外文标题：An Indian in China (Part 4): Challenges for Tibet
There’s no denying that the Chinese government has done a fantastic job of providing world-class infrastructure in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). Throughout my journey through Tibet, I found the roads to be quite good. I was told that Tibet has five airports servicing the region in addition to the engineering marvel that is the Qinghai-Tibet railway line – the highest in the world. In fact, I was taken on a tour of Qushui station on the recently inaugurated Lhasa-Shigatse line of the same railway network. The picturesque, solar-powered station exemplified the Chinese government’s steel-like resolve to boost transport infrastructure in Tibet by 2020.
Despite the evident infrastructure development I foresee some significant economic challenges for Tibet. I was told by the good people at the China Tibetology Research Center at Beijing that the TAR local government receives 70-80 billion yuan annually in financial assistance. This is done in several ways including transfer of payments for infrastructure. Also, Tibet has been the beneficiary of a policy that has seen inland Chinese provinces being paired up with it to provide financial support. The bottom line – billions of yuan are being poured into Tibet to transform its economy and raise the standard of living of the Tibetan people. But how much is the TAR giving back to the Chinese state?
An official told me that the TAR province doesn’t even generate enough revenues to pay for salaries in the local administration. Hence, despite experiencing double-digit economic growth since 1994, the TAR economy is far from self-sufficient. But how far is this top-down growth model sustainable? I posed this question to Wu Yingjie, executive deputy secretary of the Communist Party committee of the TAR. He said that the local administration was thinking about this issue but Tibet’s geographical conditions meant that Beijing had to continue supporting it.
But Professor Lian Xiangmin of the China Tibetology Research Center was more frank and admitted that for Tibet to continue to prosper, the Chinese economy needed to maintain a high growth trajectory. And therein lies the challenge. There is a serious possibility that China may have over-invested in infrastructure projects, much of which could remain under-utilised. This presents a serious problem because I was told that much of the infrastructure development is supported by long-term bonds. If that is the case, there is an urgent need to stimulate economic activity.
This is easier said than done because labour wages are rising across the board in China – a natural consequence of increasing standards of living. As a result, the days of cheap Chinese manufacturing may be coming to an end. Already, several factories in China are relocating to countries such as Vietnam, Bangladesh and even India. In such a scenario, Beijing has only one option – go up the manufacturing value chain by stimulating small technology-intensive businesses.