MONTREAL — A 2,000-kilometre Chinese railway to Tibet has generated millions of dollars in Canadian foreign investment, but also new concerns for the future of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, an activist group says.During a briefing Tuesday in Ottawa, the International Campaign for Tibet called on Canadian companies such as Bombardier Inc., which manufactures train cars for the railway, to ensure Tibetans are benefiting from the $4.2-billion project. Canadian companies account for the majority of businesses now investing or looking to invest in the Tibet region, the U.S-based group says. They include B.C.-based Continental Minerals Corp., which is now working to obtain a mining licence on copper and gold deposits in Tibet. Since service began 18 months ago, the railway, linking China’s northwest Qingha province with the Tibetan capital Lhasa, has generated minimal economic spinoffs for most ethnic Tibetans, a report by the group says. In 2007, the new rail contributed to a record number of tourists — four million said China’s Xinhua state news agency — visiting the Himalayan region, which has less than three million residents. Although the Chinese government says the railroad will bring economic benefits to the impoverished region, the report says the train is accelerating the influx of skilled Chinese workers. To support ethnic Tibetans, the report urges Canadian companies operating near Lhasa to hire Tibetan managers, develop vocational training for locals and use the Tibetan language. “Obviously, there’s some trickle-down effect [because of the railroad],” said Dermod Travis, president of the Canada Tibet Committee. “Obviously, people who make arts and crafts will have more people to sell to. “But Tibetans did not work on the building of the railway or on the building of the cars.” In 2005, Bombardier Transportation received a $78-million share of a contract to build 361 pressurized cars for the railroad, which travels over mountain passes as high as 5,000 metres.Passenger cars have already been completed, while 50 higher-end cars aimed at tourists are still being developed, said Dave Slack, a spokesperson for Bombardier Transportation.Ethnic Tibetans aren’t working on the cars because they’re being manufactured in a factory “on the other side of China,” Slack said. However, a $1-million, three-year project funded by Bombardier is now underway to train 20 ethnic Tibetans in hotel and restaurant management, he said. “Bombardier has spent a good amount of time speaking to Tibetan activist groups trying to address this issue,” Slack said. A spokesman for B.C.’s Continental Minerals said it tries to hire local Tibetans who are already used to working at a high altitude; the mining site is at 4,000 metres. “It’s high altitude, so you don’t want to bring in people from other parts of China,” said Dickson Hall, the company’s vice-president of business development. Continental, which has a Chinese mining company as a shareholder, publishes information about the mine in Tibetan, as well as English and Mandarin, he said. Continental is now completing a social and environmental impact assessment on the site. An executive summary of the assessment is to be made public, Hall said.
Hire more Tibetans, group urges Canadian companies;Railway flooding area with Chinese labour; locals not benefiting from new ventures. Vancouver Sun, 2008.02.13, Section: Business BC, Page: C11 FOREIGN RELATIONS.
By: Allison Lampert, Canwest News Service