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China banking on 'go west' programme

By Willy Lam
CNN's Senior China Analyst

HONG KONG, China -- The Chinese leadership is banking on the success of the "go west" program to promote stability among Tibetans and defuse their anti-Beijing sentiments.

Diplomats in Beijing say the official Chinese response to current activities by the Dalai Lama in the U.S. -- including his meeting with President George W. Bush -- has been uncharacteristically mild.

There has been no high-decibel condemnation of either the Lama's "splittist conspiracy" or Bush's so-called anti-China containment policy.

On Wednesday morning, top party and government officials held a lavish reception in Beijing to mark the 50th anniversary of the "liberation" of the autonomous region.

The focus of the gathering was success of economic development in Tibet rather than attacking the Dalai Lama or the U.S.

The People's Daily and other official media ran comments by Tibetans on how the living standards had improved since the People's Liberation Army (PLA) entered Tibet in 1951.

Major focus

The People's Daily quoted a senior lama as saying Beijing had in recent years earmarked 300 million yuan for the restoration of temples.

A Chinese specialist in ethnic minorities said in Beijing the authorities were hoping that economic development would help defuse tension in Tibet.

"Tibet is a major focus of the develop-the-west program, which will go on for two decades or so," the specialist said.

"Tibet will benefit from much more investments from the central government and coastal cities, as well as from foreign, Taiwan and Hong Kong corporations."

Moreover, individual cities such as Shenzhen and successful state-owned enterprises along the coast have been asked by Beijing to help with economic development in Tibet through means including donations and "taking over" loss-making factories there.

It is understood that propaganda departments have been instructed to mount a vigorous campaign overseas to highlight Beijing's huge investments in the autonomous region.

To refute arguments that Beijing is wiping out local customs and culture, Beijing's publicists will focus on help that the central government has extended the Tibet government in areas including Tibetan language education and the refurbishment of lamaseries.

Western diplomats based in Chengdu and Chongqing said, however, that Beijing had stuck to the time-honored carrot and stick approach.

Tight controls continue

While developmental aid has increased, tight control over dissidents and pro-independence activists will continue to be imposed by the PLA and the People's Armed Police.

A Western diplomat said the central authorities were a lot more reassured about Tibet than Xinjiang.

"Beijing has not been able to stop the smuggling of weapons into Xinjiang from nearby Muslim countries," he said. "Large numbers of underground pro-independence activities in Xinjiang are believed to be trained by the Taleban."

"Despite the high-profile activities of the exiled Tibetan government, Chinese authorities have been able to contain the activities of underground 'splittists' in Lhasa and other cities."

Anti-Beijing demonstrators held by lamas and other underground activists in Lhasa have noticeably decreased since the late 1990s.

The Western diplomat said after the construction of major infrastructure projects such as the Qinghai-Tibet railway, it would be possible for Beijing to encourage more Han Chinese to migrate to the far-west region.

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