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The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Beijing
"The challenge is formidable, but the Chinese Government says it is determined"
 real 28k

Friday, 9 February, 2001, 10:02 GMT
China plans Tibet railway
The Tibetan capital of Lhasa
Lhasa at present has no rail link
China has approved plans to build a railway to Tibet, 50 years after such a project was first proposed.

The railway will be the highest in the world, with 80% of its track at an altitude of over 4,000 metres, the official state news agency Xinhua reported.

The proposed railway would link Lhasa with Golmud in Qinghai province
The Chinese Government says the rail link will speed the economic and social development of Tibet, and President Jiang Zemin is said to have given his personal backing to the project.

But supporters of Tibetan independence say that the real purpose is to make it easier for Beijing to move troops into the region.

Challenging project

The railway will cross some of the highest and most inhospitable terrain on earth, including permanently frozen ground in the Himalayas.

Construction of the 1,118km (693 mile) line - from Golmud in Qinghai province southward to Lhasa - is expected to take at least 10 years to complete and cost roughly $2.5bn.

The Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama is concerned about possible uses of the railway
Critics of the railway say it will encourage exploitation of Tibet's natural resources, including minerals and timber.

And the Tibet Information Network says it will speed the migration of ethnic Han Chinese to Tibet, where they already outnumber indigenous Tibetans.

The Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, is urging international corporations and lending agencies to shun the project.

A railway to Tibet was first proposed more than five decades ago, but was shelved on grounds of cost.

Chinese soldiers invaded Tibet in 1950 and China has been encouraging ethnic Han to move to the area for 40 years.

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See also:

05 Feb 01 | South Asia
China warning over Karmapa Lama
07 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Tibet protesters target Chinese Embassy
23 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
China 'beating' Tibet separatism
07 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
World Bank rejects Tibet land plan
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