'India can help develop Tibet'

Published : Sep 02, 2000 00:00 IST

- Liu Bo, Deputy Division Chief, Development and Planning Commission, TAR.


No major economy in the world has grown at such a high rate as China's over the past two decades. Against this background, the economy of the Tibet Autonomous Region has developed rapidly over the past six years, achieving an annual growth rate higher than the national average. As China prepares to unveil its western development strategy, Tibet is preparing to take full advantage of this and get its economy to take off. I interviewed Liu Bo, economist and Deputy Division Chief of the Development and Planning Commission, Lhasa on Tibet's current economic situation, recent trends, and the emerging future. Excerpts from the briefing and interview:

TIBET is located in south-west China and covers an area of 1.2 sq km, accounting for one eighth of the total area of the country. In terms of area, it is the second largest of China's autonomous regions and provinces, after Xinjiang. According to our sta tistics, by the end of 1999 the population of Tibet was about 2.5 million. Tibetans are about 96 per cent of this population and Han and other ethnic groups together make up 4 per cent.

Since India and Tibet share a boundary, I believe you must have quite a good understanding about Tibet. Before peaceful liberation, the industrial and agricultural base was very, very weak and the people's living standards were very low. After peaceful l iberation, under the leadership of the Communist Party of China, with the support of various provinces and municipalities and from across the country, the economic growth has been considerable. There have been great achievements. That means Tibet has bee n transformed from a serf society into a socialist society.

In 1965, the Tibet Autonomous Region was founded. During the Cultural Revolution, that is, from 1966 to 1976, owing to reasons known to all, economic development in China was greatly damaged. During that time, the progress of Tibet was very slow. Since t he Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, when the policies of reform and opening to the world were adopted, there have been three national conferences on the development of Tibet. The first and second co nferences were held in 1980 and 1984 and during these meetings, many preferential policies were worked out for the socio-economic development of Tibet. After these meetings, the economic development of Tibet has accelerated. After the third national conf erence on work in Tibet was held in 1994, economic growth in Tibet has been above 10 per cent per year, which is higher than the country average. Last year, the GDP growth rate was 9.6 per cent. In other words, for six consecutive years our growth rate h as been close to 10 per cent a year.

In Tibet we had a target of quadrupling the GDP of 1980 by 2000, but this target was fulfilled ahead of schedule, in the year 1998. Last year, the GDP of Tibet was 10.561 billion yuan. The per capita GDP was 4,100 yuan. However, although Tibet saw rapid development in the last several years, owing to its weak foundations, it still lags behind. The per capita GDP of Tibet is about 60 per cent of the national average.

As for the number of people below the poverty line, it is not easy to answer that question briefly. In terms of poverty, every region has its own yardstick. So this is a relative, not a definite concept. The poverty-stricken population in Tibet, in stati stical terms, is below 100,000. But if you look at the real situation, the population below the poverty line may be more. In Tibet, we had an estimated 480,000 poverty-stricken people in 1993-94. In 1993, the central government launched a poverty-allevia tion plan and it was very effective. With the support of the central government and different municipalities and provinces, the proportion of Tibet's population living below the poverty line has been reduced to the current figure. As you know, the geogra phy and climate of Tibet are very harsh. The distribution of farmers and herdsmen here is very wide and scattered. This makes our poverty-alleviation work very difficult. It is not like India, which is a very nice, congenial land.

All the provinces have participated in these efforts. But to be precise, 15 provinces (and municipalities under the central government) have been involved in one-to-one support efforts. In 1994, a decision was made at the Third National Conference on Wor k in Tibet to make two provinces support each prefecture. As you know, Tibet has seven prefectures. That means 14 provinces (and municipalities) were involved. Later, the administrative units of China changed. Chongqing Municipality was promoted as a mun icipality under the central government. So it became 15.

China is the world's largest developing country. The 15 provinces (and municipalities) chosen to support Tibet are not really rich themselves. Anyway, they have tried their best to support Tibet in terms of supplying financial and material resources and sending talented cadres. There have been grants and soft loans but in view of the poor economic foundation in Tibet, most of the financial support is in the form of grants. This has been a very important factor contributing to the rapid growth of Tibet o ver the last six years. I do not have precise statistics right now, but these grants add up to more than ten billion yuan.

In the beginning, the main industries were forestry and then we developed mining. At that time, the development of forestry was mainly for the purpose of production or construction. This sector has shifted to a focus on afforestation. In Tibet, national handicrafts are an important sector but the development of this sector is very moderate, smooth but not very quick. Recently, we have had some modern industrial development in cooperation with other provinces. For example, we have developed a beer brewer y, a mineral water factory, and also Tibetan medicine enterprises. Some companies have gone public. In fact, we have six companies that are listed in the stock market.

Investment costs in Tibet are not low. The altitude is more than 4,000 metres on average. The climate is very difficult. The cost of building a power plant is two or three times the cost in the hinterland, or in India. For some remote areas in Tibet, the cost will even be four times what it is in other regions. For our backward region, we lack many things, including qualified people, technology, and funds. But funds is the most important thing.

The central government has adopted the policy of strategic development of western China. For Tibet, this is a very important, historic opportunity. To be more specific, the development of infrastructure will be promoted, especially public transportation and aviation facilities. In addition, more financial resources will become available for ecological protection. Owing to the fact that Tibet lacks qualified people and considering that our farmers and herdsmen are poorly educated, we give great attention to the development of education in terms of both hardware (the campus, buildings and so on) and software (mainly teachers). We think education will be the basis of our development.

The general plan of developing western China is under composition. In Tibet, we are making corresponding plans. After the plan is complete, it will be submitted to the CPC committee here in Tibet and the Tibetan government for approval. After that, we wi ll start implementing this plan. Under the leadership of the government of TAR, our Development and Planning Commission is responsible for this. We have been working on this for a year now and the plan will probably be ready at the beginning of next year - that is, the final stage. It's an intricate, sophisticated system.

As for economic restructuring, we have made plans and also undertaken rectification on a regional technical and organisational basis. The relations among the primary, secondary, and tertiary sectors in Tibet are very irrational. That means the shares of the primary and tertiary sectors are too big and the share of the secondary sector is too small. Our policy will be to promote the stable development of the primary sector; we will make great efforts to promote the secondary sector, and at the same time take a positive attitude towards the development of the tertiary sector. As for regional layout of industries, Lhasa will remain the centre of industrial development and north Tibet will focus on the development of animal husbandry. As for the eastern pa rt, we will adopt collaborative development. We will give more freedom and flexibility for the western part of Tibet.

The restructuring of State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) in China is a very harsh task. As for Tibet, we do not have much of this but the historical burden is heavy. The problems SOEs face are complicated. In restructuring SOEs, our practice is the same as in other parts of China. By making some shifts in mechanisms and by enhancing management. As you know, China is now a socialist market economy. So enterprises are in fierce competition based on market laws. What we are doing is to protect and support some industries, which are badly needed in Tibet. We are supporting them by fiscal measures such as preferential loans and financial budgets. For those enterprises which have no hope of being lifted above losses, we adopt the policy of mergers and, where ther e is absolutely no hope, declaring bankruptcy. As for the non-state sector, we are trying to create a fair environment, based on law, for foreign investment and also investment, both state and private, from other regions.

In October 2000, our autonomous region will hold an economic and trade fair in Hong Kong. By sponsoring this fair, we are trying to attract more foreign investment. It is co-sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation and the TAR government for the promotion of economic and trade cooperation with Tibet. Investors and entrepreneurs from India are welcome to this. We have an organising committee preparing for this fair and I am confident it will be a success.

It is hoped that India can provide some facilities for China's development of its west, especially for Tibet's development. I think with the further promotion of relations between China and India, with the completion of the route from south-west China to South Asia, cooperation from India will be very conducive to the acceleration of our drive to develop our west. In today's world, economic integration and globalisation are unavoidable. I believe the opening of Yatung Post will be conducive to economic cooperation between China and India, especially between Tibet and India. This post is potentially very important for future transportation between India and China, especially Tibet. But this calls for efforts from both governments. Our unilateral effort will not work.

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