Tibet poised to become part of ‘Belt and Road’ initiative

Tourists outside the Potala Palace on the eve of the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday.—PHOTO: ATUL ANEJA  

China’s efforts to forge a new social contract with people of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), based on generous subsidies, jobs and education, appear to be paying off, with the booming Tibetan capital showing little signs of remembering the Dalai Lama on the eve of his eightieth birthday.

At the tastefully lit square at the base of the famed Potala Palace — the seat of the Dalai Lama — crowds of tourists armed with selfie-sticks routinely pictured themselves against a cluster of fountains, without a overhang of heavy-handed security.


Yet, it was unlikely that the grandeur of the Potala Palace — sharpened by the late evening illumination — and the accompanying atmosphere of convivial, would have erased from public memory the horrific spurt of self-immolations that have periodically rocked parts of the TAR.

Ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, there was serious rioting in the Tibetan capital at the popular Barkhor Street, adjoining the nearby Jokhang temple. Four years later, the same area became the scene of the first self-immolation in Lhasa.

The Jokhang temple is an iconic structure, which is regularly jammed with Buddhist pilgrims.

Amid wafts of smoke emitted by clusters of butter lamps, they weave their way through dimly lit corridors, stopping most reverentially at an enclosure where Songstan Gampo, the founder of the temple is flanked by his two brides — princess Wenchang of the Chinese Tang dynasty and Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal.

A world heritage site, the Jokhang temple remains one of the vibrant symbols

of the shared Buddhist heritage of China and South Asia.

In a White Paper on Tibet released in April, the Chinese have slammed blamed the Dalai Lama group of forinstigating self-immolations.

The website of “The International Campaign for Tibet (ICT)” — a pro-Dalai Lama organisation — claims that 141 Tibetans, including 116 men and 25 women have self-immolated since February 27, 2009.

A day ahead of Dalai Lama’s birthday, Chinese officials bracketed the sporadic protests in Tibet with the string of engineered “regime changes” that have rocked large parts of the globe.Without abandoning religion, Chinese authorities seemed to have cracked any legitimacy concerns by “secularising” governance through massive doses of infrastructure development, leading to TAR’s physical integration with China’s economic mainstream.

Construction boom

Tibet is now poised to become an important component of President Xi Jinping’s pan-Eurasian Belt and Road initiative. Its position on the Eurasian railway map has been reinforced by the construction of the Qinghai-Tibet railway, which has reached Shigaste, close to the borders of Nepal and Bhutan. Lhasa, the capital, is experiencing a jaw-dropping construction boom, as new housing complexes, factories and education complexes mushroom.

Nevertheless, a Xinhua news agency report acknowledges that Tibet faces the problem of an aging society, as nearly 10 per cent of the population is above 60. “At least 2,340 senior citizens in cities and 13,000 in rural areas have neither a pension nor a family for support,” it observed.

Its position on the Eurasian railway map has been reinforced by the construction of the Qinghai-Tibet railway