crimes, including beatings, smashings, lootings and arson, victimizing ordinary residents in the city. How did the violence happen? And what was the impact? On March 24, Beijing Review Feng Jianghua interviewed Tanzen Lhundup, Research Fellow and Vice Director at the Social and Economics Institute, China Tibetology Research Center.
Beijing Review: How has the riot affected the lives of local residents?
Tanzen Lhundup: The riot has seriously disrupted the social order and daily life of local residents. About a dozen innocent residents were killed; adults could not go to work as usual and were afraid to walk on the streets; kids did not dare to leave schools without the company of their parents; shop owners had to close their businesses. The good part is that the local government contained the unrest within two or three days, and restored social order. The government has remained confident and resolute, demonstrating strong governing ability and improved crisis management skills.
How do the local residents see the riot?
The greatest wish for local residents in Tibet is to live a peaceful, happy and prosperous life. Right now, Tibetan residents are on their way to prosperity and are generally happy with their lives. The recent violent crimes were plotted by a small bunch of people. The criminals did not only break the law, but also went against the will of local residents and hurt their interests.
What are the expectations of Tibetan residents for the social and economic development in Tibet?
The Chinese Government has a consistent policy and mission-that is to improve the living standard of the people and let Tibetan people fully enjoy the fruits of reform and opening up. To lift the Tibetan people out of poverty, the Central Government has supplied the Tibet with a large amount of personnel, materials and funding. The Central Government has paid for most of the fiscal expenditures of the local government and infrastructure construction in Tibet. In fact, for every 10 yuan ($1.40) that the government of the Tibet Autonomous Region spent, 9 yuan ($1.26) is from the Central Government spends.
With an average altitude of more than 4,000 meters above sea level, Tibet is known as the roof of the world. Underdeveloped transportation has retarded social and economic development in the region. Now with policy support from the Central Government, infrastructure development in Tibet has leaped forward. In the old days there were no modern roads in Tibet. Now a complex network of highways, airlines and railways covers Tibet. The first railway in Tibet, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, was opened on July 1, 2006, turning a new chapter in Tibet's history. Improvement in transportation has boosted industrial development in Tibet. A diversified modern industry system with Tibetan characteristics has been established.
With social and economic development, the living standard of the Tibetan people has been significantly improved. One of the most obvious changes is that improvements in transportation have brought more tourists to Tibet, invigorating the local catering and hotel industries, enlarging the demand for the production of Tibetan-style artifacts such as Thangka and wood sculptures, and boosting employment and the revenues of local farmers and herdsmen.
On the other hand, to protect the economic interests of local residents, the regional government stipulates that non-local enterprises investing in Tibet must hire local residents and meet a minimum wage requirement. In addition, infrastructure projects funded by the Central Government are primarily contracted out to enterprises in Tibet, so as to promote local employment and benefit the local residents.
Tibet residents have long enjoyed free healthcare services. Medical care is provided by a medical network covering both the urban and rural areas, and by medical teams consisting primarily of members from the Tibetan ethnic group. The region's improved healthcare system and living standards have brought about a population boom. Now the population in Tibet has increased to 2.7 million from 1 million before 1959. The infant mortality rate has dropped to 3.1 per thousand from 43 per thousand in 1959, and average life expectancy has increased to 67 from 35.5 in 1959.
Today, the lifestyle of Lhasa residents, especially that of the younger generation, is very close to that of Beijing residents. People are clad in fashionable clothes and dine out for tasty meals. Booklovers can read a host of publications, including 14 magazines and 10 newspapers in the Tibetan language. Netizens can surf cyberspace in Internet bars.
Recently, Premier Wen Jiabao expressed that the government's preferential policy toward Tibet will not change under the new leadership born at the 11th National People's Congress. In the next five years, the government will invest more in Tibet and promote fast and steady economic and social growth in the region. Under the preferential policy, more and more Tibetan residents are living a moderately prosperous life, and are looking forward to a promising future. Social stability is the precondition for prosperity.
Who wants to trade a peaceful and prosperous life for turmoil? The recent violent crimes have obvious political intentions. Most of the Tibetan residents strongly resent the riot. Many Tibetans risked their lives to rescue and protect the Han Chinese. This indicates harmony between different ethnic groups in Tibet, which is a key reason that the riot can be controlled so soon.
Will the riots hurt social and economic development in Tibet?
The incident will affect social and economic growth in Tibet in the short run. The government will keep close watch on the impact. In the long run, no one can block social and economic development in Tibet. The historical trend is irreversible.
Admittedly, while overall social and economic development in Tibet is satisfactory, there are still some challenges. In the three decades since the launch of the reform and opening up policy, the southeast coastal regions of China have been growing rapidly, eclipsing the economic growth in Tibet. To maintain lasting stability in Tibet, it is necessary to expedite the growth speed in Tibet, so as to shrink the gap between Tibet and the developed regions of China.
In my opinion, the recent riots will remind the Tibetan people to better cherish the peaceful and stable lives they enjoy now. In the meantime, the riot also helped the government realize that to maintain lasting harmony and stability in Tibet, it is important to improve the living standards of local residents and empower them to enjoy the fruits of modernization.
Facts and Figures in Tibet 2007
Total retail sales figures for consumer goods reached 11.2 billion yuan ($1.59 billion) in 2007, up 24.9 percent year-on-year over the previous year. The output growth of Tibet's industry sector hit 2.6 billion yuan ($368.8 million), increasing by 17.7 percent from the previous year.
Urban per capita disposable income reached 10,720 yuan ($1,521). The average net income of farmers and herdsmen stood at 2,788 yuan ($395), up 14.5 percent year-on-year.
A total of 697 million yuan ($99 million) went toward social causes in the Tibet Autonomous Region, of which 472 million yuan ($67 million) was invested in education to build 39 standard primary schools in rural areas and 13 junior middle schools. The enrollment rates of Tibet's primary school, junior middle school, senior middle school and college education were, respectively, 98.2 percent, 90.7 percent, 42.96 percent and 17.4 percent last year. The illiteracy rate among youths and adults dropped to 4.76 percent.
The medical system in the farm and pasture areas in Tibet benefits all farmers and herdsmen, with the per capita medical subsidy increased to 100 yuan ($14).
Science and technology development played a more important role in promoting economic growth in Tibet as the autonomous regional government devoted 56 million yuan ($7.9 million) and the Central Government allocated 111 million yuan ($15.7 million) of the state science fund to fund science and technology upgrades there.
The radio and TV coverage reached 87.8 percent and 88.9 percent, respectively.
The autonomous regional government invested 758 million yuan ($107.5 million) in housing projects for low-income residents and subsided a total of 56,000 families, or 294,000 farmers.
The construction of roads as long as 9,616 km was completed in rural areas to connect 94 townships and 848 villages. By the end of last year, a population of 180,000 in 348 villages in 96 townships enjoyed access to electricity and 332,800 local residents had access to clean and safe drinking water.
Postal services were available in 61 major townships, and villagers in 700 villages were connected to the outside world through their phones.
Thanks to the local government's reemployment-aid efforts, Lhasa became the country's first capital city without a jobless family. About 95.41 percent of more than 8,000 college graduates in the autonomous region found jobs last year. The minimum standard of living for city residents in Tibet was 230 yuan ($32.60).