Opening up Tibet

By Yek Raj Pathak (Lhasa, Tibet, 30 June 2019) – In 1978, Deng Xiaoping had initiated the policy of opening China to the world. It was the invitation to the investors around the globe to invest in China. Foreign investment did flow in China accordingly and it moved forward in leaps and bounds as an industrial nation.

Modern day China is a result of that very policy implemented by Deng Xiaoping. China is the world’s second largest economy, after the USA, at present. Chinese and other international economists are in unison in concluding that the key to China’s success in building the glorious present day China is the same open China policy.

The Chinese revere Mao Tse-tung for the ‘Cultural Revolution’; they respect Deng Xiaoping as the torchbearer of economic revolution. Since the last few years, the concept of ‘Open Tibet’ has also been a topic of discussion. This, however, is different from the open-door policy of China because it’s not necessary for China to appeal for foreign investment in Tibet for its development. The central Chinese government has enough funds to run all development programmes required there.

This ‘Open Tibet’ policy is also directed towards the outside world, mostly western countries, with a different intent albeit. China wants to show the transformation of Tibet: what Tibet was in the past and what it is at present. The same China that once made a clarion call for foreign investors wants the world to know about its prowess, its development model – the Tibet model. China wants the western world to experience with their own eyes that Tibet is not what they have conceived at their homes. China hosts meetings, conventions and field study trips on Tibet’s development for which policy makers, professors, journalists, writers, political leaders, scientists etc. are invited from around the world.

In the convention entitled “Forum on the Development of Tibet” held last week in Lhasa, Prof. Shengai Li of Fudan University, said that Tibet was very rich in culture and traditions and that not only a country, or a region but also the whole world can benefit from it. According to him, China’s real development model can be seen in present day Tibet, which consolidates the ‘Opening Tibet’ theme of China. Professor Li, who is a scholar of Sanskrit and other ancient languages, lauded the Chinese government’s effort in preserving the Tibetan language and culture. Professor Dr. Rajiv Kumar Jha, a Nepali national in Xi’an Medical University in China, says that the true face of modern Tibet cannot be seen in the old mirror framed by Tibetan history. He adds – Today’s Tibet is not the same as imagined by the western world. Yesteryear’s stale mentality doesn’t help in understanding it properly. One has to visit and see it firsthand. He stated that the progress of Tibet is a positive thing for Nepal.

Among China’s cities, Tibet is closer to Nepal – geographically, religiously and culturally; hence, Tibet’s development is advantageous for Nepal. Addressing the opening ceremony of the convention, he clarified that Nepal is clear about its ‘One China’ policy and that, of late, relationship between the two countries have been very smooth. Nepal should learn and be able to get a piece of pie from its neighbor’s prosperity. Before 1959, there was feudal system in Tibet and serfdom was prevalent.

Very few people had rights to land. National resources were in the hands of limited people. However, after the democratic reformation of 1959, the landless became the owners of land. The general public didn’t have an access to education. At least 95% children were devoid of education. Children of the landlords and the elites constituted the remaining 5 % which had the rare privilege. There has been a drastic change in that scenario now. Statistics from a report last year shows that the enrollment rate of children in primary schools is 99.5%.

The old education system has been completely dismantled and education essential for the people has been made simple and accessible to all. School level education is almost free. Besides Chinese and English, Tibetan language is also used as the teaching medium. It is evident that more emphasis is laid on the preservation and enrichment of the Tibetan language. Sixty years ago, child mortality rate was 50 out of 10,000 in Tibet which has come down to 1.02 at present. Infant mortality rate was 430 out of 10,000 in the decades of 1960; it was 10.38 in 2017. Similarly, health facilities have increased 35 fold or are 35 times more accessible now. Talking about development, between 1980 to 2018, about one thousand projects were launched and completed.

Government statistics tell that, in the projects run by the central government, billions of Chinese Yuan have been invested. The gross domestic product of Tibet amounted to 147.633 Chinese Yuan in 2018 that was 200 times more than that of 1959. Tibet has enjoyed the arrival of more than 30 million tourists, both domestic and foreign, in 2018. This number is many times more than Tibet’s population. Tibet was able to collect 340 million Chinese Yuan in revenues alone. In this way, there has been a substantial development in the lifestyle of the people of Tibet. Access of citizens to public health and treatment systems is praiseworthy.

Basic necessities like education and health facilities are made easily accessible. There is a well-managed system of social security. Government itself has established old-age homes in different places providing needed services. The Chinese government started development projects after identifying prospective 20 sectors like energy, building construction and production of construction materials, minerals, food technology, cultural handicrafts, traditional Tibetan treatment techniques, tourism etc. Highways have been constructed; boring tunnels through hills and mountains have helped build an easy road transport network and railway system. Tibet has achieved tremendously by establishing and operating domestic and international air routes. Tibet is a highland- most of it lying at an average altitude of above 4,000 metres.

The sunbeam kisses Tibetans before it touches any other human faces. It is the highest human settlement in the Himalayas; hence, it’s dubbed ‘the roof of the world’. The Himalayan region of Tibet is also the source of origin of several perennial rivers. Apart from the material development of Tibet, one cannot but appreciate the promotion and preservation of the Tibetan language, culture and tradition.

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