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Beijing Review Archives
Special> China's Tibet: Facts & Figures> Beijing Review Archives
UPDATED: May 7, 2008 NO. 20, 1991
Tibet: 40 Years' Economic Development
By Li Rongxia, our Staff Reporter

Located in the south central part of Tibet, the middle reaches of the three rivers are the region's heartland; it is Tibet's most densely populated area and a centre of politics, economics and culture. With a population of 764,200, one third of Tibet's total, the area now has 100,000 hectares of cultivated land, almost half of the region's total. Grain output and commodity grain production respectively account for 56 percent and 80 percent of the region's total. The area is rich in light energy and water resources. Some 53 sites have underground thermal water activity. About 80,000 hectares of wasteland can be reclaimed. Some 37 ore deposits have been discovered, the reserves of 17 of which have been verified. Of these, the reserves of chromite total 3.9 million tons, representing 40 percent of the country's total.

This river development programme includes 50 or so water conservancy and other projects. After the programme is put into practice, four large bases for the production of commodity grain, non-staple food, textiles and handicraft and the dissemination of science and technology-will be set up. It is estimated that in five years, grain production will increase by over 45 million kg, meat 8.8 million kg, butter 470,000 kg and electricity 69 million kwh.

The construction of the Yamzhog Yumco Pump-Storage Power Station has been resumed. Located in Nanggarze County, south of Tibet, the Yamzhog Yumco Lake is about 800 square km in size and at an elevation of more than 4,400 metres. It is the largest fresh water lake north of the Himalayas Mountain.

Early in 1959, geologists found that the Yamzhog Yumco Lake possessed tremendous water resources. In 1974 engineers and technicians conducted an on-site survey and decided to build a power station using the 840 metre fall between the Yamzhog Yumco Lake and the Yarlung Zangbo River. In 1981, the power station was listed as a state project. Construction began in 1985, but stopped in 1986 because some top Tibetan personnel worried that the construction of the station would have an adverse impact on the environment. Later research proved that there would be no adverse impact on the environment and, in August 1989, the state approved resumption of construction and allocated 600 million yuan for the purpose. The power station will be installed with six sets of 15,000-kw water-pumping and power storage generators.

At present, construction is on schedule and the first generating set will begin operation in four years. The station will not only meet Lhasa's need for electricity, but also form a large generating network linking Lhasa, Xigaze and Shannan, helping the three-river development programme.

The government will continue to exploit geothermal resources. In February this year, another two generating sets were installed in Tibet's Yangbajain Geothermal Power Station, expanding the station's installed generating capacity to 25,180 kw. After 16 years of development and use of shallow geothermal heat, the station has been changed from an experimental project to a major producer of electricity.

Tibet is very rich in geothermal resources. At present, more than 600 heat sources have been found. The Yangbajain station was the first geothermal power station built in Tibet in 1977. As of now, the state has invested a total of more than 200 million yuan and generated a total of 370 million kwh of electricity. It is the biggest station in Tibet and its annual output of electricity constitutes more than 40 percent of Lhasa's power network.

In recent years, the first- and second-phase projects for the No.2 plant of the Yangbajain station were completed and construction of the third-phase project is in full swing.

The geothermal development in Tibet has attracted many Chinese and foreign geologists and energy experts. Geothermal experts from the United States,Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Italy and the UN Development Programme have gone to Yangbajain on technical exchange programmes many times. After conducting a survey, the UN Development Programme and the Italian government thought the prospects for development were quite good and so provided US$9million in free assistance.

Tibet's geothermal resources are a unique type of energy. The industry has a prosperous future and will play an important role in Tibet's economic development.

With the rapid economic development in Tibet, the Lhasa Gonggar Airport cannot meet transportation demands. Therefore, the state decided to invest 268 million yuan in the expansion of the airport. The project has been listed as a state key project.

The expansion project includes a new runway 4,000 metres long and 60 metres wide, parking apron, a booking office building and a set of communication and navigation facilities of advanced national level as well as a new office building for airport personnel. Design work for the expansion project began in March 1989 and construction in July 1990. At present, it is going smoothly. After the completion of the project, the airport, which can only accommodate Boeing 707 now, will be used by larger civilian passenger planes and cargo aircrafts including the Boeing 747. Its handling capacity will be expanded, related facilities added, and services improved daily, thus providing the conditions for opening new domestic and international routes.

A Ten-Year Plan

"We have many things to do, but according to Tibetan reality, priority should be given to the development of agriculture, animal husbandry, energy resources, transport and post and telecommunications in the next ten years," said Ma Lisheng, vice-chairman of the government of the autonomous region.

Ma said that agriculture and animal husbandry were the backbone of the Tibetan economy. Their gross output value made up 80 percent of the gross industrial and agricultural output value, and people engaged in farming and livestock breeding accounted for over 80 percent of the region's total. But currently the production of agriculture and animal husbandry is relatively backward. Every year about 150 million kg of grain has to be transferred from inland, thus putting a crimp into economic development. More emphasis therefore needs to be put on agriculture and animal husbandry in the 1990s. The first step of the process is to develop the three-river area.

Regarding energy development, hydroelectric power should be stressed as geothermal, wind and solar energy are used as a supplement. Efforts shall be made to complete on schedule the Yanzhog Yumco Station and the Yangbajain Geothermal Station. The installed capacity shall be increased at a rate of 8 percent annually. By the end of the century, the installed capacity of power in Tibet will be increased from 140,000 kw in 1989 to 360,000 kw.

In the field of transport, efforts shall be made to improve and maintain the Qinghai-Tibet, Sichuan-Tibet and XinjiangTibet highways, and to accelerate the construction of the new section of the China-Nepal Highway (Zhasa-Zham), the Nagqu-Qamdo Highway and the Lhasa-Burang Highway, and to build the Bome-Medog Highway.

In the field of posts and telecommunications, efforts shall be made to emphasize construction of new satellite receiving stations, to gradually develop a programme-controlled telephone system linking Lhasa to various parts of the region. At the same time, there will be improvements in the border communication work and a strengthening of the rural power station construction.

Ma said that in the 1990s,there would be new breakthroughs in Tibet's construction. Every effort will be made to develop production, laying a solid foundation for the further development in the 21st century.

(This article appears on page 19, No. 20, 1991)

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