In Western China, Tibetans stage protests

Rob Schmitz Jan 26, 2012

Jeremy Hobson: Tibetans have been holding some of the largest protests against Chinese rule in years this week. Chinese security forces opened fire on demonstrators, killing at least four people. The protests are political in nature.

But as our China Bureau Chief Rob Schmitz reports, there’s an economic backdrop to the tension, too.

Rob Schmitz: For the past decade, the Chinese government has taken its formula for economic development in its prosperous east and then pasted it onto the less developed regions of the west.

Robbie Barnett directs the modern Tibetan studies program at Columbia University. He says this formula has made many Tibetans feel left out.

Robbie Barnett: Of course they get better roads and more airports, but that also brings in a lot of outside migrants and entrepreneurs who are obviously Chinese. So the tensions rapidly develop.

Barnett says it’s less about Han Chinese coming into the region and making money. He says the bigger issue is many Tibetans feel like they’re being shut out of the economic planning in a region where, for centuries, they were the majority.

Five years ago, there were two million nomads roaming Tibetan parts of China. Barnett says the government is working on reducing that number by half. The result, he says, is massive housing projects where Tibetans aren’t given the training to transition into the labor force. He says the projects are hotbeds for the type of unrest Chinese police have been dealing with all this week.

In Shanghai, I’m Rob Schmitz, for Marketplace.


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