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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tibetans Reap Little From Beijing Money

NAQU, Tibet -- In Tibet's sprawling heartland, where yaks and sheep far outnumber people, Chinese bureaucrat Duan Xiangzheng pictures the region's organic meat speeding some 2,900 kilometers by rail to Shanghai dinner tables and doubling herders' incomes.

"This is not a dream or an illusion," says the sturdy, 50-year-old communist chief of the Naqu prefecture. He points to a new high-speed railway running through Naqu, connecting the high-altitude grasslands and its 355,000 nomads and 7.5 million livestock to the rest of China.

"Before, to send one head of yak by these high mountain roads to the inland market meant a financial loss," he said. "Now, we have the railway and we want money and we want our Tibetan families and ordinary people to be busy and bustling."

But a typical response comes from Lawang, 23, who said his family of herders does not want to slaughter animals en masse, even for more money. Rather than winning over Tibetans, China's carrot-and-stick approach seems to deepen the gulf.

Under Chinese rule and especially in the past decade, much has changed. Apart from trains, phones and airports, the muddy tracks of central Lhasa have been widened and paved, and many neighborhoods in the city of 550,000 now resemble mid-sized Chinese cities.

But its largely nomadic population live in traditional felt tents, many with no electricity or running water.

The high-ceilinged and artfully muraled Lhasa station at the end of the new railroad takes its cues from traditional Tibetan architecture. But its architect was Chinese, and its marble floor tiles and the pine covering its 21-meter columns come from distant Chinese provinces.

With government subsidies, Tibet's economy has grown an average of 12.7 percent per year from 2000 to 2004, outpacing much of the rest of China, the government said.

Some say, however, that as quickly as Beijing's money pours into Tibet it is redirected back to Chinese businesses put in charge of the infrastructure projects.

"Boomerang aid," Andrew Fischer of the London School of Economics called it.

Only 20 percent of the 5,400 laborers who built the station, and 10 percent of the 100,000 workers who built the railway, were Tibetans, Railway Ministry officials said. They argue that there are not enough skilled Tibetan laborers for such jobs.

Fischer, the economist, agreed, but blamed China, saying it was over-investing in Tibet's infrastructure and skimping on education for Tibetans, effectively barring them from reaping the benefits of the economic boom.

China is investing billions in government money. If only they could get the Tibetans to go along.