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Last Updated:  Monday, 10 March, 2003, 13:13 GMT
China defends Tibet plans
View of Lhasa, the capital of Tibet
Transport links with Lhasa are key to China's strategy
China says it is determined to step up economic development in Tibet, despite environmental concerns.

In a new policy document, the government said that it attached tremendous importance to the environmental protection of Tibet, which China has ruled since 1959.

It even dubbed the controversial Qinghai-Tibet Railway project an 'ecologically-friendly railway'.

But critics dismissed the report as propaganda, and said that in reality the economic development of Tibet was damaging its environment.

The lengthy document outlined a number of environmental initiatives, which it said complemented the economic development of Tibet.

It pointed out that Tibet had one of the least polluted environments in the world, and that not one species in Tibet had become extinct in more than 50 years since China took control of the region.

Although public statements single out environmental priorities, in reality they come way behind strategic and economic concerns.
Kate Saunders, Tibetan specialist

But it said that environmental concerns should not check economic development and criticised supporters of the Dalai Lama and "international anti-China forces" for trying to restore "backward feudal serfdom" to the region.

"Camouflaging themselves with pretensions of concern about eco-environmental protection in Tibet, they want really nothing but to hamper the social progress and modernisation of Tibet", it said.

But Kate Saunders, a UK-based Tibet specialist, dismissed the report as propaganda.

She told BBC News Online: "Although public statements single out environmental priorities, in reality they come way behind strategic and economic concerns".

Railway link

The construction of the 1,140 km Qinghai-Tibet railway, which will connect the Tibetan capital Lhasa with Golmud in Qinghai, is another area of contention.

Tibet is rich in various minerals including coal, aluminium and zinc, which have been difficult to exploit because of poor transport links to the region.

The building of the railway, which is due for completion in 2007, would change that and allow for more efficient extraction and distribution.

Although the government report says that environmental concerns wee central to the railway's development, Ms Saunders said that the Ministry of Railways itself admitted in 2001 that the impact on the ecosystem would be negative.

She also said that another reason for the building of the railway was to allow swift troop movements to China's western frontier.

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