Wednesday, July 05, 2006

HHDL Nehpew Likens Tibet Railway to an "Invasion"

TAIPEI, 04 Jul 2006; (Reuters) -- A nephew of the Dalai Lama on Wednesday likened a railway linking China and Tibet to a second invasion of his homeland, saying Chinese settlers will dilute Tibetan culture and identity and harm the fragile eco-system.

Chinese President Hu Jintao opened the world's highest railway last Saturday, celebrating the first train to Tibet as a feat of national strength and ethnic harmony.

Critics say the railway will spur an influx of long-term migrants that threatens Tibetans' cultural integrity.

"This is the second invasion of Tibet," Khedroob Thondup, whose father is the Dalai Lama's older brother, told Reuters in a rare interview. He regularly commutes between Taipei and Darjeeling in India.

The Chinese People's Liberation Army has occupied Tibet since 1950.

Nine years later, the Himalayan region's god-king, the Dalai Lama, fled to India after a failed uprising.

"Politically, China wants Tibetans to become a complete minority and to dilute Tibetan culture and identity," said Khedroob, 54, who travelled frequently to China with his father in the 1990s for talks which dragged on for about a decade.

"Strategically, Tibet will become one of China's biggest military zones primarily to combat the influence of India. This railroad will complement quick militarisation of Tibet."

Khedroob insisted his views were personal, and not those of the Dalai Lama or the Tibetan government-in-exile, so as to avoid disrupting a new round of dialogue with China.

"They are going to send in a lot of settlers because of this railroad," said Khedroob, a member of the Tibetan parliament in exile and president of the Tibetan Refugee Self-Help Centre in India. "It will harm the already fragile ecosystem of Tibet."

The first train from Beijing to Lhasa arrived on Monday after a 48-hour, 4,000-km journey.

"This is one-way traffic. Tibetans will never go and settle in China," said Khedroob.

China's official Xinhua news agency said the railway that took five years to build could double Tibet's tourist revenues by 2010 and slash transport costs to the region, lifting its 2.8 million people out of isolation.

"The Chinese claim to have spent US$3.2 billion on the railroad which surpasses the total budget for education and health care in Tibet in the last 50 years," Khedroob said.

"If it is hypothetically possible to build a bridge from China to Taiwan, how would the people of Taiwan feel if one billion people were able to merge upon them?" he said of the self-ruled island over which China claims sovereignty.

"We feel like an endangered race now."